Conventional heat pumps have been in use for decades. In most areas of California, the temperature is relatively moderate. In these cities, a heat pump system is energy-efficient and a cost-effective alternative to using traditional furnaces or air conditioners.
Heat pumps heat and cool by moving heat from one place to another. In heating mode, heat pumps are essentially an air conditioner running in reverse. During winter, the heat pump works by pushing heat coming from cold outdoors to keep the inside of your home warm. Conversely, the heat pump pushes heat from inside the home outdoors during summer.
“Dual-fuel” heat pumps are different. Attached to your existing furnace, this system looks (and works) like a high-efficiency central air conditioner in the summer. However, in those mild spring and fall months in snowy areas, they provide a more cost efficient source of heat. As the temperatures drop, the pump shuts off and tells your furnace to take over.
What is a Dual Fuel Heating System?
A Dual Fuel Heat Pump is an HVAC system that joins an electric heat pump with a gas furnace and switches between the two as needed to heat the house and achieve maximum comfort efficiently. The system alternates between using each of the two devices, depending on the season, temperature and the function needed, to maximize efficiency and effectively heat and cool your home all year long.
How Does It Work?
With a dual fuel heat pump, you get the best of both HVAC worlds: hot or cold air when you need it most. This hybrid heating and cooling system combines a traditional heat pump with a furnace to provide your home with an energy efficient HVAC device that you can use all year long.
The heat pump in the system works like a central air conditioner in the summer months by transferring hot air out of your home until your thermostat reads your desired temperature. The heat pump also does the majority of the work in the fall and spring months by providing cost-efficient heat during milder temperatures.
Energy-saving and efficient heating come from switching between electric and gas power, depending on the outside temperature. Electric heat pumps are very reliable and easy to use, but gas heat pumps are more efficient to heat your house when the outside temperature is low. These pumps will mostly switch to gas when the outside temperature drops below 35 degrees or so. Not only does a dual fuel heat pump save energy and help the environment, but it also saves you time and money on utility bills.
Furnaces vs. Heat Pumps vs. Dual Fuel
Understanding the differences among these three HVAC devices will help you decide which is right for your home!
A furnace, as part of a central heating and cooling system, converts fuel into heat that is then delivered throughout your home. All furnaces consist of four main components: 1) burners that deliver and burn fuel, 2) heat exchangers, 3) a blower and 4) a flue that acts as an exhaust for gaseous by-products. Depending on your region and needs, you can choose from heating systems running on either gas or oil as fuel.
Furnaces are only about 95% energy efficient, but they do have a longer lifespan (more than 20 years) than other heating devices because they are used for only a few months out of the year. They are relatively inexpensive to install.
- Heat Pumps
A heat pump, as part of a central heating and cooling system, uses the outside air to both heat a home in winter and cool it in summer. Basically, your heat pump will act as an air conditioner when it is hot and a heater when it is cold outside — making heat pumps a very versatile product.
When temperatures outside are close to freezing, heat pumps have to work for more time to bring heat into your home, which can drive up your utility bills. But, they are more energy efficient overall than most HVAC devices. In fact, they can reduce your electricity use for heating by about 50% compared to furnaces, making them perfect for California homeowners that enjoy year-round mild climates.
- Dual Fuel Systems
Dual fuel systems blend the best features of a gas furnace together with a heat pump. A dual fuel system includes both a heat pump and a gas furnace and will operate the heat pump during milder temperatures when the heat pump is more efficient, and as the outdoor temperature gets colder the system will automatically switch over to the gas furnace. Dual fuel systems are great for any type of climate and function year-round. Plus, because each piece only works when it’s optimal, dual fuel systems have a life expectancy between 20 and 25 years!
Backup Heat Source For Dual Fuel Systems
The best way to supplement or to know what your backup heat sources should be for a heat pump depends on your climate and utility prices. The simplest form of backup heat for an air to air heat pump is an electric furnace. Another good option would be dual fuel.
Homeowners are increasingly opting for dual-fuel heat pump systems, which use a gas furnace for the emergency heating. With the relatively low cost of natural gas these days, this is a smart choice that should help your energy budget and home comfort. A heat pump generally will shift over to emergency heat when a certain temperature is reached. This is the point where your home’s heating load matches heat pump capacity. However, dual-fuel systems should allow you to manually shift to the gas furnace, if you decide that gas heating is cheaper than the power that’s required to run the heat pump.
Benefits of Installing a Dual Fuel Heating System
Heat pumps use small amounts of electricity to move heat from one space to another. This makes them very energy efficient—to a degree (literally). In frigid winters in colder climates, these systems have to work much harder to generate enough heat to warm the room. This makes them less efficient, or even insufficient, compared to furnaces.
- Installation cost
The overall installation cost of your furnace, heat pump or dual fuel system depends heavily on your home’s compatibility and current system setup. For instance, some homes may not have access to natural gas, making an air conditioner and furnace installation a more expensive alternative to a heat pump system. Alternatively, homes that are not wired for the supplemental heating associated with a heat pump system may incur additional costs. Your dealer is an excellent resource for determining which system(s) are best for your home and can help further explain these installation costs.
When operating in warmer regions, dual fuel heating systems utilize mostly electric heat pumps to move warm or cold air from the outside atmosphere to inside space. In colder areas, the use of heat pumps drops. So, as the gas is not burning constantly, dual systems can heat and cool with a lighter carbon footprint than those systems that are installed as separate units. With the electric-powered heat pumps, you will have a clean and sustainable source of heat for your household.
Both heat pump and furnace have disadvantages when operating as a single unit. But, when combined into one system, you will get the best of each. In general, the air from a heat pump is not as hot as what you get from a gas furnace. It is still warming your home, but it blows cooler. In contrast to the hot and dry air of a furnace, heat pumps circulate air that is naturally humid so they will not dry out your skin as much as the heat of a furnace.
Give Us a Call
At Aire-Tech, we can help keep your home at the optimal temperature! We give you countless resources to help you explore and learn about HVAC options, including incentive programs. We work closely with agencies to pass on savings programs and information to our valued customers.
If your system needs repair or inspection, call Aire-Tech on 951-926-1002. You can also visit our Contact page and complete the contact form.