Rogelio Alvarez

By: Rogelio Alvarez on October 6th, 2023

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Air-Source Heat Pump vs. Natural Gas Furnace

Heating | HVAC

Although most of southern California doesn’t experience freezing temperatures like other regions, staying warm and cozy is a goal for many homeowners during colder weather. Heating systems help families stay nice and toasty, but there comes a point when it’s time to consider a new replacement. A natural gas furnace and an air-source heat pump are two legitimate options for a heating system, but which one is better?

Whether it’s cooling or heating, we at Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air have helped thousands of homeowners across Los Angeles and the surrounding areas ensure they have the best heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that best meet their needs. Every year since 2007, our technicians receive specialized training to stay updated with the latest advancements in home heating systems. 

In this article, we’ll compare air-source heat pumps and natural gas furnaces in the following categories. 

  • Heating operation
  • Energy efficiency
  • Upfront and operating costs
  • Installation and maintenance

By breaking down and highlighting the similarities and significant differences between natural gas furnaces and air-source heat pumps, you’ll be able to consider whether one of these heating systems is right for your home. 

Let’s start by defining how these two systems differ. 


What Is the Difference Between Air-Source Heat Pumps and Natural Gas Furnaces?

The biggest difference between air-source heat pumps and natural gas furnaces is functionality. Also known as air-to-air heat pumps, these systems provide both heating and cooling year-round. In contrast, gas furnace systems provide heating only during colder months when the temperature drops below 60 degrees. 

If you have an operable air conditioning system, then getting a new furnace may be the right choice, but if your AC and heating systems are outdated, then an air-source heat pump might be the better option. 

Both systems provide heating, but how well does their heating operation work? We’ll review that in the following section. 


Heating Operation

Natural gas furnaces and air-source heat pumps can heat homes, but how they’re designed to heat homes differs. Air-source heat pumps are powered by electricity only, in contrast to gas furnaces, which use, as their name suggests, natural gas. Here’s a closer look at how these two systems can heat a home. 

  • Natural gas furnace: These systems use a combustion process to generate hot air distributed throughout a home. The furnace is connected to a gas line, which provides it with natural gas. Air is then circulated through a heat exchanger heated by a flame ignited by natural gas. 
  • Air-source heat pump: For heating, air-source heat pumps extract heat from outside and go through a complex process where it becomes hot air that is dispersed throughout a home. The heat is absorbed by a special refrigerant that turns it into a low-temperature, low-pressure gas. The gas is then compressed, which increases its temperature, and then pumped through a heat exchanger before being released into a house.

An air-source heat pump may not be able to heat a home if there’s a power outage, affecting its ability to receive power from electricity since they do not use any gas. These systems have two distinct power sources to heat homes that provide different energy efficiency ratings. 


Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiencies for natural gas furnaces and air-source heat pumps depend on a few factors, such as climate. Still, heat pump systems provide better energy efficiency for homeowners in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.

Here’s a short breakdown of the efficiency of these two heating systems.

  • Natural gas furnace: The efficiency of natural gas furnaces is rated as the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). Gas furnace efficiency ratings range between 78% to 98.5%. The percentage represents the amount of energy converted from natural gas, with the difference indicating the percentage lost as waste. 
  • Air-source heat pump: In terms of heating, air-source heat pumps use the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for cooling. The HSPF rating measures how efficiently an air-source heat pump can convert electrical energy into a heating source over a heating season. Air-source heat pumps have an HSPF rating between the minimum of 8.2 to over 9.

Air-source heat pump systems can potentially produce three times more energy than it consumes. These provide homeowners with the opportunity to save money in the long term.

Savings and costs are crucial in deciding whether to install a natural gas furnace or an air-source heat pump. 


Upfront and Operating Costs

On average, air-source heat pumps have higher upfront but lower operating costs than gas furnaces. Air-source heat pumps are dual heating and cooling systems, so their price tends to be higher since they offer cooling and not only heating like gas furnaces. 

Thanks to their high efficiency, air-source heat pumps have lower operating costs since they use less energy to produce heat. There are other variables that affect the operating costs, such as fluctuations in local electricity and gas rates with Southern California Edison and SoCal Gas.

Despite having a more costly price tag, air-source heat pumps are eligible for tax credits. Through the Inflation Reduction Act, homeowners can claim the air-source heat pumps federal tax credits to offset the initial cost of an air-source heat pump. Homeowners can claim 30% of the total project cost with a maximum of $2,000. 

State and local governments are pushing for more greener alternatives to energy sources. California is looking to ban the sale of gas-powered fixtures, so air-source heat pumps are only going to increase in demand. 

Another key difference between these two systems, besides costs, is installation and maintenance care.


Installation and Maintenance

Air-source heat pumps are usually less complex than natural gas furnaces since they do not require any gas lines. Gas furnaces require special ventilation to prevent any carbon dioxide from being released into a home, so installation needs to be completed with minimal errors. 

One of the biggest factors in determining whether to get a natural gas furnace or an air-source heat pump system is the climate of the region where the system is installed. In Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, winter weather can be cold but never stay in extended periods of freezing temperatures. This provides the ideal conditions for air-source heat pump installations. 

Both systems need yearly maintenance to ensure that they’re operating properly, but air-source heat pumps require it twice since they heat and cool. A certified technician should perform the maintenance. 


Is an Air-Source Heat Pump or a Gas Furnace for Me?

Ultimately, choosing an air-source heat pump or natural gas furnace depends on multiple factors, but it’s worth knowing their differences before making a final decision. If you feel like an air-source heat pump is suitable, you may want to learn more about its pros and cons. On the other hand, if a new gas furnace sounds ideal, then get a headstart on how much these systems cost

For over 15 years, we at Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air have dedicated ourselves to helping homeowners make educated decisions on installing new heating systems. Whether it’s gas furnaces or heat pump systems, our technicians are knowledgeable about servicing these units and highlighting their pros and cons to homeowners across Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.

For more information on heating and cooling systems, contact us using one of the buttons below or book an appointment directly through our heating and air online scheduler

If you’re unsure about an air-source heat pump or a gas furnace, then look at all the 12 types of heating systems to determine which is best for you.