Even with the mild winters around the Phoenix area, homes still need a heating system to remain comfortable. While conventional furnaces have been the gold standard for decades, many homeowners opt for the efficiency afforded by a heat pump. Use this guide to compare how these two heating technologies stack up.

Heating Technology

Heat pumps use refrigerant to redistribute heat from one area to another. This is very similar to an air conditioner, except it can function both as heating and cooling. In moderate climates, like the Phoenix area, this works very well under normal circumstances. It may not work as well when there’s unusually cold weather, like in January 1913 when the temperature dropped to only 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

Furnaces produce heat by either burning fuel or using electricity, so they are usually a good source of heating regardless of the temperature. The most common furnaces burn natural gas that’s delivered to residences through underground gas lines. However, rural areas that may not have the utility available may need storage tanks and may use either propane or natural gas. There are also electric furnaces that use electric resistance to generate heat rather than burning fuel.

Installation Costs

Generally speaking, heat pumps cost more to install than a furnace. As of early 2024, prices for gas furnaces range from about $3,000 to over $7,000, depending on the size, brand and efficiency rating.

Heat pumps are a little more expensive, usually between $6,000 to over $40,000. On the low end are standard air-sourced heat pumps, while geothermal systems may run at the high end. Keep in mind that the cost for installation may vary based on when you install the system, allowing you to save money with off-peak deals. Further, you may have rebates and tax incentives available to help reduce the net cost of the system. Be sure to discuss these options with your tax professional and HVAC installation company.

Heating Efficiency

When looking at heating options, it’s important to understand what you’re comparing. Furnaces and heat pumps have different efficiency ratings because of how they heat your home. However, standard and high-efficiency systems both have similar technological differences that improve efficiency performance.

Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE)

AFUE is the measure of how much heat a furnace produces compared to how much it loses with the exhaust. As of the efficiency standards of 2024, the minimum AFUE rating is about 80%, which means you lose 20% of the heat produced. The highest-efficiency gas furnaces offer an AFUE of around 98%.

Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF)

HSPF looks at the amount of heat the system redistributes compared to the energy it consumes. At the high end, a heat pump may transfer three or four times more heat than the energy it consumes. This is why a growing number of homeowners are turning to this technology, driving down heating costs while being more environmentally friendly.

High-Efficiency Technology

Both heat pumps and furnaces have single-stage standard models. This means the system runs on high all the time, which consumes the most fuel and energy. Higher efficiency systems use two-stage or variable capacity systems. Variable capacity means the system can make small incremental changes during a heating cycle to get the exact capacity needed at that time. Rather than raising the temperature, these systems tend to run nearly constantly to maintain your set temperature. However, because they’re running at a lower capacity, they consume less fuel and energy.

The compressor and fans on a heat pump are the components that will have these options. Furnaces offer these options with the burner and circulating fan. High-efficiency furnaces may also have a second heat exchanger to transfer more heat to the circulating air.

Heating Costs

Rated efficiency is only one factor that affects how much you’ll end up paying to heat your house. Another key is how much energy you consume, both power and fuel and the cost of those utilities.

During ideal operating temperatures, heat pumps use relatively little power, and do not burn any fuel. Most winter days around central Arizona are mild, staying well above freezing, even overnight. However, on the rare occasion temperatures approach or drop below freezing, a heat pump will consume increasingly more power with continually falling heat output.

That’s why many heat pumps have an auxiliary heater, usually an electric resistance heating coil. If you find yourself relying on your auxiliary heater frequently, you’ll notice a dramatic climb in your energy consumption.

Furnaces stay pretty consistent with the amount of fuel they consume, especially in mild climates. While they consume fuel, it is generally less expensive than electricity, so it becomes more cost-effective than running the auxiliary heater in frigid weather. The bottom line is as long as temperatures remain normal, you’re likely to pay less to run a heat pump than a furnace.


Any HVAC system comes with risks, so it’s important to understand them and which are of greater concern for your home. Heat pumps have the risk of leaking refrigerant and electrical problems that could cause shocks.

Furnaces also carry a risk of electrical shock, though it’s a much lower risk. However, they also carry the risks associated with burning fuel. There’s the rather obvious risk of a fuel leak, both inside and outside your home.

A little less obvious is the risk of an exhaust leak, which may happen if you have a cracked heat exchanger. Leaking exhaust is one of the leading causes of residential carbon monoxide exposure. However, this risk is relatively low when you properly maintain your system and work to avoid overheating it.


No matter what system you have, plan for two annual maintenance visits. One usually happens in the spring for your cooling system, and the other in the fall for your heating system. The difference becomes the repairs for the system.

Conventional systems have two different units for heating and cooling, which means two systems that will eventually need repairs. A heat pump is a single unit that is unlikely to need compounding repairs in both the winter and summer.

Home Comfort

Furnaces and heat pumps give a drastically different heating experience, especially for standard models. Furnaces produce a significant temperature rise, so it will start a heating cycle, run until it reaches the desired temperature, and then shut off until the temperature drops again. This allows an ambient temperature swing, albeit usually a small one, which some find discomforting.

Heat pumps produce a smaller temperature rise in the circulating air, so it’ll naturally run longer cycles than a furnace. By merely running longer cycles, it’ll keep the temperature around your home more consistent. Further, heat pumps provide greater filtering with the increased air circulation that comes with longer cycles. This will further improve your air quality, reducing allergy and asthma triggers.

Whenever property owners around Chandler want home services they can trust, they turn to our award-winning team at Emergency Air Heating Cooling & Plumbing. Our team provides AC and heating installation, maintenance and repair together with indoor air quality solutions and a full range of residential plumbing services. Call to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced heating installation technicians today.

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