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Air Conditioners & Gas Furnaces vs Heat Pumps for Birmingham Area Homeowners

One of the most common and confusing questions from Birmingham area homeowners looking to replace their HVAC system is, “Do I get a traditional air conditioner with a gas furnace, or should I get a heat pump?”

That’s a really good question and here are the common best practices:

  1. If you live in a cold climate, which has many days of sub freezing temperatures, and have a higher electrical rate than gas rate, then a traditional air conditioner with a gas furnace will be the best choice for your home.
  2. If you live in a warm climate, which has very few days of sub freezing temperatures, and have a lower electrical rate than gas rate, then a heat pump will be the best choice for your home.

It’s that easy! Climate + utility costs = the best choice for your home.

So lets swan dive into another common question, "How does a Heat Pump work?"

In the Cooling mode (aka Summer) it works just like an Air Conditioner. It removes the heat from your home’s air through refrigeration technology and moves it outside.

In the Heating mode (aka Winter) it just reverses that cycle. Now it removes the heat from the outside air through refrigeration technology and moves it inside your home.

Ok...Next question. How do you get heat out of the cold outside air in the Winter?

Think of heat as something that is transferred between two objects. Let’s say you have 2 cold beverages. Beverage A is at 40 Degrees Fahrenheit and Beverage B is at 10 Degrees Fahrenheit. In this setting, Beverage B has the potential to absorb some of Beverage A’s heat until the transfer ceases and both Beverage A and B are the same temperature. Refrigeration technology makes this possible! 40 Degrees Fahrenheit outside may not seem warm to you, but a Heat Pump can transfer quite a bit of heat at those temperatures or lower.

Notice this method is not creating heat like gas furnaces or heat strips would, rather it’s just moving it.

So now we’re back to the climate thing...

For most Heat Pumps, when the outdoor air temperature drop below 40 Degrees Fahrenheit, the Heat Pump can’t keep up. Most Heat Pumps need a backup / second source of heat to help them out. Typically, you have two options.

  1. Electrical resistance heat (aka heat strips)
  2. Gas Furnace

Electrical resistance heat is usually less efficient than a gas furnace. Many homeowners prefer to use a gas furnace as the backup / second source of heat, thus creating what we call in the industry a "dual fuel or hybrid system."

Wait a second...Why would I buy a Heat Pump and Gas Furnace when I could just use a normal Air Conditioning system?

Back to the climate variable, the Birmingham area has very few sub freezing or near sub freezing days. The heat pump would only need to rely on the gas furnace a couple of extremely cold days a year. The more efficient heat pump would carry the heating load and save you money. This combination may cost more upfront, but it can save you on utilities for years to come!

So you’re telling me a Heat Pump is more efficient than gas furnace?

From a climate stand point, absolutely!

So now we’re back to the utility cost.

So the cooling efficiency, rated in SEER, on an Air Conditioner and a Heat Pump are the same. Remember, they cool the same way. So the only deciding factor comes down to the heating side. According to Alabama Power, "the electric heat pump is the most advanced, efficient heating and cooling system available today."

So with all this being said, a heat pump is the best choice for your home in the Birmingham area.

Quality Matters!

According to Energy Star, "Estimated saving potential (with a quality installation) ranges from 18% to 36% for air conditioners and heat pumps, and 11% to 18% for furnaces." Look no further than Douglas Cooling and Heating. We take the time to look at the whole HVAC system. We inspect the ductwork, the thermal envelope of your home, and your home’s ventilation. We listen to your input and ask the right questions. After all, know one knows your home better than you.

We’ve been in the business since the 60’s and have the experience you can trust. We’ve installed HVAC systems in Vestavia, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Shelby County and homes all over the Birmingham area!

Don’t take our word for it. See what our customers say about us!