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Choosing the right home heating solution

Furnace, Heat Pump, Heating and Cooling, Heating Solutions Updated: January 24, 2022

Choosing the right home heating solution

According to ENERGY STAR®, as much as half of the energy used in your home goes toward heating and cooling. So when it’s time to update your heating system, choosing the right fit for your home is really important. Most heating systems last 10 to 20 years, so it’s also a decision you’ll be living with for a while. We’ve highlighted some of the top energy-saving options below.

Is your home heated with natural gas?

High-efficiency gas furnace

Furnaces are the most common type of heating system, especially in the Northwest. The furnace blows heated air through ducts and delivers it to various areas of the home through registers and grilles. Furnaces can also be paired with an air conditioning system or a heat pump, providing you with a comprehensive heating and cooling solution for your home.

Not all furnaces are created equal, so to make sure you’re getting a dependable, high-efficiency gas furnace, look for one with an annual fuel utilization efficiency rating (AFUE) of 95% or higher. This means that 95% of the energy the furnace uses is converted to heat. You can identify the AFUE by looking for the Energy Guide Sticker on the furnace.

Is your home heated with electricity?

Heat pumps are a great solution for efficient electric heat or tandem electric/gas dual-fuel heat. They also provide cooling and several different systems to choose from, depending on the needs of your home.

Electric heat pump

For those with ducted electric heating, an electric heat pump is a great choice, especially in moderate Northwest climate. These systems save energy by moving heat rather than generating it, providing efficient heating and cooling in a single system so you can stay comfortable all year round. They can also work with electric furnaces to supplement the heat in extremely cold conditions.

Heat pumps have an indoor and outdoor unit, each featuring refrigerant coils that absorb heat energy from the air. In heating mode, the system captures heat from the outdoor air and moves it inside to evenly heat the home. In cooling mode, it works like an air conditioner by capturing warm indoor air and moving it outside.

If your home has electric heat, existing ductwork and you need a comprehensive whole-home heating and cooling solution, this is an incredibly efficient option.

Ductless heat pump

A ductless heat pump (or mini-split) works in the same way as a regular heat pump––efficiently heating and cooling by moving heat in or out of your home based on the season––but operates without ductwork. An indoor unit is mounted on the wall of a room, with a refrigerant line connecting it to the outdoor unit.

Because there’s no invasive ductwork, installation is typically easy and more affordable. These systems are ideal for:

  • Homes with inefficient electric resistance-based heating systems (such as baseboard, electric furnace, wall heaters or electric radiant) that will also benefit from cooling
  • Older homes with no ductwork (e.g., radiators or baseboard heat)
  • Additions where extending ductwork isn’t feasible, and spaces adjacent to unconditioned spaced (such as a guest room above a garage or ADU)
  • Manufactured homes

Extended capacity heat pump

An extended capacity heat pump maintains a higher level of compressor heating output at lower temperatures when compared to a single-speed, two-speed or variable-speed heat pump. This allows the extended capacity heat pump compressor to effectively operate in freezing temperatures without activating an inefficient backup strip heat or electric furnace. Reducing the use of backup heat during cold months allows an extended capacity heat pump to save a significant amount of energy during the winter.

Have you considered a dual-fuel solution?

For those interested in using a combination of gas and electric to heat your home, you may want to consider a dual-fuel system. Dual-fuel heat pumps combine the best elements of a gas furnace and an electric heat pump to provide year-round comfort and savings. The heat pump serves as your main source of heating and cooling for much of the year, while the gas furnace takes over only on the coldest days.

During spring, fall and winter days when it’s not extremely cold, the heat pump extracts heat from outside air. When the temperature drops further, the system switches to the furnace component. During the summer months, the heat pump reverses the refrigerant flow to cool your home.

Learn more about fuel types

Whether your home is heated with electricity or gas, you can check out the following resources for more information on heating systems, how electricity is generated here in Oregon and what our energy future looks like.

The Department of Energy offers additional helpful resources for learning more about energy-efficient home heating options.

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