Furnaces and heat pumps have both been used by families to keep homes warm for decades. Heat pumps became popular in the 1940s as a more efficient heating source. The older furnaces weren't as efficient. Making the choice would depend greatly on where you live. Mild winters could be effectively warmed by a heat pump whereas areas that have bitter winter climates would benefit from a furnace.
How to Measure with Comparisons
Before a comparison can be made, you must consider how the types of heat are measured. The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) creates a percentage to compare each unit. For example, if a home measurement is stated as having a rating of 70% AFUE, it would mean that of the fuel burned, 70% is useful and 30% is wasted. As a result, you can observe which unit is most effective.
Furnaces are powered by natural gas, fuel oil, or electricity. A central furnace forces warm air through ducts to each part of the home using grills or registers. A furnace fueled by oil or gas mixes with air to burn, creating a flame that triggers a metal heat exchanger. A furnace fan sends the warm air throughout the home and emits the combustion products out of the home through a flue pipe.
The older units wasted approximately 30% of the energy supply. Newer units now use an inducer fan to dismiss those gasses through the heat exchanger and carry the draft out of the chimney. Newer standards are set for the spring of 2016 by the United States Department of Energy because the standards have not had an update since 1987. Most new furnaces range an excellent AFUE rating of 95 to 100%.
Essentially, a heat pump is a better choice since it provides a two-way conditioner for your home's airflow. Heat pump is a somewhat misleading category because it can work in reverse as an air conditioner. A heat pump is a machine that is capable of transferring heat from a space/area of cooler air (also called a heat sink) to a space/area that is considered warmer.
Heat pumps delegate an AFUE rating in a range of 80 to 95% which is also good because it generates the heat and moves it into the home. It is an eco-friendly option since it doesn't use other fuels in its process. The biggest disadvantage is the unit is not as efficient in areas where temperatures are below freezing for the majority of time.
As you now see, location is a key factor when you ask the question of which unit will work best for your home. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but it is up to you as the homeowner to make the best choice.