Which is Better – a Gas Pack or a Heat Pump?

Defining Terms

As we discuss which is better, a gas pack or a heat pump, it may be helpful to understand the differences in these 2 HVAC systems.

Gas Pack: Also known by its full name, gas packaged unit, this system heats air with a gas-fired furnace.  Either natural gas or propane is used.  The system cools with a condensing unit, the same as a heat pump.   In a gas pack, these components are housed together in a single package that is installed outside the home and is connected to the ductwork.  A gas pack heats with gas and cools with electricity.

Heat Pump: A heat pump HVAC system does not use a gas furnace.  The heat pump is a condensing unit that does double duty – it both cools and heats the home.  The condensing unit is installed outside the home.  An air handler is installed inside the home.  It contains a blower and is connected to the ductwork.

With a heat pump, heat is produced by reversing the flow of refrigerant.  When heating, the refrigerant captures heat from outside and delivers it into the house where it is released via the indoor coil and dispersed by the air handler into the ductwork.  A heat pump uses electricity for heating and cooling.

 

Why a Heat Pump is Worth Considering

1. Today’s heat pumps are very efficient.  Just 10-15 years ago, the most efficient heat pumps had an 8-10 SEER rating.  Currently, all heat pumps are at least 13 SEER, and the  most efficient offer SEER ratings over 20!  They use up to 50% less energy than older models.

2. Heat pumps don’t use gas so they may be less expensive to install initially.  If you build a new home and intend to use gas appliances, there may be a fee paid to the utility to tap into the gas line.  With electric heating and cooling, this isn’t a factor.  Of course, if you plan to use a gas stove, gas water heater or gas clothes dryer, you’re going to make that connection anyway.

3. Heat pumps are effective in temperatures down to about the freezing point, or 32F.  In colder climates, electric heat strips are often added to the system, placed within the air handler, to provide additional heating.  As the temperature drops into the 30’s and below, these help supply heat to the home, adding to the versatility of the heat pump.

 

Why a Gas Pack is Worth Considering

1. Gas packs are easy to install and maintain.  The entire unit is set outside the home on a slab, and connected to the ductwork that runs into the home.  This is easier than installing a condensing unit outside, running refrigerant lines into the house, and installing an air handler indoors.  With the entire unit outside, it is easier to access for maintenance and repairs, which may reduce the cost of the work, since it requires less time to complete.

2. Gas packs are a better choice in northern climates.  Much of the country experiences winter temperatures well-below freezing.  In these temperatures, heat pumps are inefficient, expensive to operate, and may even be ineffective.  In very cold temperatures they simply may not be able to produce enough heat to keep the house warm.

3. Gas packs are quieter.  The air handler of a heat pump system is installed within the home. It can produce quite a bit of noise when its blower runs.  The furnace blower in a gas pack is outside, and it’s unlikely you’ll hear it at all when inside your home.

4. Gas packs are less expensive to operate.  Gas is currently a more affordable energy source than electricity in most places.  It has been this way for decades and will likely continue into the future.  Your utility bills will very likely be lower when you use gas to heat rather than electricity. The SEER rating of gas pack condensing units can be just as high as the SEER rating of a heat pump, and the gas furnaces in a gas pack can be 95% efficient or higher.

 

Conclusion

For most consumers, the costs they incur are the most important factor.  In terms of the equipment, heat pump split systems and gas packs are very comparably priced.  The differences are negligible.  In terms of operating cost year after year, a gas pack offers a distinct advantage because gas is less expensive than electricity.  When a heat pump must use its heat strips, the cost of operation can be extremely high.

With lower utility bills, quieter operation, and less costly installation and maintenance, a gas pack is a better choice for most consumers.

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