Forced Air vs. Heat Pump in Portland

The two most common methods of heating your Portland home are forced air or a heat pump. Each has its unique benefits and drawbacks, and we’ll break them down here to help you decide which method is best for you. The ultimate decision you reach will be based upon the size of your home, its age, and your access to various fuel sources, among other concerns. Your starting budget will come into play as well. As will, ultimately, personal preference.

Note that this article is meant for homeowners residing in the Portland area, although most of what we say here will apply anywhere. However, Portland does have a unique climate, which will also affect your final decision. If you’re located in another part of the country, you will have to take your own local climate into account.

Forced Air

Forced-air heating methods have been in use in homes for decades and show no signs of going out of style. Indeed, most houses are built with a forced-air heating system in mind. This includes in the Portland area, where many houses were built in the mid-20th century, when forced air was the only option for heating and cooling.

How It Works

When utilizing forced-air heating to get your home to the desired temperature, you will need a home that is equipped for it. This means that your home has a system of ducts in place that can transport heated air into every room. Of course, the vast majority of buildings already have this duct system in place. It’s fairly unlikely you will need to worry about having it installed. However, if your building is older, you may need to consider an upgrade.

This heating method starts with a furnace that produces heat, usually using some sort of combustible fuel source, such as propane or natural gas. Electric furnaces are also used. This furnace must be placed somewhere safe inside the home, such as in the basement, and installed in such a way that waste products—which are often toxic—can be ventilated out without posing a risk to the occupants of the building.

Once the heat is produced, a blower motor is used to transfer the heated air throughout the duct system. It then reaches the rooms of your building by way of the vents, where it warms the home to the desired temperature. The entire system is regulated by a thermostat, which cycles the system on and off depending upon the ambient temperature in the building.

Benefits of Forced Air

These days, the biggest benefit of a forced-air heating system is the fact that most homes and commercial buildings are already constructed with them in mind. The fuel sources that power them are also usually fairly easy to access. Unlike a heat pump, Portland homes usually already have a gas main, and they certainly have electricity to power a furnace.
Because of their ubiquitousness, forced-air systems are also relatively inexpensive to install. They rarely require any sort of major remodeling during the construction of a home.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps are a popular and relatively new method of heating homes. Instead of making use of a furnace and combustible fuel source, they utilize ambient heat energy from outside the house. By using a heat pump, Portland homeowners are often able to save a great deal of money on their energy bills over the course of months and years.

How It Works

A heat pump works using refrigeration coils, much like an air conditioner or a refrigerator does. These coils contain some type of coolant; when air is blown over the coolant, it absorbs heat energy. This heat energy can then be transferred inside the home. Heat pumps make use of an outdoor unit, which is electrically powered. One type of heat pump Portland homes utilize is known as a geothermal heat pump. This type makes use of geothermal energy from the ground, as opposed to from the air. In any case, heat pumps do their job by moving heat energy from place to place, as opposed to generating it.

Heat pumps can transfer air to the different rooms of your home by way of one of several methods. Actually, they can utilize a duct system in much the same way as a forced-air heating method. They can also make use of a system of water pumps, transferring heat into the home up through the floor. Mini-split heat pumps connect to several different units in each room, allowing you to heat individual rooms to your specific preference. This allows you to save even more money on your energy bill because you won’t waste energy heating a room that isn’t being occupied.

Benefits of a Heat Pump

As we’ve mentioned, a heat pump’s greatest benefit is its energy efficiency. It requires no more than a little bit of electricity to keep its components operating; no costly fuel sources are necessary. A heat pump is also versatile. It can be installed in virtually any home or other building. Perhaps best of all, your heat pump can double as an air conditioner. There’s no need for a separate cooling system when you have a heat pump installed.

The greatest downside is the up-front cost of installing a heat pump. Usually, this is far more than what it costs to install a more common forced-air system. Even so, this installation cost will usually pay for itself over time. Another major downside is the fact that heat pumps tend to struggle when the weather becomes extremely cold—think well below freezing—but in a relatively temperate area like Portland, this usually doesn’t matter. Colder parts of the country, such as the East Coast and Midwest, may have to consider having a backup heating method.

So How Do I Choose?

Ultimately, you’ll have to do a little research on energy costs in your area, as well as the current costs of installing the various heating systems. If you’re unsure, you should contact an HVAC professional, such as one from Watts Heating and Cooling. They can offer quotes regarding installation, parts, and maintenance for any one of several heating methods. They can also perform the installation and keep your heating system in good working order so that it can work for you for many years to come.