Keeping your house warm in the winter is a priority for every family, but deciding how to do that can be complicated. The most conventional way to keep your house warm is installing either a heat pump or a furnace. Both have their pros and cons, and we've listed the top three things you need to consider when deciding to buy either a furnace or heat pump, as well as the difference between the two systems.

How They Work

Heat pump systems work similarly to an air conditioner by using outside conditions to heat your air. Whether your system uses the sun or the ground, these systems don't require any other fuel source besides electricity. They can also function in the summer to keep your house cool by using the same technology so you won't need to have two different systems.

Furnaces most commonly use gas to warm your air by blowing the air over a flame, which heats it before pumping it into your home. These systems can be extremely energy-efficient, but only work in the winter. Many furnaces have up to 98% energy efficiency, meaning most of the energy used will heat your home.

Where Do You Live?

Image via Flickr by Lali Masriera

The first thing you should consider before you purchase either a furnace or a heat pump is where you live. You should think about how cold it gets during the winter, and how many weeks or months you commonly heat your home. In addition, checking the cost of gas in your area against electricity can help you decide which system would be easier to hook up.

Temperature is an important factor because heat pumps don't work as well if the temperature dips below 40 degrees Farenheit, and you may end up needing a backup heating source if that's the case. On the other hand, furnaces will work well no matter the temperature, since they don't rely on outside sources to heat the air, so you won't have to worry about purchasing a backup.

What's Your Budget Like?

Heat pumps can be a lot more expensive than furnaces because electricity typically costs more than gas, and the systems themselves are more expensive. In addition, heat pumps typically don't last as long, due to the fact that people tend to use them year round, as both heating and cooling devices.

Most furnaces use gas to heat the air, which is cheaper; and because they aren't used year round, the parts last longer than heat pumps do. In addition, the systems themselves are often cheaper to buy for installation.

How Important Is Going Green To You?

If you're trying to go green, heat pumps are the way to go. Gas can pollute the air, and isn't an environmentally friendly heat source, while heat pumps use the Earth to heat or cool your air.

Both heat sources work best in different places, and taking the above things into account before you buy one can save you time, money, and frustration. Neither is better than the other--they each have their strengths and weaknesses.