Is a Heat Pump More Efficient Than Propane?

A heat pump can be more efficient than propane in certain scenarios, but it ultimately depends on various factors such as climate, electric rates, and the specific heating needs of a building. Heat pumps operate by transferring heat from the outside air or ground into a building, while propane furnaces generate heat by burning propane.

Heat Pump Efficiency vs. Propane Furnaces

Heat pumps generally have higher efficiency ratings than propane furnaces, with coefficients of performance (COP) often exceeding 3, meaning they produce 3 units of heat for every unit of electricity used. In contrast, propane furnaces typically have COPs around 0.96, indicating that they produce 0.96 units of heat for every unit of propane burned.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average efficiency of air-source heat pumps is around 300%, while the average efficiency of propane furnaces is around 90-98%. This means that for every 1 unit of energy input, a heat pump can produce 3 units of heat output, while a propane furnace can only produce 0.9-0.98 units of heat output.

However, it’s important to note that heat pumps can lose efficiency as outdoor temperatures drop, and backup heat sources may be required in colder climates. In regions with milder winters, heat pumps can maintain their high efficiency and outperform propane furnaces in terms of energy savings.

Electricity Costs and Heat Pump Efficiency

is a heat pump more efficient than propane

Electricity costs play a significant role in determining the overall efficiency of a heat pump. If electricity rates are low, a heat pump can be a cost-effective heating solution. For instance, an uncle in western Pennsylvania locked in an electric rate of 2 cents per kWh for 15 years, making a heat pump a more economical choice than propane.

According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in regions with electricity prices below 12 cents per kWh, heat pumps are generally more cost-effective than propane furnaces. However, in areas with higher electricity rates, the cost-effectiveness of a heat pump may be compromised.

To illustrate the impact of electricity costs, let’s consider the following example:

Scenario Electricity Rate Propane Rate Heat Pump COP Propane Furnace Efficiency Annual Heating Cost
Low Electricity Rate $0.10/kWh $2.50/gallon 3.5 95% $800
High Electricity Rate $0.20/kWh $2.50/gallon 3.5 95% $1,600

In the low electricity rate scenario, the heat pump would have a significantly lower annual heating cost compared to the propane furnace. However, in the high electricity rate scenario, the heat pump’s annual heating cost would be double that of the propane furnace.

Longevity and Maintenance Considerations

Propane furnaces have the advantage of retaining their efficiency better than electric heat pumps over time. The older an electric heat pump is, the more electricity it requires to function effectively. Additionally, heat pumps can experience issues with low airflow, leaky ducts, and incorrect refrigerant charge, contributing to their shorter operational life compared to propane furnaces, which typically last around 20 years.

According to a study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the average lifespan of a heat pump is around 15 years, while a propane furnace can last up to 20 years with proper maintenance. The higher maintenance requirements and potential for efficiency degradation over time can make heat pumps less cost-effective in the long run, especially in colder climates where backup heating is necessary.

Environmental Impact Considerations

In terms of environmental impact, propane burns cleanly and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than most other energy sources, making it a more environmentally friendly option than electricity in some cases. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, propane has a lower carbon content than other fossil fuels, emitting around 139 pounds of CO2 per million BTU of energy, compared to 157 pounds for natural gas and 228 pounds for heating oil.

However, the environmental impact of a heat pump can be more favorable if the electricity used to power it is generated from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power. In regions with a cleaner electricity grid, the overall environmental impact of a heat pump may be lower than that of a propane furnace.


When considering whether a heat pump or propane furnace is the most efficient choice, it is essential to evaluate the specific circumstances of a building, including climate, electric rates, and heating needs. A heat pump may be more efficient in milder climates with low electricity costs, while a propane furnace might be a better option in colder regions or areas with higher electricity rates. Factors such as longevity, maintenance requirements, and environmental impact should also be taken into account to make an informed decision.


  1. U.S. Department of Energy. (n.d.). Heat Pump Systems. Retrieved from
  2. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (2016). Comparison of Fuel Cost Savings of Different Heating Systems. Retrieved from
  3. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. (2019). Heat Pump Lifespans. Retrieved from
  4. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2022). Carbon Dioxide Emissions Coefficients. Retrieved from