There’s no disputing that the furnaces available today offer greater fuel efficiency, home comfort and cleaner-burning heating than older models. With so many achievements in furnace and HVAC technologies, however, you may have more questions than answers for choosing the right furnace, desirable features and installation options. Read through this furnace replacement guide to help you make confident decisions regarding furnace selection and installation that’s just right for your Mid-Atlantic home.
Common Question: Repair or Replace?
High heating bills and poor furnace performance are good reasons to consider a furnace replacement. Another situation that you may be confronting is the repair-or-replace dilemma. Consider the following points to help decide what is best for your situation.
- Furnace history and age: If your furnace has been well maintained through the years, and the current repair seems to be isolated rather than the result of neglect, you may be leaning toward repairing it. However, if the furnace is 12 years old or more, with or without a good repair track record, begin researching your best furnace replacement for now or later. You do not want to be unprepared in the event of a furnace failure, and pressured to quickly install a new one.
- Comfort and efficiency: Does your ailing furnace satisfy or exceed your comfort expectations? Are your heating bills getting higher? Your HVAC professional can measure the efficiency of your furnace. If it's below current government fuel-efficiency standards, a furnace replacement may be in order.
- Repair costs: If the cost of the repair approaches half the cost of a new system, it makes sense to invest your money in a new furnace replacement. Also, you may be in need of concurrent repairs, such as old, leaky and inefficient ducts. Ask your contractor for a thorough HVAC system inspection, and consider the overall picture for repairing and modifying an ailing HVAC system, or placing investment dollars in a new system.
Fuel Type: Natural Gas, Propane or Oil?
It's important to consider the availability and cost trends of furnace fuel in your Mid-Atlantic area and community. Keep in mind that with older furnaces, changing the type of fuel was relatively simple. New furnaces today, however, are designed for one specific fuel. So, your decision is a lasting one.
All things being equal for furnace size and comparable components, consider the following points for choosing your furnace’s fuel type:
- Natural gas: Natural gas is the leading fuel source for furnaces. Natural gas is delivered by pipelines rooted through neighborhoods, and is readily available in many areas. Furnaces using natural gas are generally more cost-effective than propane and oil furnaces when considering average fuel costs, availability and heating output. To put it simply, natural gas is considerably cheaper, BTU by BTU, than propane or fuel oil, and electricity as well.
- Propane: Propane furnaces burn cleaner than natural gas and oil. Propane supply for the furnace is delivered by truck, and stored in steel tanks at the home.
- Heating or fuel oil: Oil furnaces require a little bit more maintenance than gas furnaces in order to keep components free of excessive oil residue. Like propane, oil is stored in a tank on site at the home.
Fuel Efficiency: What is AFUE?
The fuel efficiency of all furnaces is indicated by AFUE rating (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). The AFUE percentage, such as 90-98 AFUE for a high-efficiency gas furnace, is the percentage of fuel converted to usable heat in your home. Furnaces with higher AFUE cost more than standard furnaces, but the fuel savings will be substantial during the life of the furnace in regions with cold winters.
To put the importance of AFUE ratings into perspective when selecting a furnace replacement, very old furnaces typically offered 65 to 70 AFUE. Therefore, a high-efficiency furnace reduces fuel consumption by about 30 percent.
Furnace Types: What’s New in Home Heating?
Today, furnaces feature technologically advanced components. The onboard components also indicate the level of comfort and built-in safety features you may expect from a system. Following are terms that signify furnace type, which you’ll see when shopping a furnace replacement:
- Single-stage and multi-stage (two stages, three stages and more) furnaces: When you see the word “stage” preceding "furnace," it refers to the type of gas valve on board. So, a single-stage furnace uses a full-on/full-off gas valve. A two-stage furnace uses a gas valve with two heating outputs, which are generally 60-65 percent and 100 percent. Multi-stage furnaces just have more gradations of the gas valve aperture.
- Modulating furnace: A modulating furnace is a high-efficiency furnace with a modulating gas valve. A modulating gas valve self-adjusts to match heating output to heating demand in increments as precise as 1 percent.
- Variable-speed furnace: When you see the word “speed” preceding "furnace," it refers to the speed or speeds of the blower motor. A variable-speed blower motor adjusts its speed to conditions in your home. You may also see multi-speed furnace, which means the blower motor offers two or more speeds, but not variable-speed operation. Variable-speed blower motors are similar to modulating gas valves, in that they self-adjust to match furnace heating output to home heating demand (or load) in precise increments. Multi-stage and variable-speed components in a furnace save energy, improve heat circulation and reduce stress on parts, because they run at a slower and lower level of operation, more continuously.
- Condensing furnace: The word “condensing” refers to a furnace with two heat exchangers. In this type of furnace, exhaust gases are transferred from the primary heat exchanger to a secondary heat exchanger, rather than exiting through the flue. Inside the second heat exchanger, waste fumes are condensed and cooled (heat extracted) to the point condensate forms inside the heat exchanger and venting pipe. Condensing furnaces are typically designed with sealed combustion and sealed venting (air intake and exhaust). Sealed systems offer superior safety by dramatically reducing the change of furnace backdrafting. Condensing furnaces come in the AFUE 90-98 percent range.
- Dual-fuel or hybrid heating system: A dual-fuel heating system is a natural gas furnace paired with an air-source heat pump. The heat pump replaces the central A/C for summertime cooling, and it provides energy-efficient heating during milder winter days. When freezing winter temperatures arrive, the furnace powers on for primary home heating.
Extra Equipment: Superior Comfort and Savings
The furnace is one major component of the HVAC system as a whole, and is responsible for only home heating. A furnace, by itself, does little to improve home humidity, indoor air quality, and the movement of heat energy inside the living spaces. These elements of home comfort and energy efficiency are best managed with add-on equipment to the HVAC system.
- Zoning:A zoning system controls the amount of heating and cooling airflow in each zone of the home with motorized duct doors. A programmable central control panel offers the most convenience for adjusting settings.
- Humidification: A whole-home humidifier and dehumidifier attach to the ductwork system, and use an onboard fan or the furnaces blower to add or remove moisture from indoor air. In the winter, furnace operation tends to make indoor air drier, so a humidifier is often used to counter that effect.
- Air purification: Combine air-purification and filtration technologies with a whole-home air-purification system. These systems use a combination of UV lights, carbon filters and/or HEPA filtration to clean indoor air.
- Programmable thermostats: Link all compatible add-on systems and your furnace with the latest programmable thermostat technology, and enjoy total indoor environmental control at your fingertips, or remotely via a smartphone app.
How Much Does a Furnace Replacement Cost?
There are many options to consider and decisions to make throughout the process of furnace replacement. In addition to a new furnace, there are peripheral HVAC systems to consider, and the home system as a whole. Following summarizes the process for installing a new furnace replacement, and the potential costs and steps involved:
- Sticker price:The elements affecting furnace purchase price are proper sizing (i.e. over-sizing furnaces costs more and is all too common), and utilizing manufacturer, HVAC contractor and utility's rebates, specials and incentives.
- Installation costs: It's wise to schedule an energy audit to see if your home needs air sealing and insulation. Ductwork is evaluated to determine if it is compatible with the new furnace, needs modifications, repair or new design. Your furnace replacement may require new venting. Consider the cost of add-on equipment, and the payback such equipment offers in energy savings and comfort.
- Operational costs: Fuel type, costs and furnace efficiency (AFUE) determine long-term operational costs.
- Lifetime costs:Ask your HVAC contractor to perform a lifetime cost analysis of a few different furnaces and add-on equipment in consideration. The lifetime costs include the projected purchase, installation, operational and maintenance costs for the life of the system. Lifetime cost is the true investment of your furnace replacement – not simply the sticker price.
- Return on investment (ROI): When you are considering a high-efficiency furnace replacement for your Mid-Atlantic home, determine the ROI. The ROI is the point at which the cost of a more expensive furnace is offset by energy savings. From this point forward, all energy savings are dividends on your investment, and you continue to enjoy the superior comfort of the higher-efficiency furnace.
Take the guesswork out of furnace replacement by working closely with a reputable HVAC contractor. For assistance, please contact Griffith Energy Services today. We proudly serve homeowners in Baltimore, Hagerstown, Dover, Martinsburg and the surrounding region.
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