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Furnace Replacement - Homeowners Guide You Can Use Today [Updated]

by Stewart Unsdorfer



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If you’ve decided this is the year you’ll replace your home furnace, begin your research now so your new system is in place in time for winter.

You’ll find there are many brands to choose from, with modern features and energy-efficient options that should factor into your purchasing decision.

In this guide, we explain the most important features of residential gas furnaces (and whether you should consider converting to a gas furnace), furnace replacement and present home heating enhancements that can work together with your system.

 

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Chapter 1

Introduction to Your Furnace System

Given the times with internet search, homeowners can search for information and value in any household purchase they make.

Searching for a furnace is no different.

When it comes time to replace your furnace, you want your equipment to work while minimizing costs and delivering comfort to your home. The best furnaces are energy efficient. 

The question we field a lot is:

"Are some furnaces better than others?"

The higher the AFUE percentage, the more efficient the furnace or heat pump is. (I discuss more on AFUE in chapter 3).

Each brand of furnace offers a similar array of key features, depending on price. Understanding the different parts of your gas furnace can help you perform maintenance and diagnose problems correctly.

Variable-speed Blowers - “variable speed” refers to the furnace's fan motor, which moves at different speeds to control the flow of heat and cool air in your home.

Blower Motor - The air from your furnace gets passed through your ducts using the blower motor. It is responsible for the process of "cycling air."

Air Filtration - Fitting a furnace with an electrostatic filter, which uses an electrical charge to help trap particles, or a high-efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) filter can reduce the amount of dust blown through the heating system.

Heat Exchanger - where the cold air is heated in a gas furnace.

Venting - pipes that lead from the furnace to the outside. Very important piece because they direct gases out of your home.

Zoned Heating - A zoned heating and cooling system breaks your home into different areas or “zones”, each controlled separately by a thermostat. The larger a home, the more zoned heating can be useful and economical.

It's no secret that your heating and cooling is the most important element for your home. As homeowners, it's critical to understand and stay up-to-date on your HVAC system.

Chapter 2

Is It Time To Replace Your Furnace?

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Unless your furnace system breaks down completely, it’s sometimes difficult to know the best time to replace an aging furnace.

If you’re wondering if this is the year to replace your furnace, there are some signs that will alert you to potential problems you can avoid by replacing your system now.

Here are some warning signs that may indicate your system is in need of replacement:

  • System is aging (more than 12 - 15 years old)
  • System requires frequent repairs
  • System does not supply sufficient warmth
  • Unit cycles on and off irregularly
  • Energy bills are increasing
  • Unit emits unusual noises
  • Low indoor air quality is causing respiratory issues, smells (foul odor)

Home owners are often faced with the decision to replace their furnace and/or air conditioning system. There is a time it's smarter to replace both units at the same time (even if one is still working). 

Bonus Offer: Download our Replacing Your Furnace and Air Conditioner Together Go-to Guidebook as a PDF for free. Easily save it or print for reference anytime.

To help guide you in your decision, keep in mind the number of repairs and breakdowns your unit is experiencing. In most cases, your furnace should last 20+ years, depending on if you had it professionally maintained.

We understand it's hard to answer objectively because it can be costly to replace a furnace. But I think we can all agree...

It is a must in the Cleveland-area where winters can be harsh.

For a few more insights you can read: When Should I Replace My Furnace FAQ.

Chapter 3

Features of Today’s Gas Furnaces

The system features that set today’s best furnaces apart are centered around one thing: energy efficiency.

Not only are efficiency standards now set by industry regulations, but these standards make it simple to lower your home energy use and in turn, save money. New furnaces also have many more safety controls and sensors than older furnaces.

The highest-efficiency units don’t even need a chimney. They vent out from the sides and draw their own combustion air in from the outside. They are designed for safety and savings.

Look for these features when shopping for your new system:

System Size Does Matter for Efficiency

The “size” of your furnace system refers to how much heat is put out (how much heat it can produce in an hour). This is one of the most valuable aspects of the furnace you’ll choose.

Why...

Because installing the correct size furnace is essential to the efficiency, reliability, operation, sound levels, comfort and ongoing costs of heating your home. 

To determine the right size system for your unique home, the home must be evaluated by a qualified contractor who will perform a full home assessment. The assessment takes into consideration the square footage of your home, and other factors including the windows, insulation and age of the home.

It is critical that the furnace is not too large for the space it is heating.

An oversized furnace will cycle on and off more frequently. It will blow out much more air than is needed, which can become noisy.

Also, a short cycling furnace can leave hot and cold spots in your home and will not provide the same level of comfort as a properly sized furnace. It will also require more maintenance and repairs and ultimately fail much sooner than a properly sized furnace. 

What is AFUE Efficiency Rating?

The AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating of furnaces is a measure of fuel efficiency, or how well a unit converts fuel to heat inside your home. The minimum AFUE rating requirement for furnaces on the market today is 80%, but many have ratings that are much higher.

Furnaces with AFUE ratings between 90% - 98% are considered “high efficiency” furnaces. These units can cost more upfront but can save money and energy over time and usually have advanced features.

High-efficiency systems are also eligible for rebates from your local utility company, currently up to $400 in some areas (depending on when you are reading this article).

Multi-Stage Burners Delivers Different Levels of Heat

A multi-stage burner, or modulating burner, deliver different levels of heat to your home, depending on demand inside the home. Heat levels from a furnace with this feature can be adjusted electronically to provide the warmth desired at any given time.

trane gas furnace.pngYou're the Boss With Programmable Thermostat and Smart Controls 

A programmable thermostat in your home allows you to automatically adjust the temperature and energy use, based on your personal schedule. If you spend several hours each day away from home, you can set the temperature to be a little cooler during that time and set it to warm up shortly before you return home.

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Smart controls, available with all new systems, go beyond just adjusting the temperature to monitor other qualities in and around your home, including:

  • Outdoor temperature
  • Humidity levels
  • System efficiency

In addition, smart controls can allow you to adjust indoor conditions remotely and can also remind you to change the filter in your system regularly.

Fixed, Multi-Speed or Variable Speed Blowers

The furnace blower is a fan that delivers warm or cold air through the duct system of your home. For customized home comfort, variable speed blowers are ideal, as they can change the speed at which warm air is distributed in your home. Some variable speed blowers change the speed of airflow based on “smart” features built into the system that can sense a change in the environment and adjust accordingly.

Fixed speed blowers work at one speed when turned on, which is determined by the design and size of the system.

Electronic Ignition Systems Save Energy

Hot surface ignition (HSI) systems and direct spark ignition systems are the most common furnace ignition mechanisms in use today. Both are electronic systems that save energy because they are not on all the time, compared to the older “pilot” ignition systems.

Parts and Labor Warranty You Need to Know

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All quality furnace brands provide a product warranty. Be sure you understand what is covered by the warranty and the length of it as you make your purchase decision.

Warranties can include:

  • Manufacturer parts
  • Manufacturer labor
  • Heat exchanger warranty
  • Contractor parts and labor

Note that, in some cases, manufacturers will require that you provide the service history of the system before honoring the warranty provisions.

Extended Service Agreements

Parts and services not covered under your warranty can be covered under a contractor’s service agreement. When you purchase this type of service contract, you don’t have to worry about out-of-pocket expenses due to system breakdowns or repairs for the length of the agreement.

Your qualified contractor gets to know you and your system and takes care of service calls when you select this type of protection for your system.

Chapter 4

Home Heating Enhancements for Comfort

In addition to a high-efficiency furnace, there are several other home enhancements that can contribute to your home’s overall comfort throughout the winter.

Consider these additions to your home heating plan for maximum comfort.

Air Cleaners Improve Air Quality

Air cleaners improve indoor air quality by removing harmful contaminants, such as smoke, dust, or chemical odors from the air in your home. These pollutants can contribute to allergy symptoms and respiratory issues in household members, which can be reduced with an air cleaner. These units can be stand-alone or affixed to an HVAC system. 

Zoning Systems Give You More Control 

Zoning systems can benefit homes where you may want more precise control over heating and cooling for multiple, separate areas of your home.

A common zoning scenario is a home with a finished basement and all bedrooms on the second floor. This type of system can be useful at times when you do not want to cool all three areas to the same temperature at the same time. You can achieve targeted heating or cooling in any area, or zone, at any time. Some traditional systems may not be able to provide even temperatures to all three levels consistently.

A zoning system can be added to almost any existing heating and air conditioning system, as long as there is access to the current ductwork. Not only will a zoning system provide a higher level of comfort and more precise control, but it can also provide substantial savings in energy costs.

Add Moisture with Humidifiers

The comfort of your indoor air can be improved during the winter with the use of a humidifier. Humidifiers used in the winter can add moisture to dry air, reducing skin irritations and breathing difficulties. These units can be stand-alone or affixed to an HVAC system.

Add UV Lighting to Eliminate Bacteria

Adding UV (ultraviolet) lights to work with your HVAC system can eliminate harmful bacteria, mold, and other micro-organisms during the system’s operation process.

They can reduce indoor air pollution and essentially “clean” the air as it moves through your system.

Chapter 5

Ready for a Home Assessment?

With a full home heating assessment, you’ll learn:

  • The correct size/capacity furnace recommended for your home. When the furnace is too large, it can cause some issues in the home. From short cycling to inefficient operation to an uncomfortable living space. 
  • Where leaks or damage exist within your ductwork. Is the duct system designed and installed properly?
  • Ways to improve your home’s comfort and indoor air quality. One of the best indoor air quality tips that will keep your indoor air quality at optimum levels is to simply turn on your furnace blower. This helps re-circulate the air in your home through your intake and back out of the supply ducts. 

And let's not forget to...

1. Change your air filter

2. Ventilate wisely

3. Maintain proper humidity 

  • Options for furnace types or heating alternatives. The largest impact of savings often lies in your Heating, Air Conditioning and Ventilation (HVAC) system's ability to heat or cool your home efficiently. In addition to traditional gas furnace systems, there are other ways to heat your home if you're interested in energy savings or if your home has a unique configuration or heating needs.   

You may be able to save on heating costs with heating alternatives such as boilers, heat pumps, geothermal or radiant heat systems.

As homeowners, fall is the best time to ensure your furnace will operate at peak performance (assuming you don't need a furnace replacement). Most furnace breakdowns occur due to lack of maintenance.

If you want your furnace ready for winter, we also offer our 21-point furnace clean & tune inspection. 

Chapter 6

Should I Convert to a Gas Furnace?

This chapter is dedicated to those homeowners, trying to make that decision whether it's worth the cost to convert to a gas furnace. The cost to install a gas furnace varies by region. 

Overall, natural gas is typically less expensive than electricity. An advantage to a gas furnace is lower fuel costs with high heat efficiency, which is better for colder climates. Electric furnaces are less expensive and easier to install but have higher fuel costs. They are considered better for warmer climates. 

Fixr, gives you a quick resource to determine the cost to install a gas versus an electric furnace by region (and even by zip code). There are pros and cons to both systems.

Fixr goes on to point out...

"The higher cost of a more efficient gas system will most often be offset by lower fuel costs in regions with harsh winters."

If you decide to convert to a gas furnace (from an electric or other type), there are steps you can take to determine how long it will take to get your initial investment back. There are a few steps to help you analyze the cost of buying a new, more efficient HVAC.

How long will it take me to recoup my initial investment of buying a new gas furnace? 

Step 1: Determine what you are already paying for your gas or electric unit annually. 

Step 2: With the help of an HVAC professional, determine the cost of a new installation.

Step 3: Factor in any rebates that may be offered at the time of purchase.

Step 4: Use the EnergyGuide label to give you an approximate amount of how much energy it will use annually. The more energy-efficient, the less it costs to run.

Step 5: Multiply the number in step 4 by the cost of energy in your local area. Your utility bill should be able to help with this number.

Step 6: Estimate the difference in operating your new furnace versus operating your old furnace for the year.

Step 7: Divide the cost of your new furnace by the energy cost savings. This will show you how long it will take for the newer, more efficient furnace to pay for itself in the money you save in energy savings. 

HomeAdvisor, How Much Does it Cost to Install a Furnace, gives a step by step process on furnace efficiency, labor costs for furnace installation, considerations for furnace replacement, and more.  

Other considerations:

1. Does your home already have a gas line?

If your home does not currently have a gas line, you will have to factor in the cost of adding one.

2. Do you currently have a forced-air system in place?

Forced-air refers to an HVAC system that pushes air through ducts to heat and cool your home. These systems rely on ductwork and vents for heat/air distribution. Gas heating which relies on a furnace also requires a forced air system. 

You will also need to factor in the additional ductwork cost if your home is not equipped with ducts.

3. There is always another option for your home - a Mini-Split Heat Pump System. You can install in new homes or retrofit in older homes. It gives you the ability to avoid renovation of ductwork and still get efficient heating and home comfort. 

Whether you are considering replacing a furnace that is no longer working, or buying a new heating system, it's best to consult with a licensed HVAC professional.

Conclusion

Furnaces have come a long way in the past decades. A primary focus of some manufacturers is zone control. It enables even temperature distribution and different comfort levels for your family.

As a homeowner, one of the most important decisions you may encounter is when it's time to replace one of your major appliances. Your furnace falls into that category. Your heating system is an investment in your home, be sure to have all the information to help ease in your decision-making.

Keep in mind the age of your current furnace, AFUE rating, performance, and cost to repair your existing furnace.

blog author

Stewart Unsdorfer

Stewart has been in the HVAC business for more than 25 years. He is a state licensed heating and A/C contractor, as well as being certified in design, fabrication, layout and installation of forced air heating / cooling systems.

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