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The Right Furnace for Your Home: Some Tips on Finding It

If your goal is increased energy efficiency and comfort in your home this winter, upgrading your heating system is one of the options available to you. Simple energy-saving alterations to your house, such as sealing air leaks and improving the level of attic insulation, will also help you reach those objectives. However, under the right circumstances, a furnace upgrade is the logical next step. Some of the factors that go into making that decision include:

  • Age of your existing furnace. If it’s 15 years old or more, it’s already reached the end of its expected service life.
  • Safety issues. This one’s non-negotiable. If your furnace has a serious defect such as a cracked heat exchanger that may allow hazardous carbon monoxide gas into your home, immediate action must be taken. Since the heat exchanger is the single most expensive component in a heating system, replacing the existing furnace is usually indicated.
  • Costly repairs. If expenses to repair a malfunction exceed 40 percent of the cost of a new unit, replacement instead of repair is usually the better option.  
  • High operating costs. If your unit’s at least 15 years old, it probably came with a comparatively low AFUE (annualized fuel utilization efficiency) rating even when it was new. In addition, furnaces tend to lose efficiency as the years pass. Today’s new, more efficient furnaces with higher AFUE ratings can reduce operating costs from day one.

Choosing the right furnace for your home is a matter of determining the comfort requirements of your house, the availability of fuel, and the right efficiency for your budget.  

How Much Heat Do You Need?

The amount of heat energy required to keep your home comfortable in winter – also called the “heating load” – depends upon the thermal characteristics of your individual house. This can only be accurately determined by a professional sizing procedure. Sizing refers to the process of determining the structure’s exact heat requirements to keep temperatures in the mid-70s even during the coldest expected weather for your climate. Proper sizing isn’t a matter or guesswork or “rule of thumb" guesswork. It’s done by an HVAC contractor utilizing Manual J computer software designed for that purpose.

In a room-by-room survey of your home, details including square footage, solar exposure, number of windows, type and amount of insulation, lights and appliances, and even the number of occupants are entered into the software. The program crunches the data and generates an exact figure expressed in BTUs of energy to maintain indoor comfort. With this information, your HVAC contractor can suggest a selection of furnaces with the necessary specs to handle the heating load.

What Type of Fuel?

In most parts of the country, furnaces that burn natural gas make up the majority of new installations. Even though a standard gas furnace offers lower efficiency than an electric furnace, generally speaking, the low cost of natural gas still makes it the most economical choice.  In some areas where gas is less available, electricity, propane or fuel oil are common alternatives.

Standard or High-Efficiency?

Furnace efficiency refers to the percentage of heat energy in the fuel that actually contributes to heating your home versus the amount lost in the combustion process. This figure is expressed by a furnace’s AFUE percentage. Standard efficiency furnaces range from a 76 to 80 percent AFUE rating. High-efficiency models, known as condensing furnaces, incorporate more advanced technology to recover heat energy normally lost in the combustion process. These units can deliver AFUE efficiencies from 90 to as high as 97 percent. According to a survey of furnace manufacturers, approximately 35 percent of new installations in 2012 were condensing units with AFUE ratings of 90 percent or more.

The increased efficiency and reduced operating costs of condensing furnaces comes at a higher upfront purchase price, however. Whether lower utility bills will compensate for the higher initial cost depends upon a variety of factors such as local cost of fuel as well as the typical length of the annual heating season in your geographical area. Your heating contractor can advise you on the best efficiency choice for your needs and climate.

For more information about upgrading your furnace in the Chicago area, contact us at today.

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