Here are some features and considerations experts say you should think about
when choosing a gas or oil furnace, assuming that the contractor has determined
the correct size for your house.
High-efficiency or 80 percent efficient? If you live in an area with harsh winters, you should recoup the additional
expense of a high-efficiency condensing furnace (90 percent AFUE or more)
over the unit's lifetime. However, if your winters are more temperate,
you may be better off with an 80 percent model. If you're unsure, have your
contractor calculate fuel costs for both kinds of furnace, using your current
bills; then you can tell if future fuel savings justify the additional $1,000
or more for a 90 percent furnace.
Repair or replace? According to the 2008
Consumer Reports Buying Guide, an annual volume published by the editors
of ConsumerReports.org, "increased
efficiency is not usually an economically valid reason" to replace
an old furnace that is still in good working order. Experts generally
recommend replacing your old furnace if any of the following apply: it's
more than 15 to 20 years old; it has a pilot light rather than electronic
or hot-surface ignition; it does not have vent dampers or a draft fan;
it is a coal-burning model that has been converted to gas or oil.
Improve your home's efficiency. Before you invest in a new heating system, experts advise improving
the overall energy efficiency of your home through steps like adding insulation
and sealing air leaks. This will reduce the heating load of your
home, allowing you to purchase a smaller furnace.
Variable-speed blowers improve
the efficiency of your heating system. This device allows the furnace
to run at high speed in colder weather or low speed in milder weather.
This feature not only saves energy but also reduces wear and tear, because
the furnace isn't always cycling on and off. Furnaces with variable-speed
blowers produce fewer drafts, maintain a more constant temperature and
make less noise, because they're not always running on high.
A programmable thermostat
will save energy by reducing the amount of work your furnace
must do when no one's at home. For each degree you turn down the thermostat during
an eight-hour period, you can reduce your heating bill by about 2 percent.
Programmable thermostats can keep the house at a lower temperature when
you're not home or at night. Replacing the old thermostat is a job most
homeowners can do themselves, according to the Department of Energy.
Experts stress the importance of taking the time to find a good HVAC professional.
If you do not know one, you can ask friends and neighbors for references.
Ideally, you should get estimates in writing, along with customer references,
from at least three contractors. Make sure the contractor does a thorough
survey of your home to calculate the size of the system you will need. Your
contractor should be licensed and insured, and the technician who installs
the system should be certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
Once your furnace has been installed, proper maintenance will keep it running
at top efficiency. Steps to take include cleaning air registers, baseboards
and radiators and cleaning or replacing air filters. Your heating system
should also be tuned up periodically: once a year for oil-fired furnaces,
once every two years for gas-powered models. Editors at ConsumerReports.org
say that human error, such as inadequate maintenance (or improper installation)
accounts for twice as many furnace problems as defective equipment.
Watch the video
To learn more about caring for your gas furnace, watch this About.com video on how to light a furnace pilot light.
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