How Do I Shop for an Energy-Efficient Furnace?

General

Energy-Efficient FurnaceWith strict EPA regulations, increased competition and greater buyer demand, installing a new, energy-efficient furnace has become the new normal. But which one is right for you?

At Finish Line Heating and Cooling, we understand that researching your options can be overwhelming. That’s why our team of HVAC professionals walk every customer through all the critical factors that go into deciding on which furnace is the right fit for your home, needs and budget.

Here we’ll get you started by taking a look at a few of the key aspects that should be considered before making such a critical decision.

How an Energy-Efficient Furnace is Measured

Without getting too deep into the math, efficiency is determined by the amount of heat your furnace is able to deliver to your home using a given amount of power. The more the better.

Therefore, manufacturers are on a constant, competitive quest to design and build furnaces that utilize fuel efficiently, enabling them to keep you warm and toasty while requiring minimal energy.

How much you want to invest in an energy-efficient furnace will not only reflect these capabilities but your goals and budget, as well as furnace location, number of rooms, layout of your home and where your family tends to spend most of their time.

Choosing a Standard or Energy-Efficient Furnace

The above heat to power ratio is reflected in the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). Options you will typically find in a furnace include:

  • 80% for standard efficiency
  • 90% for high-efficiency
  • 95% in the newest and best gas-powered furnaces

Typically, a furnace with an 80% rating uses open combustion (also called atmospheric) which pulls in air from the surrounding space while a 90%+ efficient furnace uses sealed combustion which draws outdoor air through a PVC pipe. This difference can be critical in choosing a furnace – here’s why:

Installation Cost – If you want to go with a 90%+ energy-efficient furnace, we’ll first need to see where it will be installed. For a vented attic or crawl space, an airway will need to be created and pipe fitted for combustion air to enter the unit. This makes installation more complicated and will cost more up front.

If you’re on a tight budget, an 80% efficient unit that uses open combustion and requires no changes to the structure of your home may be your best option.

Safe Gas Venting – When a furnace is installed in a well-vented space, you’ll have a much larger number of furnace models to choose from. However, in a sealed attic or other unvented area, open combustion furnaces and the gases they produce can pose a serious safety hazard. Your best bet might be the more energy-efficient furnace with a concentric vent that sucks in air and expels exhaust out of your home.

Even More Furnace Features and Options

Once your home structure and furnace location help narrow down the field of energy-efficient furnace models to choose from, you can look at more options to maximize your heat to power ratio.

Single-Stage Furnace

These furnaces only have one setting, full blast. That means it will blow warm air into your home using the maximum capacity possible until it reaches the temperature set on your thermostat.

Two-Stage Furnace

This is a quieter, more energy-efficient furnace that uses two speeds – full blast and a low setting that’s around 60-65% of maximum. On cool fall days, running your heat on low will likely suffice. In the winter, switching from high to low heat can keep your home at an even temperature and prevent cold spots.

When looking at furnace models, both standard and high-efficiency furnaces often come as single-stage or two-stage units. So, you’ll have to make a choice here. Typically, and if used properly, a standard two-stage furnace (80% efficient) will keep utility bills lower than a one-stage 90%+ furnace.

Variable Speed Airflow

This is another energy-efficient furnace option to consider. While standard furnaces deliver maximum airflow, furnaces with variable speed airflow offer greater control. And by more efficiently adjusting the amount of hot air that enters your home at any given time, you’ll be able to decrease your energy use.

Calculating Your Potential Annual Savings

At Finish Line Heating and Cooling, we know that it all comes down to dollars and cents. While getting the most energy-efficient furnace possible is the goal, you’ll need to look at the cost for a new unit and installation, as well as how much you could potentially save on utility bills year-over-year.

Here’s a quick calculation to figure out your savings. Take a look at your gas/electric bill from the last year and add up the total cost. Then find the AFUE rating of your current furnace which is typically listed on a bright yellow label adhered to your furnace. Now:

  • Let’s say you spend $1,200 per year on heating with an 80% efficient furnace
  • So, you’re getting $960 worth of heat and $240 worth of waste
  • If you go with a 95% efficient unit, divide the increase in efficiency by the new furnace’s overall efficiency to get your potential savings percentage: 15 divided by 95, or about 15.8%
  • Your savings will be the yearly bill multiplied by the savings percentage, so approximately $190

What’s in a Furnace Name?

When shopping for an energy-efficient furnace, you may be tempted to go with the most popular brand name or the most expensive option available. After all, you get what you pay for – right? In reality, the considerations that should be given the most weight are efficiency, capability and warranty. We strongly encourage you to do your research and especially read the fine print on warranties. This will ensure that you make the best choice and find the right fit for your home and budget.

Of course, the team here at Finish Line Heating and Cooling can help make the process easy. We’ll break down everything you need to know and guide you in choosing an energy-efficient furnace that will serve you well for many winters to come. Call or contact us today and let’s get started!

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