Need to buy a new furnace? If you're like most homeowners, you may dread this expenditure, but the furnace you buy can prove to be one of the best investments you make around your house. The whole concept of ‘investment’ is that what you buy will produce benefits far beyond what you paid. This is particularly true when you invest in an energy efficient furnace, as you not only buy an appliance that will heat your home, but one that will keep you more comfortable than you expected, and save you money in heating bills.
How Your Heating System Works
Your heating system, which is usually connected to your air-conditioning system as well, sends treated air throughout your home through a series of ducts. A gas-fueled heating system has seven main parts that include the:
- Draft Inducer Fan, to create a draft up the chimney.
- Igniter and Valve, to ignite the gas and allow it to flow through the system once the thermostat and other controls are energized.
- Burner, where fuel and air mix at the proper ratio to produce efficient burning.
- Heat Exchanger, where a gas flame passes over a metal plate and distributes heat to the house.
- Blower, which pulls in cool air to be heated and pushes out warm air to the ducts, for distribution to individual rooms.
- Cold Air Return, which brings air back to the furnace for heating.
- Furnace Filter, which is attached to the furnace to remove smoke, dust, and allergens.
How Efficiently Does Your System Work?
When all the parts work together, standard gas furnaces average about an 80% efficiency, which means they may waste 20% of the air you pay to heat. Electric furnaces fare better, with 95 to 100% efficiency, as they produce no combustion by-products.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) now requires that new furnaces display their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) to make it easy for customers to see the difference between models. Unfortunately, the AFUE does not consider the amount of heat loss that escapes from docks located in attics, garages, basements, or other spaces where the air is not conditioned. All furnaces manufactured today must have an AFUE rating of 78%, but the colder the area where you live, the higher of a reading you want. If you have to buy a new furnace, you might want to consider a high efficiency model. This mainly applies to gas furnaces, as electric furnaces have not had any major improvements that make them more efficient.
What Improvements Will You See In A High-efficiency Gas Furnace?
A high-efficiency gas furnace improves on the functioning of many of these parts.
- The furnace cabinet is insulated to prevent heat loss, while the lower compartment is insulated to minimize operating noise.
- An electric ignition replaces the need for a pilot light, a feature that can save up to 6% in fuel.
- The draft blower in modern furnaces pulls fuel to the heat exchanger at a controlled rate, and then stops when the burner stops.
- Secondary heat exchangers trap vent gases to pre-heat household air, which can increase AFUE ratings to 95%.
- New furnaces also monitor draft to the heat exchanger, and senses potentially dangerous restrictions in vent flow.
- The heat exchangers may be corrosion resistant.
These improvements have made high-efficiency gas furnaces more expensive than standard units, but when viewing the lifetime cost to operate the two types of furnace, the savings are substantial. The EPA, which has tested and rated many furnaces, claims across the board that high-efficiency gas furnaces save about 21% in fuel costs, regardless of their capacity.
Costs When Selecting A New Furnace
In comparison to electric furnaces, which usually run from $1,000-$2,500, standard gas furnaces usually cost from $1,700-$5,000, including installation. High efficiency models range from $4,002 - $12,500. Gas furnaces have half the lifespan of an electric furnace.
However, in some areas electricity is much more expensive than gas, so the operating costs for electric furnaces are much higher. If you are shopping for new furnace, whether you go for a high efficient gas furnace or an efficient electric furnace depends on what is available in your neighborhood, as you need to have the piping infrastructure to hook up gas, plus have your home vented for gas.
Calculating Operating Costs
As with any major home improvement purchase, you need to consider purchase price, cost of installation, and available energy credits in view of your budget. Assuming that your current furnace is the right size for your home, and you replace it with one of the same size, the AFUE ratings make it easy to calculate how much you would save with a high-efficiency model.
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