A home furnace primer

Since most homes are pre-equipped with a heating system, many buyers are inexperienced when it comes to purchasing a new furnace. Both the quality of the product and the installation will determine how well your home is heated and the long-term expenses for energy costs. Instead of making a hasty, expensive decision, get informed about smart ways to provide warmth and comfort in your home without obliterating your budget.

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Types of Residential Furnaces

Household furnaces are designed to last for decades, so many homeowners have older heating systems that lack the efficiency and convenience of updated models. Furnaces can be powered by propane, natural gas, oil, electricity and less commonly used fuels, such as coal and wood. The type of fuel you use will typically depend on what is available in your home, as well as local regulations. Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) percentages are reported for all types of residential furnaces in order to help buyers find the most economical solutions.

Comparisons of fuel costs are based on initial and long-term expenses. A gas furnace, for example, is most efficient overall, but installation costs may be more expensive than either oil or electric. Both oil and electric furnaces are safer options, with no dangerous emissions and minimal fuel hazards, but oil furnaces produce soot and other residue over time. These types of fuel are also more costly to use on a regular basis, so an electric furnace is only practical in areas where electricity costs are lower than usual or the installation requirements for a gas appliance cannot be met.

Choosing a Home Furnace

A furnace is one home appliance that is worth the extra expense for enhanced features. To get the best performance and long-term cost benefits, focus on units with a two-stage operation system, variable speed fan and air filter. A two-stage system will alternate burner settings to distribute heat more evenly, while a variable fan controls temperature and airflow more effectively. Furnace filters, air purifiers and humidifiers are options that help to regulate air quality by eliminating harmful allergens and controlling the amount of moisture in the air.

Additional features can increase the price of a furnace by 20 to 30 percent, but you will ultimately benefit if you intend to remain in your current home. For standard 80 percent efficiency furnaces, expect to pay between $800 and $1,200. For 90 percent efficiency, expect to pay between $1,200 and $2,000, and for top-tier products, expect prices well above $2,000. Although the brand you choose may depend on the contractor's recommendation, the most reliable, high-quality furnace brands include Carrier, Trane and Lennox. Even if you don't use one of these manufacturers, they might be useful in making comparisons with other brands.

Planning the Installation

The most important aspect of purchasing a furnace is negotiating a price with the contractor. Before you make a firm decision, always ask for an assessment (known as a load calculation) of your home's size and insulation in order to find furnaces with the right capacity. An oversized furnace will operate inconsistently and increase energy costs, so accommodating your household needs correctly is essential.

Always get quotes and assessments from more than one contractor to find the best price, and narrow down the list of available contractors through referrals from family and friends. A new furnace should last for a few decades if maintained responsibly, but a faulty installation can cause ongoing problems. Ultimately, you can give yourself an invaluable advantage by showing contractors how knowledgeable you are about the appliance and being clear about your expectations for the job.