Buying A Furnace

Buying a new furnace for your home isn’t something most homeowners think about. Your typical furnace will last approximately 20 years with proper maintenance and care, so purchasing a new furnace is very much an investment. Not only in the operation and efficiency of the unit, but in your comfort for the next 20 years!

Many people purchase a furnace the same way they would get their carpets cleaned or a clogged drain cleared; they open the phone book and call the first HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) contractor on the list. While doing this may get you a furnace that will keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer, it may also have you spending hundreds or even thousands more over the life of your unit!

Here are some tips to help you make a more informed decision about what is best for your home and your family’s comfort.

#1) Do it right the first time

Among the many factors of picking not only the right company, but the right furnace you want to make sure it is installed correctly and per your local codes. You are making an investment when buying a new furnace and the initial investment may not be the only cost.

Is the furnace the right size for my home? A furnace that is either too large or too small can actually cost you up to twice as much as your initial investment and your utility bills may be 15%-45% more expensive over the course of the furnaces life if it is not sized correctly. A furnace that is not sized correctly will have a shorter life span due to constant expansion and contraction of the heat exchanger. A furnace not sized correctly can also cost you more in utility bills due to a unit being too small and running constantly to keep up with the cold weather or a unit being too big and running every few minutes due to the unit heating up the home too fast. Remember, bigger is not always better!

#2) Picking the best contractor

The second most important thing to remember when buying a new furnace is to use a good HVAC contractor. Ask your friends and family for referrals and check their status on sites such as Angies List, Kudzu, and most importantly the Better Business Bureau. Sites like these will have actual customer ratings and comments on their experiences with that contractor.

A good contractor…

  • …should not only give you a good price, but should also have a full office staff to provide you with scheduling and customer service. You may save some money by using a small shop, but when the weather takes a turn for the worse, tracking that person down and getting immediate service will be difficult, if not impossible!
  • …must be fully licensed, insured, and bonded to work in your town and in your home. Deal with a contractor that is not is a risk to your system and your family’s health and safety!
  • …should act like a guest in your home. This includes using drop cloths and shoe covers to protect your floors, taking extra precautions when working in delicate areas (ex: gardens) and always treating you with the highest level of respect.

#3) Picking the best unit for your home

There are many different levels and types of furnaces that can be installed in almost any home. The differences can make a world of difference in not only the initial investment, but also in the savings of utility costs over the life of the furnace. Some of these items are:

  • The efficiency of the unit (AFUE - Annual Fuel Usage Efficiency)
    Today’s furnaces range anywhere from 80% all the way up to 98% AFUE, or Annual Fuel Usage Efficiency, which is similar to Miles Per Gallon (MPG) on your car. A higher AFUE means you pay less to heat your home. Higher AFUE furnaces will cost more initially, but over the life of the furnace will actually cost you less! The efficiency your existing unit may be anywhere from 60% to 80% depending on its age. 80% furnaces are usually vented into a chimney along with your water heater and naturally vent dangerous carbon monoxide gases in to the atmosphere. More efficient furnaces (90% and above) carry more moisture in their vent gases and therefore must be vented using PVC pipe to the outdoors. An easy way to visualize the efficiency of a furnace is this: When you have an 80% efficiency furnace, for every $100 you spend to heat your home you can use $80 to heat the home and send $20 up the chimney. When you have a 95% efficiency furnace, you can spend $95 to heat the home and only send $5 up the chimney. So you can see, over the life of the furnace the efficiency will play a major role in off-setting that initial installation cost!
  • Single Stage, Two Stage, Variable, Modulating?
    Newer furnaces also have the latest money saving technologies. These technologies not only save you money, but can also make your family more comfortable. Your existing furnace is most likely a "Single Stage" furnace, meaning it is either on full blast or it is turned off. This is fine on the few, frigid, below zero days of Chicago winters. However, a majority of the winter, this will cause your home to heat up too quickly, causing uneven heat between rooms and floors. A solution to this problem is a "Two-Stage" furnace that uses a unique gas valve that will start off in a "low" setting (saving you money) and will automatically kick up to the "high" setting when needed. This will allow the furnace to run longer, creating better humidity control, more even heating, and better air cleaning. A furnace that runs longer may actually be more efficient than one that turns on and off all the time! The top of the line furnaces are units called "Variable or Modulating." These units use gas valves that are either multi-staged or fully modulating valves and can burn gas anywhere from 40%-100%, giving you optimal savings and comfort during the winter!
  • Blower motors
    Many manufacturers offer different types of blower motors in each of their furnaces. A basic blower motor is a single stage motor that will turn on at full blast or be off. A multi-stage or multi-speed, high-efficiency blower motor can save you money and create a more comfortable home. A "DC" variable speed motor is a bit of a luxury, but is the ultimate in money savings and comfort control. These motors, like a modulating gas valve, will start off in a low setting and then ramp up to the higher speeds as needed. This ramping action eliminates many of today’s comfort problems, including bad ductwork, hot and cold spots in the home, and poor humidity control. They also eliminate that blast of cold air when the furnace first starts running! These motors use about 1/6 of the normal blower motors electricity, and can be run year-round for better allergy control and air cleaning.

#4) Does it make sense to replace my air conditioner at the same time?

Air conditioning systems have an indoor component to them that is usually above the furnace. This indoor coil is sized to match the air conditioner not only in size, but also in type of refrigerant used as well. It is beneficial to consider replacing the a-coil at the same time as the furnace, since we need to remove or secure the coil when replacing the furnace. Replacing the coil portion or the entire air conditioning system at the same time can save you hundreds of dollars in labor since the furnace and ductwork will already be taken apart and will be much easier to replace than after the furnace has been installed.

#5) The brand of the unit

You will notice that the brand of the unit is the last item to be considered. Any furnace can work and will work relatively well to heat your home. Better name brands will most likely give you more reliability over the years and will most likely result in fewer breakdowns during the life of the furnace. However, as stated before, "The most important day of the furnace's life is the day of installation." Even the best and most efficient furnace can cost you more money if it is not installed or maintained properly over the course of its life. Maintaining your furnace is absolutely crucial to not only achieve the greatest savings from your furnace, but in most cases it is crucial to maintain the manufacturer’s warranty so the unit may be serviced by a trained professional every year!

Unique Indoor Comfort of Chicago Better Business Bureau Angie's List