As temperatures fall in the upper Midwest, it’s natural to start thinking about heating your home for the coming season, and a perfect time to consider installing an energy efficient furnace. But unless you’ve recently purchased a new furnace, you may not be aware of current innovations in both efficiency and comfort. Here are a few tips to help you get started researching and selecting the right furnace for your home.
Modern Heating Methods
Standard furnaces, especially those installed prior to 1992, operate in either “on” or “off” states, or what is known as “single stage” heating. However, single stage heating is significantly less efficient than either multistage or modulating heat.
- Multistage Heating — Operates on longer heating cycles, with lower heat outputs, creating a slower warm up instead of a blast of hot air. Once the target temperature is reached, these furnaces push smaller amounts of heat to maintain steady heating. This results in lower airflow, which means a lower sound level, as well. The advantages are greater fuel efficiency, lower heating bills, quieter operation, and greater comfort.
- Modulating Heating — Even more efficient than multistage heating. It operates in what can be described as cruise control for your furnace. In other words, the heat ramps up and slows down as needed to create a consistent, balanced heat.
How Heating Efficiency is Measured
As soon as you start comparing furnaces, you’re going to hear about AFUE, or Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. This is the measurement for heating efficiency and is calculated by comparing the amount of heat produced (in BTUs) against the gas input required to produce that heat. A rating of 97%, for example, means that 97% of the heat generated is usable heat within your home. Only 3% of that heat is sent up the chimney. Most modern furnaces are rated between 94% and 97%, compared to only 60% to 80% of older furnaces. That’s a lot of fuel, heat, and cash savings!
In addition to gas efficiency, new furnaces have advancements in the blower motor that can significantly cut your electric bill. Most of these new motors (called electronically commutated motors, or ECMs) have modulating abilities that precisely determine the amount of air needed, speeding up and slowing down to provide optimal comfort.
Replacing Your Old Furnace
In addition to choosing your new furnace, you’ll want to keep in mind that its installation may mean some adjustments to your current system. In particular, you may need some updates to your ductwork to fit the new furnace. And if you currently have a metal flue pipe leading to the chimney, you will need to have that replaced with vented plastic, which is used on all new high-efficiency furnaces.
There are many, many options available in today’s heating market, so it’s a good idea to do some up-front research on your choices. A good place to start is Energy Star’s list of most efficient furnaces for 2016. This list reviews and compares all of the top rated furnaces in an easy to understand format.
Once you have some ideas in mind, talk to your heating professional to get their assessment of your system and what solutions will work best for your home and family.