Welcome Guest Poster, Allan Lake, owner of Good Guys Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing. He provides some food for thought about whether it is time to replace your heating system:
As a homeowner, deciding when to replace your furnace is one of the largest purchasing decisions you’ll have to make. This post will look at the main factors to consider.
How long does the average furnace last?
Heating technicians observe that furnaces typically start to become very unreliable after about 15 years, and heat exchangers (the main component of the system) usually fail after about 20 years. According to the EPA, you should start to consider replacing your furnace when it is 15 years old, especially if you have high utility costs or the system is breaking down.
How much will you save on energy?
The efficiency of new furnaces has increased dramatically over the past 20 years or so. Most furnaces made before 1992 are only 60-70% efficient. In 1992, the US Department of Energy set the minimum efficiency rating of new furnaces at 78%. This means that 78% of the heat the furnace produces is actually used to heat your home, while the rest is wasted. The minimum efficiency was bumped up slightly to 80% in 2007. However, many new furnaces exceed this standard, being up to 98% efficient.
This means that new furnaces use up to 40% less energy than older models! However, natural gas prices are at a 10 year low, so the savings still are not as great as they once were. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average natural gas furnace is expected to use about $715 of fuel this winter. However, costs vary widely by region (from $1031 in the Northeast to $477 in the South), as well as the size and insulation level of your home.
In general, at current gas prices, only home with high heating costs (large, older, poorly insulated homes in Northern states) will receive a quick payback (less than 7 years) when installing a new high efficiency furnace. But note that this may change if gas prices rise again.
Efficiency standards about to be raised again
As of May 1, 2013, only high efficiency furnaces (furnaces over 90% efficient) will be legal to install in Northern states (Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming).
As mentioned, these furnaces use less energy than standard 80% efficient furnaces, but they are also much more difficult to install. High efficiency furnaces extract so much heat from the exhaust gases that the water vapor condenses to a liquid. This means that they cannot use the old tin venting, as it would rust. Instead, new plastic venting must be installed out the side of the house.
This can be very difficult to install in some homes. These units also require drainage to carry away the excess moisture. If your furnace is not located near a functional drain, a condensate pump will have to be installed to pump the water to the nearest drain line. So, if you live in a home with low heating costs, you may want to replace your furnace with an 80% model now (as these systems can use your existing venting and do not require drainage), rather than pay $1500+ more to install a high efficiency in the future.
Electric & oil furnaces
Unlike with homeowners with natural gas, electricity and oil prices have been shooting up over the past few years. So if you have an electric or oil furnace, you’re probably struggling with high utility costs (according to the EIA, the average oil furnace will use more than $2500 of fuel this winter!)
One option to consider is an air source heat pump. These are essentially air conditioners that can operate in reverse to provide heating in the winter. They can usually create 3-4 watts of heat for every watt of electricity they consume (so you can think of them as being 300-400% efficient).
For homeowners with oil or electric furnaces, they can provide most of the heating required (a furnace is still required for the very coldest days) for a fraction of the cost.
Other furnace features
However, lowering your gas bill is not the only reason to upgrade your furnace. New furnaces that are equipped with variable speed fan motors provide a more consistent and gentle circulation of air than older single-stage models (which operate in short bursts). This can help to reduce hot and cold spots in your home.
Variable speed furnaces also use much less electricity than older motors (gas furnaces also use a considerable amount of electricity, as they use an electric motor to circulate the air). New furnaces are also considerably quieter.
Join the Conversation:
- Are you grappling with whether it is time to kick old Betsy to the curb?
- Have you recently replaced your furnace and if so with what?
Thanks to Allan Lake who is a certified gasfitter and refrigeration technician, and the owner of Good Guys Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing in Surrey, BC for providing GT readers with useful sponsored content when temperatures are dipping. His company specializes in the installation of energy efficiency heating systems, as well as keeping older systems running as efficiently as possible through proper maintenance.
Photo by Katerha.
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