Furnaces are the most popular type of heaters in American homes. And for good reason: They’re affordable and durable, and they offer the comforting warm-air environment that many people prefer. Thanks to advancements in technology and tighter energy regulations, today’s furnaces are more energy efficient than ever before, too. Under the right circumstances, replacing your heater with an energy-efficient furnace can be a smart investment.
Understanding Furnace Efficiency
Furnace efficiencies are measured by their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating, which compares seasonal heating output to the amount of fuel consumed. A furnace with an AFUE of 80, for example, means that 20-percent of the fuel is never converted to household heat. Before 1992, a 78 rating was considered impressive. Today’s furnaces can achieve efficiencies as high as 97, converting nearly all of the fuel you pay for into cozy warmth.
Modern furnaces also boast energy-saving features that their earlier counterparts lacked. Models with modulating gas valves, for instance, allow the furnace to run on low-fire setting when less heat is needed. Some energy-efficient features enhance your safety and comfort too. Modern ignition systems mean that you never have to worry about pilot lights burning out. Variable-speed blowers deliver heat more slowly when heating demands are low, eliminating uncomfortable fluctuations in temperatures.
All fuel-fired furnaces work by burning a mix of fuel and air in a combustion chamber. A heat exchanger draws up heat from the chamber, and a blower distributes the warm air into your home through a network of air ducts. By-products generated during the combustion process are vented safely outdoors through a flue or chimney. Condensing furnaces have a secondary heat exchanger that extracts heat from flue gases before ventilating them outside. While condensing furnaces cost more than conventional models, the money they save on fuel can make the higher expense worthwhile.
Furnace Size Matters
Furnace size is measured in terms of British thermal units (BTUs), which represent the amount of power needed to heat your home’s square footage. For optimal energy efficiency, it’s critical to get the size right. An oversized furnace will heat your home quickly, but it will cycle off just as fast, leaving some parts of your too hot and other parts uncomfortably cold. Rapid cycling can make a large heater wear out as quickly as a too-small unit running continuously to reach desired temperatures.
If your current heater is outdated, needs a major repair or suffers from poor performance, investing in a high efficiency furnace is worth your consideration. A reputable contractor should be able to calculate your expected annual operating costs to help you determine if a new heating system is right for you. With today’s rising fuel costs and weather extremes, a new energy-efficient furnace offers you long-term savings and enhanced comfort for many years to come.