Furnace Buying Guide: Uncovering The Right Gas Furnace For You.

Furnace open

Most likely you’re reading this because your furnace is old or not performing as you’d like. After installing the first gas furnaces in the 1930’s, PDM Heating is familiar with the questions most folks have when investing in indoor comfort.

While a repair may cost less than a new system, you have to consider all operation costs. A typical home can spend $2000 annually for heating and cooling energy costs. Add in repairs and maintenance and the cost to own adds up many time more than a new furnace.

A repair does not lower energy bills than what the furnace was designed to, improve comfort  or have added warranty coverage. Plus, if cost is a concern, PDM offers financing to fit the budget of qualified clients.

Here is a simple approach to choosing a new furnace and not getting ripped off:

  1. What brand is best?
  2. Finding the right installer
  3. Choosing the right gas valve
  4. Choosing the right blower motor for added comfort
  5. Other furnace components
  6. Warranty and value.

1. What brand is best?

Most furnaces have the same safety features, controls, heat exchangers that transfers heat from metal to air, parts and efficiencies. Many manufacturers buy their parts from the same factory. And all can last 15 to 20 years with proper maintenance. Now your furnace can last longer but the costs of keeping it going add up and you’re better off investing in a new system. After 130 years of seeing brands come and go, most have the same life cycle. In the end we’ve seen a brand equals about ten percent of the value with ninety percent coming from the installation.

2. Finding the right installer. Don’t assume all contractors are the same.

Please understand a furnace is only as good as the installation work done. We’ve seen how a great contractor can install a poor furnace, and he will often stand behind it if it fails. Likewise a poor contractor can royally screw up a perfect furnace, and will leave you abandoned to fend for yourself. Cutting corners is easy for a contractor and you may never know. Find a heating contractor with a proven track record. Many contractors come and go out of business within a few years and leave you stuck should the unit need repair.

A new furnace doesn’t mean lower utility bills. If your installer isn’t mindful you can waste a lot of fuel with sheet metal fittings or ductwork or proper sizing. Consumer Reports says finding a contractor you can trust is the most important decision you can make.

Avoid basing your decision on the cheapest furnace price or quickest installation time. Consider the lifetime costs of your furnace. Fuel, maintenance, repairs, even inconvenience add up over time. A new furnace can roughly cost around 30 percent of its lifetime cost. If a cheap installer cuts corners, doesn’t ask questions or makes assumptions, you’ll pay more over time. If a larger system is recommended make sure you know all the reasons.

3. How efficient do you want your furnace?

Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency AFUE describes how efficiently the equipment operates, like miles per gallon for a car. The higher the efficiency number, the higher upfront costs are and the lower your utility bills are. The U.S. government’s minimum AFUE rating for a furnace is 80 percent, with a lower upfront cost and a higher cost to operate. About 20 percent of the heat used goes up the chimney. A rating of 96% indicates that for every $1.00 of energy used to operate the furnace only four cents is not fully utilized. In 2012 about 35% of furnaces sold were 90% AFUE or higher

Furnace Repair

Your efficiency is also based on the gas valve operation. Choices include: one stage, two stage, premium modulating stages gas valve or new condensing furnace for added comfort.

  1. Standard single stage gas valve furnace. Good. This is a common furnace type installed that runs at one constant gas flow when operating to keep you comfortable. The furnace blows a steady stream of warm air (or cool in the summer) until the desired temperature is reached and then the thermostat turns the system off. The results are temperature peaks and valleys.
  2. Two stage gas furnace. Better. This furnace starts out on the low stage, enabling a gradual and pleasant increase in the temperature of your home for better efficiency and predictable indoor temps. And if low-stage heating doesn’t warm your home to the desired temperature quickly enough, the technology shifts the furnace into the high stage automatically to ensure your comfort (about 65 percent of the time). Improve comfort, lower utility bill and filters your air more often too.
  3. Modulating or multi-stage gas furnace. Best. This furnace can constantly adjust to keep you comfortable. A modulating valve is self-adjusting, running at a capacity from 35% to 100% with outstanding levels of comfort, efficiency, and quiet performance. The results are energy savings, tighter temperature control, quieter operation and superior comfort. The Modulating gas valve is a premium furnace system.
  4. High Efficiency Condensing Furnace – Top of the line. This is a furnace that one day soon may be your only choice because of national efficiency standards. The condensing furnace allows you to reuse some of the heat that normally would have been vented out of the home. The condensing furnace with sealed combustion requires modifying the exhaust chimney by installing a new PVC vent and air piping. Although condensing models cost more than non-condensing models, a condensing furnace can save you money in fuel costs over the life of the unit. In some cases the new furnace exhaust flue may require changing the gas water heater exhaust too.

4. Fan speed or blower motor speed for added comfort & efficiency – your choices

  1. ECM Variable speed – Best if indoor comfort is important to you. This blower motor can save 33% or more over single speed. The high efficient electronically commutated motor (ECM) operates very intelligently. The multi-speed blower motor allows it to give you the exact amount of air you need in the winter and summer. By changing the speed of airflow during start-up, your furnace can adjust humidity levels and create more even temperatures throughout your home. The ECM uses significantly less electricity than standard blower motors and reduces operating noise. Variable speed blowers can also remove up to four times more humidity in the summer than a standard blower, increasing your ac efficiency. And if you run the fan only, you get a quiet, low speed fan to filter air and keep an even temperature.
  2. Multi speed blower motor. Better. Quickly, quietly, and efficiently this motor delivers nice levels of warm comfort and reliability. Time-tested durability and designed to deliver quiet performance. This unit allows the installer to set the fan speed but will not change during operation. It provides more or less heat as needed but customized for your home environment.
  3. Constant fixed speed blower motor. Good. Standard motor offers basic on and off control. The blower motor will run at a fixed speed determined by the manufacturer resulting in over or under temperature swings.

5. Other important furnace components.

Ignition system

Today’s furnaces generally use an electronic ignition system to replace the pilot light. The electronic igniter is like a light bulb filament placed in the flow of a gas burner. The ignitor is made of silicon nitrate (usually lasts longer) or a more fragile silicon carbide ignitor (can last 3 to 7 years).

When your thermostat calls for heat, a message is sent to start heating the igniter, really hot, 1800F to 2500F. Then the gas valve opens and ignites the burner. The flame safety sensing system then shuts off the igniter. Each of these steps can stop your unit so getting a strong ignition system makes sense. It’s important to note that keeping your furnace and air filter clean helps extend the life of your ignition system.

Sound

What you hear when your furnace runs is affected by the combustion technology you choose and the fan speeds. Most new units have fully insulated furnace cabinets to begin with so many times your new system will be quieter than your existing system. It’s like buying an economical car or a more luxury ride. The more refined operating system, the quieter it is.

Intelligent controls and thermostats.

Smart technology is leading the way where you can control equipment from your phone, tablet, or computer. And even a voice activated thermostat to raise and lower temperature. Like your furnace it all comes down to how much comfort you want, your efficiency, control, quiet operation, to even room temperatures.

Heat Exchanger

The heat exchanger is an important part of the furnace. If it cracks or gets a pin hole in it. you have to replace it because it allows deadly gases into your home. Heat exchanger captures heat from the burned gas. High efficiency furnaces usually have two heat exchangers to allow you to use more heat inside your home rather than up the chimney.

Common heat exchanger warranties are 10 to 20 years with the best being a lifetime limited warranty.

6. Furnace warranty and value: Worry-free comfort.

  • Contractors typically offer 5 years to lifetime for the installation work.
  • 5 years is a standard industry parts warranty. Any part is subject to fail, especially when you do not maintain the system. Most warranties require annual maintenance to keep your warranty active.
  • Regardless of the energy efficiency rating, all functional parts of an Amana® Gas Furnace are covered by a 10-Year Parts Limited Warranty*. Several Amana brand Gas Furnace models also feature a Lifetime Heat Exchanger Limited Warranty*. Should the heat exchanger ever fail to the original registered homeowner, a new heat exchanger will be provided at no charge (for as long as they own their home).

* To receive the Lifetime Compressor Limited Warranty, Lifetime Heat Exchanger Limited Warranty, Lifetime Unit Replacement Limited Warranty, and 10-Year Parts Limited Warranty, online registration must be completed within 60 days of installation. Contact PDM for full warranty details.

Call for free advice and added comfort.

Now that you are beginning to understand the choices, call a PDM advisor to inspect your furnace, answer questions and offer you a free estimate for a comforting, peace-of-mind new furnace. You’ll get a polite team who will protect your place, recycle your old equipment and get a new energy efficient furnace running safely and quickly. Contact PDM today.