5 Tips for Buying a New Forced-Air Furnace

If you’re in the market for a new furnace, you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of options. Whether you’re upgrading or replacing your current system, a forced-air furnace might be the right choice for you. Forced-air furnaces generate heat through natural gas, electricity, or—less commonly—oil or propane. Whatever fuel a forced-air furnace uses, it conducts heat throughout your house by pushing air through a series of ducts and vents. The ducts and vents are usually hidden within a home’s walls and crawl spaces, so they’re unobtrusive, making forced-air heating a popular choice.

In fact, forced-air furnaces are the most popular type of furnace in North America, which means there are many to choose from. How can you choose the best one for your home? Professional heating and cooling companies like Entek can walk you through the process. But it’s always good to do a bit of research on your own before making a big decision. Below are a few tips to help you get up to speed on furnace lingo and help you make the best choice for your home.

1. Think About Fuel

On a gas-powered forced-air furnace, the heat exchanger is warmed up by a gas ignition, and then the forced air absorbs the heat from the exchanger. In the Pacific Northwest, gas-fueled furnaces are the most popular. Gas is relatively inexpensive and more efficient than the alternatives. Gas can also heat your home quickly, an advantage on a chilly winter day.

However, not every home has access to gas hookups. If your home can’t access the proper gas hook-ups, you can choose an electric or oil-fueled furnace. Oil furnaces are still triggered by electricity but warmed by oil. Oil is a powerful source of heat, so, like gas, it can heat a home quickly. Consider, though, that you will need to buy and store your own fuel, which can be an added expense. It’s important to note that, while oil is less costly than electricity, its price does fluctuate more than other utilities.

Electricity, on its own, is another option to fuel your furnace. In an electric furnace, the moving air absorbs heat from high-resistance wires. The warm air is then forced out through your ductwork, exactly the same as it would be with a gas-powered furnace. Electric furnaces, though, are less efficient and more costly than gas furnaces. If you have the option to choose a gas furnace, it’s likely to be a great choice for your home.

2. Think About the Size of Your Home

A big part of thinking about efficiency is considering how much space you really need to heat. Different furnaces are appropriate for different-sized spaces. There are a few ways to determine the right BTU (British Thermal Unit) number for the space you have. If you already have a furnace in your home, the BTU number is probably listed right on its side. If that’s not the case, you can multiply your home’s square footage by the “climate BTU number.” The result of that equation will equal the heat output of the furnace you’ll need to buy.

For example, if you live in an “Oceanic” climate like Washington, the equation will look something like this: 40 (the BTU number for an oceanic climate) x 1,903 (the average square footage of a home in Washington) = 76,120. That result would let you know to look for a furnace that has an 80,000 BTU heat-output.

If that’s a bit too involved for your tastes, there are calculators online that can help you figure out what size of furnace to buy. Getting a furnace that’s the right size for your needs can help you stay toasty and avoid wasting energy.

3. Think About What Features You Want

Furnaces come with many features that may appeal to you. Do you want a furnace that gives you options? Or would you prefer something a bit simpler? Most furnace options are present to either increase efficiency or to allow for more personal customization. Knowing what features are available before you shop for a new furnace will help you know what you need and maybe prevent you from missing out on something you want.

For example, one advanced option is a furnace with a variable-speed blower. Standard furnaces are single-stage furnaces. The “stage” references the technology that controls the burner and the blower. Single-stage furnaces have only one On setting, meaning that the furnace is either On or Off. Modification beyond the thermostat setting in the home isn’t possible.

You could, however, opt for a dual- or variable-stage furnace. These furnaces have High and Low settings in addition to On and Off functions. Some even have sophisticated electronic controls that allow for minute adjustments to the blower and burner. These allow the owner to control the intensity of the burner and the burner’s flame according to how much heat is needed in the home. Variable-stage furnaces can cost more up front but are much more energy efficient.

4. Pay Attention to the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency

Speaking of efficiency, don’t forget to check out the AFUE rating on your new furnace. The annual fuel utilization efficiency is a measure of thermal efficiency that compares energy input to energy output. Any new furnace will bear its AFUE measure, expressed as a percentage. For example, a 90 percent AFUE rating on a gas furnace means that, for every 100 BTUs of gas input, it produces 90 BTUs of useful heat for your home. The remaining 10 BTUs are lost as exhaust or through leakage. The higher the AFUE rating on your new furnace, the less you’ll spend on utility bills related to heating.

5. Talk to a Professional

Very few folks have the skill or desire to go it alone when purchasing and installing a new furnace. It makes sense to consult a professional. Ideally, it’s best to choose a company with a lot of expertise in home HVAC systems, rather than a more general type of contractor. A company that has been in business in your area for a long time is also a helpful option. Take the time to read reviews and testimonials so that you can get an idea of the type of service they provide.

Don’t forget that the professionals at Entek are always available to answer any questions you may have.