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If you are replacing an old furnace, find one with an efficiency rating that tops 90 percent. You could save thousands of dollars on utility bills over the service life of the heating system. The Lennox product line includes ENERGY STAR gas furnaces with AFUE ratings of 92 and 94 percent. Compare that to the rating on your old furnace, which may be as low as 50 or 60 percent.
Clean and replace furnace filters regularly to keep your heating system running efficiently. Dirty and dusty filters are the reason for half the repair calls to service technicians.
When buying replacement filters, there are different types to meet your needs. Keep in mind that some filters are better than others at keeping allergens out of the air.
-Disposable or washable filters work fine at keeping your furnace clean. They collect large particles, but may not keep out mold spores, pollen and other allergens.
-Pleated filters may be a better choice for reducing allergens. They can cost as little as $5 or $10. But be prepared to pay more for more effective filtration.
-A high-efficiency pleated air filter costs around $250 to $450. Contact your service technician for information and help.
-Electronic air cleaners work best at removing dust, mold and other pollutants from the air. They're more expensive, too. They may range in price from $600 to $900. But the cost may be offset by lower health care bills and a more comfortable indoor environment.
Natural gas or oil?
It's hard to know which type of energy fuel is better for home heating. Homeowners are familiar with the up-and-down cycle of natural gas prices. Before choosing the fuel type for a new heating system, weigh the advantages and disadvantages.
Even with seasonal increases, high-efficiency gas furnaces cost less to operate than electric furnaces. Natural gas is always available, while the oil market is unstable from the war in the Middle East. You also do not have the hassle of refilling and maintaining storage tanks, like you do with oil.
Natural gas requires no large storage tanks in your basement. It also is less polluting, producing almost no emissions.
You've made the decision to buy a new furnace, and your choice for fuel is gas.
The next step is to choose between two efficiency types of gas furnace -- power combustion or condensing furnaces.
Power combustion furnaces have an AFUE, or efficiency rating, of roughly 80 percent. Condensing furnaces perform better, with an AFUE of 90 percent or more. Condensing furnaces usually operate best in colder climates. Another advantage of condensing furnaces is they are not damaged by corrosion. The furnace exhausts through a plastic pipe to the outside and not through the chimney.
A furnace is not the sexiest purchase you will ever make, but it is key to your comfort and your family's comfort. Instead of just calling your neighborhood fuel dealer to ask for help with a replacement, do some research and shopping on your own. The extra time you put into buying a new furnace may save you thousands over the service life of your furnace.
* Compare the performance of different brands and models. Read the product literature, something most American consumers don't bother to do.
* Ask questions when you talk to dealers. How energy efficient is the new furnace? How much does the appliance cost to operate? A more efficient appliance costs less to run.
* Check guides like Consumer Reports to find out how models and brands compare for energy savings and repair histories.
Read EnergyGuide labels and the manufacturers' fact sheets.
* Ask yourself how the purchase will fit into your budget. Sometimes it makes sense to pay more upfront for a high-efficiency furnace when you figure the energy savings over the service life of the product.
Home heating costs can cripple a household budget in the winter. But buying a new energy saving furnace or boiler may be at the bottom of your list. Plus, most furnaces last 25 years or more, so it may not make sense to shop for a replacement now. There are some shortcuts to saving money.
- Weatherize your home. Keeping the cold air out by caulking, weatherstripping and insulation should lower heating costs. Proper weatherization of a drafty home may enable you to buy a smaller furnace when you replace the existing one.
- If your energy costs are still high, hire a professional to do an energy audit. The upfront cost of the consultation may be offset by the savings the technician recommends.
- A home energy audit evaluates the structure and condition of your home, from attic to basement. It also measures energy waste from heating and cooling systems. The consultant considers such factors as efficiency, air flow and heat distribution.
- After an audit, expect specific recommendations for upgrades to your system or replacement options. The technician may also suggest additional ways to make changes and improvements to your home to lower energy costs.
When choosing a new furnace, find out its "AFUE" - annual fuel utilization efficiency. It's a term for describing a furnace's seasonal energy performance. Why should you care about the AFUE? Given the rise in energy prices and uncertainty about future energy sources, your priority should be lower energy bills. High-efficiency appliances use less energy, lowering your costs. By federal standards, new furnaces must have an AFUE rating of 78 percent.
If you live in a cold climate, you may feel like you cannot do little about heating costs, other than locking in early on fuel prices with local dealers. But there is another way to save money and improve heating efficiency:
Consider installing a variable speed fan, which is more efficient than a single-speed fan. Furnaces use a lot of electricity to power the fan motor that circulates air through your house. If you run the furnace fan continuously, a variable speed fan can save hundreds of dollars in utility charges a year.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|