Tips for Getting the Most Value Out of Your Furnace
Are you in the market for a new forced-air gas furnace? Minnesota’s cold climate makes a high efficiency furnace a good investment. Some of the features to look for are an AFUE of 90% or higher, multi-stage firing, and an ECM fan blower motor.
Insulate First: Before you buy a new furnace, it is a good idea to seal air leaks and add insulation to your walls and ceilings. Adding insulation and sealing air leaks will make your home more comfortable and may enable you to purchase a smaller furnace.
Select a Furnace with an AFUE of 90% or Higher: The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, or AFUE, measures a furnace’s overall energy performance. The higher the AFUE, the more heat you get for your heating dollar. In Minnesota, a furnace with an AFUE of 90% or higher is a good investment.
Select a Furnace with Multi-stage Firing for the Right Size Furnace for All Heating Conditions: Your furnace must have enough capacity to meet your heating needs on the coldest day of winter. However, for most of the heating season, it will be more heating capacity than you need. Unlike a furnace with single-stage firing that is either firing at full output or completely off, a furnace with multi-stage firing can selectively turn some burners off when full furnace output is not needed. Multi-stage firing gives you the right size furnace for the majority of the heating season, and a reserve capacity to meet additional heating needs on really cold days or to recover from a temperature setback period. Multi-stage furnaces are usually equipped with another efficiency feature as well: an electronically commutated motor (ECM) that uses considerably less electricity to run the fan.
Select a Furnace That Uses Electricity Efficiently: A gas furnace uses electricity to run the fan blower motor. Furnaces equipped with an ECM have lower annual operating costs and can save you $40 to $300 per year depending on how you use the furnace fan. An ECM will save the most if you run your furnace fan all the time. Multi-stage ECM furnaces not only save you money, they are usually much quieter and less prone to producing unpleasant drafts.
Comparison Chart of Annual Operating Costs (click for larger version)
Proper Installation is Important: Your new furnace must be installed properly to ensure that it operates safely and efficiently. The contractor should adjust the air flow so the furnace fan setting is matched to the ductwork and furnace characteristics. An improperly installed furnace can result in higher energy costs and a less comfortable home. Make sure the ducts are well-sealed and balanced. Insulate and seal ducts that go through unheated areas. If you upgrade to an energy efficient furnace that vents out the side of the house and you are no longer using your chimney,you can seal it off for additional savings.
How you operate your heating system will influence how much energy you use. The following tips will help lower your heating bill and ensure that your furnace functions safely and efficiently:
- Set your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees when you are at home. Turn down the thermostat when you are away or sleeping. Regularly lowering your thermostat temperature by five degrees for eight hours every day will save about five percent on your heating bill. Use a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature automatically, based on the time of the day and the day of the week.
- Leave the fan switch on your thermostat set to "auto" unless you have a specific need for additional air circulation. Some customers choose to operate their fan continuously to even out warm and cold spots in their home, or to provide extra air filtration which may be beneficial where occupants have health concerns. Setting the fan to "on" will cause it to run all the time whether or not there is a need for heating or cooling. Those extra hours of operation can add several hundred dollars to your annual electric bill. If you do need to run your fan continuously, install a furnace with an ECM. Running the fan year-round will cost only about $50.
- Clean or replace furnace filters as recommended by your contractor or as noted on your filter packaging. Filters may need to be replaced as often as once a month.
- Be sure registers in occupied rooms aren't blocked by furniture or draperies.
- Have your furnace tuned up every other year unless the manufacturer indicates otherwise. The contractor will test the efficiency, adjust the air and fuel flow, inspect the fan, and clean the unit.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor with a bedroom. Carbon monoxide detectors are not a substitute for properly maintaining your combustion appliances, but provide added protection against carbon monoxide poisoning.