Types of Residential Furnaces

Residential FurnacesLast year’s brutal winter provided a lot of fodder for discussion around the water cooler. Even complete strangers struck up a conversation at the grocery store by saying “can you believe this weather?” There was even new lingo like Polar Vortex, thunder snow and frost quakes that we learned and incorporated into our conversation making us sound like pseudo-meteorologists. Well, that was last winter and sadly, the long-range predictions are already out and equally abysmal winter weather is on the horizon. Ugh!! Better get a new pair of Uggs and while you’re at it… maybe you should be thinking about a new furnace as well.

Treat your furnace with TLC

As with any expensive equipment, it is wise to be proactive and keep that equipment properly maintained. You wouldn’t dream of driving your car without regularly having maintenance performed, so your furnace is no different … just a little less needy. Did you know that a properly maintained furnace can last anywhere from 13 to 20 years? By “properly maintained”, it is suggested that the furnace should be kept in a relatively dust-free environment, admittedly hard to do since it is in a basement. But just sweeping around the base of the furnace or brushing it off from time to time will keep it from collecting excess dust. It is also important to change your furnace filters regularly because a dirty filter will make your equipment have to run harder. It is a good practice to change traditional-style filters once a month, especially during peak heating and air conditioning months. High-efficiency furnaces use special wider filters and they are changed less often. Those filters, unlike a traditional one-inch filter, are approximately four inches wide.

While those are easy suggestions to keep your furnace humming, it is also recommended that you have an annual furnace check by an experienced HVAC technician. A qualified and licensed furnace contractor in Summit, New Jersey can perform this task for you and help eliminate an emergency call on a brutally cold day because your furnace has up and died.

Before buying a new furnace

If you have decided it is time to replace your current furnace, your best bet is to contact a reputable furnace contractor who will counsel you on the best furnace for your needs. There are several criteria to consider when getting a new furnace. Some of them are listed below.

Factors to consider

  • Noise level – While you study the facts and figures before making a furnace purchase, you should consider the noise level of your new furnace. Depending on where it will be located, you may want to select a unit that is listed as being especially quiet. For example, high-efficiency furnaces may feature sealed combustion units, but multi-speed or two-stage furnaces will be quieter than their counterparts because they have the ability to run at lower speeds.

  • Length of warranty – Consider the warranty as an important factor too, because if you properly maintain your furnace, using the criteria suggested above, a longer warranty will give you cost savings through the years.

  • Is your furnace correctly sized? – It is important to purchase a furnace that is just the right size for your home. This is not a DIY process where you might go down and eyeball the amount of space needed to accommodate the furnace in your basement. You need to consult with a professional furnace contractor so that you do not end up with an “oversized furnace”. An oversized furnace is one in which the capacity is too large and is basically too much furnace for your house size. An oversized furnace costs more to operate as it continually cycles off and on and is thus less energy efficient. An experienced HVAC contractor will be able to determine what size furnace you need by performing what is called a load calculation. This is a computer diagnostic test and the special software factors in the size of your house and the insulation value of your windows, walls and roof to determine the appropriate furnace capacity. It is best to have this procedure done by the furnace contractor, rather than rely on just getting a similar-sized furnace to what you currently own.

  • Does the efficiency level of your furnace match your house? – A reputable furnace contractor not only will be able to instruct you on the furnace size, but the appropriate level of furnace efficiency as pertains to your home. Furnace efficiency is a rating (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, or “AFUE”) which describes the amount of heat that your furnace emits. An example would be that an 80% AFUE furnace would convert 80% percent of fuel source directly into heating your home. Using the efficiency factor enables the contractor to counsel you on the best type of furnace for your home. Some examples of residential furnace types are below.

Types of furnace

Let’s start by segueing right from the topic of furnace efficiency to the furnace type to give the best bang for your buck.

  • High-efficiency furnace – These are relative newcomers to the family of residential furnaces. They were introduced in the late 1980s but were not commonplace right away. Perhaps you noticed a neighbor’s home which had no smoke wafting from its chimney, but instead had a vent, or curvy white PVC pipe, which emits steam. This is how a high-efficiency furnace operates – it is designed to remove up to 95% of the heat from the flame and wasting only 5% to the outdoors. While high-efficiency furnaces cost more up front to buy, you’ll recoup part of your money down the road, since they use less fuel to generate heat, than non-high-efficiency furnaces, they cost less to operate on a month-to-month basis. Sometimes rebates are available for these higher-end furnaces and it will behoove you to purchase and have this product installed in the off-season (spring or fall) when manufacturers often have sales incentives.

  • Central warm-air furnace – This type of furnace has a central combustor which heats your home by using gas, fuel oil, or electricity, which provides warm air which emanates from the furnace and then circulates through ducts to each room in your home. With a gas furnace, the gas is burned to create heat. Most of the heat goes throughout the house and some is vented outside through the chimney. A gas furnace’ efficiency is determined by how much of the heat goes into the house, compared to how much you are paying for it. A rating label, which is affixed to the furnace, will inform you of the input/output BRU rate. Most gas furnaces are forced-air furnaces and are considered the most-common type of home heating and cooling system. Some gas furnaces built from the 1960s through the 1980s have been relatively efficient and durable, i.e. lasting as many as 30-40 years.

  • Steam or hot water heating system – These are types of a central space-heating system in which steam or hot water is supplied to radiators, convectors or pipes. This type of heating system is more beneficial to your health as it is moist heat, not dry heat, which keeps your home, humidified thus keeping it warmer and your skin, as well as your fine furniture, will thus not be prone to cracking or drying. The most-common type of steam heat is provided to conventional radiators, baseboard radiators, convectors and heating pipes that are embedded in the walls or ceilings, or heating coils or equipment that are part of a combined heating/ventilating or heating/air-conditioning system. Another type of steam or water heating is radiant heat wherein hot water is carried through pipes that are inlaid in a concrete slab floor.

  • Heat pump a/k/a reverse-cycle heating system – When a heat pump system is used in your home, it is quite different from any other traditional furnace styles. Refrigeration equipment is used to provide year-round heating and air-conditioning through the ducts which lead to the individual rooms. A heat pump is composed of a compressor, indoor and outdoor coils and a thermostat. A central heat pump functions much like a central air conditioning unit only in reverse. While they are considered more energy efficient than an electric furnace, they are more suitable for mild or warm-weather climates.

  • Floor, wall, or pipe-less furnace – This type of heating equipment consists of a ductless combustor or resistance unit, having an enclosed chamber where fuel is burned or where electrical-resistance heat is generated to warm the rooms of a building. A floor furnace is located below the floor and delivers heated air to the room immediately above it. A wall furnace is installed in a partition or in an outside wall and delivers heated air to the rooms on one or both sides of the wall. A pipe-less furnace is installed in a basement and delivers heated air through a large register in the floor of the room or hallway immediately above. The downside to this type of heating system is that all heat goes through the grille on the main floor and does not use any other ducts to distribute warm air throughout the house, thus the heat distribution for this type of furnace is uneven at times, causing some rooms to be overly hot and other rooms to be cold.

Whatever furnace option you ultimately choose to heat your home this winter, your next step should be to consult with an experienced furnace contractor who will help guide you to the best furnace for your needs.