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Pros and Cons of a High-Efficiency Furnace

Is now the time to upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace? There are many reasons why high-efficiency furnaces are worth the money.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the average household spends about 53 percent of its energy-related expenditures on heating and cooling. A high-efficiency furnace may cost more up front, but you can see significant savings on your utility bills for years to come.

Pros and Cons of a High-Efficiency Furnace

What Is a High-Efficiency Furnace?

The term “efficiency” refers to how effectively a furnace can convert heating energy from a fuel source into warmth and comfort for your home.

Head back a couple of decades, and homes used a standard-efficiency furnace as a heat source. Efficiency is rated according to an AFUE measurement (annual fuel utilization efficiency). AFUE is a metric that determines how much fuel your furnace is actually turning into heat for use in your home. The higher the AFUE rating, the more energy-efficiency the system, and the more heat enters your home.

Standard AFUE ratings were typically 80 percent, meaning these furnaces converted 80 percent of the energy into heat for your home, while 20 percent was discharged as exhaust.

With today’s highest-efficiency furnaces, you can find as high as 98.5 percent efficiency. They do a great job converting fuel into heat, needing less heating fuel for the same comfort level. That means fewer emissions and waste and, ultimately, less cost.

Yet AFUE doesn’t tell the whole story. While it would seem like a higher-efficiency rating would always make a better choice, understanding your house and lifestyle is also key to maximizing efficiency.

Pros of Selecting a High-Efficiency Furnace

When most homeowners move to a high-efficiency furnace, the biggest advantage of doing so is … more efficiency!

With everything else equal, a 95 percent furnace will provide more efficiency than one operating at 80 percent. It gives an additional 15 percent of the heat produced during the combustion process out as heat into the rooms of your home.

More efficiency means your utility bills will be lower. This also helps create a greener living environment, lowering your carbon footprint. If your goal is to create a more sustainable lifestyle while creating a greener footprint, a high-efficiency furnace is the way to go. But it’s not the only advantage.

Improved Home Technology

Older homes were built differently. Over the decades, we’ve improved the building materials and technology to create better homes.

When standard furnaces were introduced, they were installed in homes that didn’t have today’s insulation levels. They were typically installed in unsealed attics or crawl spaces, using the surrounding air supply to fuel the combustion process. Standard furnaces produce heat by using open combustion, a process that uses the ambient air from around the furnace for combustion.

Times have changed, and we’re creating the most efficient homes today. With a new home, builders encapsulate the attics or crawl spaces, meaning they are insulated with spray foam. It seals off the attic or crawlspace from the outdoors, improving your home’s envelope. It’s what’s termed a sealed combustion process. Instead of drawing in air from around the unit, it gets its air supply through a dedicated pipe, which brings in air from the outdoors.

As you increase the efficiency of your home, it’s essential to upgrade all your technology. If you put a standard furnace in a sealed combustion environment, for example, it can become a safety hazard. That’s because a standard furnace draws in air from the surrounding area. If it can’t find enough, it can create a backdraft situation, where carbon monoxide enters the living space.

If you’re upgrading your home’s insulation, it’s a good idea to upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace simultaneously.

Cons of Selecting a High-Efficiency Furnace

The biggest drawback for selecting a high-efficiency furnace is something you’ve encountered every time you upgrade your technology: cost. There’s no denying that the up-front cost will be greater with more sophisticated equipment.

Depending on the specifications, a higher-efficiency furnace can cost as much as 40 percent more than its standard furnace counterpart. It might be hard to take in when comparing the two installation costs side by side, but it’s important to remember that it requires less energy every single month, as well as reduced utility bills overall. Considering you may be living with your new furnace for 20 years or longer, that can be a big deal.

There will also be higher installation costs if you’re moving up from a standard furnace to one that’s high-efficiency. That’s because the installation process will also include adding piping for the combustion air supply and drainage for the condensation produced in the process. High-efficiency models produce condensation as a part of the combustion process. They utilize two heat exchangers, where one allows the combustion gasses to become significantly cooler than the other. This produces condensation which is why drainage is required.

While these additional components are necessary, they are a one-time cost. When you replace your furnace again in the future, these will already be in place.

AFUE: Is That All There Is?

While a furnace’s AFUE rating is important, it isn’t the complete picture of efficiency. Upgraded equipment today can provide you with more features than just efficiency.

Standard furnaces operate with a single stage—the equipment is on or off, depending on how warm you want it. High-efficiency models can come with a single-stage process. However, you can also find two-stage or modulating equipment.

A two-stage furnace offers high and low stages of operation. This provides a full blast of air when you’re quickly warming up your home or a lower blast of air when trying to maintain a temperature.

A modulating furnace provides even more variable speeds. It assesses the conditions inside the home and has a variable-speed blower that delivers conditioned air to better match the home’s heating needs.

AFUE may be your starting point, but better comfort may lead you to different choices. Don’t be as concerned with the labels as you are with the final results. Have questions about how to gain better efficiency inside your home? We can help. Give Entek a call today.

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