Buying a new furnace may be the only thing that gets you through the winter, but it's a huge investment.
Things to Consider When Buying a New Furnace
Skimping may leave you shivering, and splurging may leave you broke. Find the happy medium.
What Energy Type Should You Use?
There are three main types of furnace: gas, oil, and electric. You'll probably end up spending less money up front if you stick with the kind of furnace you already have, but switching to a new type of home furnace may ultimately save you money on your utility bills. Gas is generally cheaper, cleaner and more energy efficient than either oil or electric. There's some debate as to whether oil or electric heating is more expensive and efficient, so if you can't switch over to gas, your best bet is to stick with what you have. There isn't enough of a difference for a total overhaul of your heating furnace system to be worth it.
Consider the Efficiency
Another factor that might increase the price of your heating furnace at first is energy efficiency, but this should pay for itself in the long run. A more efficient furnace is pricier up front than a less efficient model, but it will pay for itself in lowered heating bills and lower your carbon footprint enough that you can stay warm without a guilty conscience. Buy the most efficient furnace you can afford. Look for a furnace that's Energy Star certified or has a high AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). The Department of Energy defines a high-efficiency heater as one with an AFUE of at least 90 percent, although systems can go as high as 98.5 percent and as low as 80 percent. If your new home furnace has an AFUE of 90 percent, only 10 percent of the energy escapes up the flue rather than heating your home. The lower that number goes, the more energy and money you save.
How Big Should Your Home Furnace Be?
You're going to be working with a contractor for your furnace installation,so you probably don't need to worry about buying a model that is too large to fit into the space you have for it. However, there are more size considerations when buying a new furnace than the amount of space in your boiler room. Larger furnaces can provide more heat but are less energy-efficient than smaller models. They cycle on and off more frequently than smaller furnaces do, which wears out their parts more quickly and can make your home uncomfortably warm or cold. You do not want the temperature going down lower than you’d like, then having the heater blast out hot air to make up the difference. Smaller furnaces avoid those problems, but they may not have the power to keep your house warm. The best strategy is to choose a furnace installation contractor you trust to give you sound advice on the best-sized furnace for your home.
Most furnaces nowadays come with a programmable thermostat. If you don't already have one in your home, spring for one in your furnace replacement. A programmable thermostat allows you to save money by keeping your home cooler when you're at work and warming up shortly before you get back home so you aren't wasting money heating up an empty house. Variable-speed blowers deliver the air more slowly as the house warms up, which helps avoid those uncomfortable high swings in temperature right before the heater shuts off. If you have a large house and are looking for the Cadillac of furnace replacements, consider zoned heating, which allows you to deliver different amounts of heat to different rooms of the house. For example, you can put more heat into a room that always seems to be cold and less into a room that gets plenty of sunshine. According to Consumer Reports, zoned heating is more prone to breaking down than a regular system, but if you find yourself hot on one floor of the house and shivering in another, you may be willing to pay a little extra for maintenance.
Furnace Replacement or Repair?
It can be tempting to replace a furnace that is not terribly efficient or to try to coax a few more years out of a system that is on death's door, but it is important to know when repairing your system is the best option and when it is time to purchase a new one. If your furnace is more than 15 years old, it may be time to say goodbye. You may also want to replace it if it has an AFUE lower than 80, which is no longer legal in new models, but older models might still be that inefficient. You should also consider a replacement if your furnace screeches every time it kicks on, which is a sign that the blower motor - a part so expensive that you may as well replace the entire machine - is malfunctioning.
Timing Is Everything
Your best bet for buying a new furnace is to avoid waiting until it breaks in the middle of January. If you buy a furnace in spring or fall when demand is lower, you're in a better position to haggle for a good price. You also have more time to get estimates from multiple contractors so you can get the best price on your new home furnace. If you're freezing, you're more likely to accept the first price you’re offered in order to get quick relief from the cold. Start looking into buying a new furnace in April and take your time.