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How to Shop for an Energy-Efficient Furnace

For homeowners looking to increase the energy efficiency of their home's appliances, the furnace is a natural place to start. Research shows that heating and cooling can account for up to 48 percent of the energy bill in the average home, so investing in an energy efficient model can reduce those expenses dramatically. To find an energy efficient furnace, you should keep the following search criteria in mind while you explore the options for your new appliance.

How to Shop for an Energy-Efficient Furnace

1) Define Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a popular buzzword in today's market, but not all so-called energy efficient models are created equal. Energy efficiency is best determined by the furnace's Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), which refers to the rate of fuel that is effectively transformed into energy. The higher the number, the less fuel you need to heat your home. ENERGY STAR models earn the stamp for energy efficiency by having an AFUE rate of 95 percent or above. You should look for a model with similar statistics.

2) Look for Electric Furnaces

When searching for a furnace with a high AFUE, you might find a winner in electric models. Since these don't require a flue, they eliminate the potential for lost heat. Electric furnaces can reach 100 percent efficiency, while gas heaters will always waste at least a small amount of energy. Keep in mind, however, that in most regions of the country gas is cheaper than electricity, so despite the impressive efficiency of an electric furnace you’re still likely to pay significantly lower bills using gas fuel, assuming you have access to a gas line.

3) Don't Ignore the Fan Motor

An inefficient fan motor will diminish an otherwise efficient furnace by sapping unnecessary electricity. Look for models that run on direct current (DC) or feature an electronically commutated motor, as opposed to an alternating current (AC) motor. Some fan motors can run at variable speeds responsive to the heating needs of the house, providing much more flexibility and efficiency than older fan motors that only use a few set speeds.

4) The Right Furnace for the Location

When it comes to furnaces, bigger is not always better. You should consult with a trusted HVAC professional about the size of your home and the area you need to heat. These measurements will help you purchase an appropriately sized unit, which prevents wasted energy that comes from owning a model too large for your home. If the model is too big, it will cycle on and off quickly, which is both inefficient and not good for the longevity of the unit. If your furnace is too small, on the other hand, it might need to run continuously to heat your home, which can also cause bills to skyrocket.

5) Look for a Two-Stage or Multi-Stage Burner

Owning a furnace with additional options is one of the keys to energy efficiency. Furnaces that feature two-stage or multi-stage burners can be adjusted to burn at the rate and temperature appropriate for your home's square footage, as opposed to one-rate units that can't be customized. Research shows multi-stage furnaces can be measurably more energy efficient than single-stage burners, creating savings that can add up throughout the season.

6) Consider Purchasing a Heat Pump

Heat pumps run off electricity, but as opposed to electric furnaces that use heating elements, they work by leveraging the difference in air temperatures inside and out to warm your home. Since it’s moving air around instead of actually heating it up itself, heat pumps are far more efficient than electric furnaces. They struggle to effectively heat a whole house in very cold temperatures, but even then can still be useful as an efficient supplemental heat source that allows you to keep the thermostat turned up and reduce the load on your main furnace.

7) Go for a Condensing Gas Furnace

Condensing gas furnaces are extra efficient because instead of immediately venting their exhaust, they run it through another cycle in the appliance, wringing out every last bit of heat they possibly can. It’s impossible to avoid wasting at least a little heat with gas furnaces, but condensing models truly take energy conservation to the extreme, producing exhaust that is nearly cool, in addition to condensed water.

8) Incorporate Other Efficiencies into the Heating Plan

The right thermostat can lead to significant energy savings, but it shouldn't be tasked with cutting energy usage all by itself. Adding a programmable or smart thermostat to the home's heating plan is an easy way to maintain efficient energy usage. Smart thermostats can be programmed days, weeks, or months in advance, allowing you to set specific temperatures for any moment of the day. This ensures that the home is not unnecessarily heated during periods when no one is home, saving energy and money.

9) Pair Your Furnace with a New Air Conditioner

Don’t forget that your furnace isn’t the only big energy guzzler in your HVAC system. To truly bring your heating and cooling bills down to a minimum, you’ll need to shop around for an energy efficient air conditioner to complement your new furnace and maintain a comfortable temperature in your home without breaking the bank in gas and electricity costs. New HVAC appliances do require a significant up-front investment, but if you take the plunge you’ll be thanking yourself every month when your utility bills show up.

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