If you’ve been staring with concern at your energy bill wondering where all that cost came from, it’s probably time to think about replacing your furnace. These days, homeowners want warmer houses for cheap, and that’s no small matter: the energy needed to heat your home can cause close to 50% of your monthly utility bill!
That’s why high-efficiency furnaces have become so important for the modern Canadian home owner: they’re quiet, reliable, powerful, affordable, effective at maintaining steady comfortable temperatures in the home, and can reduce your energy bill by up to 45% when replacing an older system.
Here are the Top 15 Most Important Things to Consider When Buying a New High-efficiency Propane or Natural Gas Furnace in Canada.
1. Efficiency is the Key
Always go for higher efficiency! After all, the biggest reason you’re upgrading your furnace is to lower that gas bill.
The latest high-efficiency furnaces can save you up to 45% of your fuel bill compared to older and less-efficient heating systems. High-efficiency furnaces help you save over the long run; they operate more quietly and keep your home cozier.
Older furnaces? Not so much. Aim for a furnace that has an efficiency rating of at least 95% and preferably one that is EnerGuide and Energy Star-certified.
Note that in order to qualify for most government rebates, you must install a furnace that’s at least 96% efficient.
2. Older Is Not Better
How old is the furnace in your house right now? It’s not a beauty contest, but age really does matter with heating systems–if your furnace is over 20 years old, you could be paying close to 45% more on your energy bill than you need to. Plus, you’re probably spewing out way more pollution into a world that doesn’t need it.
See, after 1992, new laws were passed that required furnaces to be more efficient with their fuel usage.
Furnaces were (and are) graded with what’s called the AFUE rating: the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating, and it’s important to think about when considering replacing your old furnace.
3. “Wait, the Annual what?”
The AFUE is a rough percentage of the fuel (or energy) your furnace can transform into heat during the year. Older furnaces tend to clock an AFUE of only around 65 percent (!), which means nearly half the energy your furnace uses is being wasted… which equates to a LOT of wasted money!
Here’s a comparison: Today’s high-efficiency furnaces have an AFUE that can go as high as 98.5 percent, meaning nearly 100% of the propane or natural gas burned is being used to actually heat your home. That’s a huge difference.
4. So When Should You Replace Your Furnace?
When it comes to maximizing your savings over a long period of time, you’ll want to upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace as soon as possible. If winter’s around the corner it may be wise to get that ageing unit replaced with a more energy and wallet-friendly one.
You also may want to look for contractors that offer good deals by ‘bundling’, which can get you a better deal on a complete home Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC) system.
This typically includes things like a new central air conditioner, humidifier, Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) and air filtration system, can save you a lot off your initial costs, and makes things much easier from an installation standpoint.
And obviously if your furnace has broken down and needs repair, it may be a good time to make the upgrade, especially if the cost of repairing it is relatively high and your current system is older than about 8 years.
Replacing your furnace soon also means you can take advantage of government rebates and subsidies before they expire, which let you make back even more of your cash.
How do you do that? Well…
5. Choose a Contractor That’s Registered For Full Government Rebate Programs
Not all heating & cooling companies are actually registered to apply for these rebates on your behalf. Make sure you check!
6. Look for Financing Options
With financing, you can pay for your new furnace or AC on a schedule that works for you. Consider whether you want to pay upfront, that is, pay in full after installation or spread payments out over a year or more.
There’s also rent to own options which differ in that they generally don’t require credit approval and secondly, they also tend to offer “full coverage” meaning you never have to worry about paying for repairs for however long the term is (usually 10 years).
7. But Even If It’s Affordable, How Do You Choose Which Furnace Is the Best?
Right, so you know you need a new high-efficiency furnace but which one to choose? What IS the best brand of furnace? Do you need the best?
Is there any objective measure of quality and reliability. The answer is not really. And furthermore, there generally isn’t a huge variance from one brand to another.
The truth is not necessarily what you might think. While the brand may important to some degree, far more important is that the installation is done properly by a licensed and experienced technician.
The truth is:
8. Furnace Reliability and Pricing Is 60% Installation, 40% Brand
There are a lot of great, well-known brands out there: American Standard, Carrier, Lennox, Goodman — but none of that means anything if your technician isn’t up to code.
A shoddy installation by an unreliable contractor is more likely to encounter problems down the road and may even get your furnace red-tagged by the gas company, meaning they’ll shut your gas off if your furnace isn’t brought up to code within 7 days (YIKES!).
The largest variable in both the initial cost and in many cases the long-term reliability of your furnace is its installation.
Make sure you go with a TSSA-certified (or equivalent, depending on your province) contractor so you can rest easy knowing your new natural gas furnace was put in right.
You should also choose a contractor that offers a 1-year warranty on labour. Why trust a company that won’t stand by their work?
It bears repeating: the quality of your installation means way, way more than the name on the sticker on your furnace.
Most modern furnaces are of comparable quality and reliability, so sometimes it’s best to look for a brand that provides good overall value, like Goodman. Certain brands like Lennox and Carrier tend to cost quite a bit more and although they are certainly good products, you’re often paying a premium just for the name.
9. Beware of Online Customer Reviews
Thanks to the Internet, before we buy a product we can now go online and see what others have to say about it before pulling out our wallets.
However a quick look around many consumer furnace review sites would probably lead you to believe that just about every brand of furnace is universally bad and prone to constant malfunction.
However here are two big problems with online furnace reviews:
Unlike with say, Amazon reviews, furnace reviews are often featured on third-party websites which had no part in the actual purchase, meaning they have no way of verifying who did the installation (which is an important factor in reliability), nor whether the reviews are actually legitimate.
Second, these websites often attract a disproportionate amount of unhappy home owners who are having issues with their furnace, and then stumble across these sites and share their opinions while researching online. Because let’s be honest, who would ordinarily bother to go online out of the blue one day to share how their furnace is running smoothly, as expected.
Furnaces are generally the type of product you don’t think about a whole lot until it stops working, or is getting old and your gas bills are getting a bit excessive.
Now this doesn’t mean you should completely disregard anything you read online about various furnace brands but it’s important to keep things in context.
Most major manufacturers sell tens of thousands of units every year so it would be unrealistic to expect none of them to ever encounter any issues, especially when there are so many different contractors out there doing the actual installation. So do your research but take what you read with a grain of salt.
A modern furnace that is correctly installed should generally be quite reliable, effective and efficient.
10. Speak to the Experts
Don’t worry; you don’t have to go at it alone! Use our quote request form to speak with HVAC experts in your area. They’ll guide you through the process, and answer any questions or concerns you have.
Every home is different, and factors like its size, layout, insulation levels, local climate, and other factors are important to consider when choosing the right furnace.
Qualified local heating and cooling experts will help you choose the right size, BTU (British Thermal Unit) output and efficiency rating of furnace for your home (too big, and it will turn on and off too often which wastes energy and can damage the furnace; too small, and it will work non-stop and never quite heat your home enough).
Your specialist will also walk you through the installation process, the costs, discuss the systems and thermostats, and make sure you know how to operate and care for your new furnace. That goes a long way towards giving you peace of mind.
After all, one of the reasons to upgrade your furnace is peace of mind: to get a more comfortable, more efficient, and economical home.
11. Get Free Estimates
The cost of purchasing and installing a new furnace can vary greatly, depending on your home’s location, the set-up inside and the location of your existing furnace and duct system. With that in mind, you’ll want to choose a contractor that offers free in-home estimates and consultations.
Is there a more noble cause than helping the planet? How many other cost-cutting actions do we take in our lives that also help the environment and reduce our carbon footprint?
Upgrading to a high-efficiency furnace is a great way to lower your energy bill and make the world a better place.
Older furnaces don’t do that so well. Running an older, less efficient furnace means you’re pumping more pollution into the atmosphere. They work harder (which burns more fuel and more energy) and produce less heat.
High-efficiency furnaces just work better: they produce more heat, more steadily, while using less energy. Combining an upgraded furnace with other energy-bill-reducing tactics can make a huge dent in your energy bill.
13. Combine Your New Propane or Natural Gas Furnace with Other Energy-Efficient Choices
There are so many ways to bring down that energy bill, like even just dialling down the thermostat. Even just a few degrees cooler will save you money and reduce your emissions by up to 6 percent.
A good way to do that is to get a programmable thermostat or “smart” thermostat that can lower the heat when you’re out of your home, or when you’re asleep during the night.
Night time isn’t the only time to save energy either: during the day, you can cover your windows with heat-sealing transparent plastic insulation to trap sunlight inside and keep your home warmer.
Meanwhile, you can also be your furnace’s best friend by sealing leaks around heat ducts to reduce air loss. Remember: insulation, insulation, insulation! Topping up your wall and attic insulation can be a big help, as can putting in new windows and doors.
Once that heat has been generated by your furnace, you’ve already paid for it. So do everything you can to keep it from seeping outside where it will do you no good!
14. Regular Maintenance is Absolutely Crucial
Regularly checking the air filter on your furnace goes a long way to keeping it working efficiently. If the filter gets clogged, your airflow goes downhill fast, and your furnace will have to work harder for worse results.
Annual inspection and maintenance can pay huge dividends in extending the life of your furnace and ensuring it always runs at peak efficiency. A good rule of thumb is to do that every fall. Regular duct cleaning isn’t a bad idea either.
15. What About the Warranty?
Most furnace manufacturers offer a 10-year warranty on parts. In addition, you should check with your local contractor about a warranty on labour and installation (1 year is the norm) and as mentioned above, we recommend you don’t buy anything from any contractor who won’t guarantee their work.
In addition, there are rent to own programs or furnace rentals as they are also called (click that link for our complete guide to rentals), which offer ‘Full Coverage’ on all parts and labour for the entire term. This generally means you get unlimited service calls and don’t pay for repairs or even full system replacement if necessary. There are typically no upfront costs and you simply pay a flat monthly rate.
In the end, you will pay more for your furnace than if you paid upfront but some people (especially landlords) prefer the added peace of mind and predictable cost – no shelling out hundreds of dollars in unexpected repair costs in the middle of February!
To summarize everything we’ve covered here:
Installation is just as important as the furnace brand or manufacturer
High-efficiency is key (don’t bother with “mid-efficiency” furnaces. If you can even find them, they’re not much cheaper and are much more wasteful)
Go for quality AND value. Get a solid furnace at reasonable prices: see the Best Furnaces here
Enlist the help of a local expert (ask for a free consultation and estimate!)
Choose a payment option that works for you (purchase vs. financing vs. rent to own, etc.)
Annual maintenance is important (would you own a car for ten years without getting regular oil changes? Your furnace is no different!) A well-maintained furnace lasts longer and saves you money by operating more efficiently.