Buying Guide: Furnaces

An efficient furnace plays a crucial role in keeping your home cozy, but how do you know which furnace is best for your home? We break down how to make the right choice for you.

Having the right, most energy-efficient furnace for your home is crucial to keeping you comfortable and helping you save on monthly costs. We're here to help you make the right decision when buying your new furnace. Use our Buying Guide to help you get started.

Get ready to buy - before it breaks

Gas furnaces typically last anywhere from 15 to 25 years. If your furnace is nearing retirement, it's time to start thinking about replacing it. You don't want to be stuck without a furnace when the weather turns cold. But if your furnace is only a few years old, just stick with good maintenance habits, like cleaning the filters regularly.

Start with the right contractor

Replacing your home's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is a big undertaking and requires expertise. The first step you should take is to find a qualified, licensed contractor. They can help you make the best purchase decision for your home and your needs. In Ontario, HVAC contractors must be licensed and registered with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority.

Tip: You can find a qualified contractor through Save on Energy's Heating and Cooling Program.

It’s important to get at least three separate written estimates from contractors. Each contractor should assess the size, construction and layout of your home when providing you with options. The estimate should include information on the recommended equipment, plus efficiency and warranty details. In addition, your chosen contractor should remove and dispose of your old furnace correctly.

Remember to ask for references for similar work that your contractor has done, plus ongoing maintenance support they offer, and their insurance coverage. You may also want to check the credentials of your HVAC contractor with the Better Business Bureau so you can look at reviews, as well as any outstanding issues and complaints between the company and its customers.

Finally, your contractor can tell you if you need any venting changes or upgrades. High-efficiency furnaces vent out through the basement wall using either PVC or ABS plastic pipes.

After your furnace is installed, make sure you get it inspected.

Tip: It might make sense to upgrade your air conditioning unit and HVAC system when buying a new furnace. Many contractors will bundle the installations together and help you pick the most efficient system for your home.

How can a furnace help me save electricity?

Most furnaces in Ontario use natural gas to heat your home, but they still require electricity. An efficient motor on your furnace can help curb your ongoing energy costs and the maintenance of your furnace over time.

An electronically commuted motor, or ECM, makes your furnace work more efficiently and consistently. Sometimes called a variable speed motor, it allows your furnace to start up more gradually and run continuously at a lower output instead of turning on and off abruptly, which increases wear and tear on your furnace.

Tip: If you don't need a new furnace yet but want to upgrade your motor, the Heating and Cooling Program can help you save.

What size furnace do you need?

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to furnaces. Furnace output is measured in BTUH, which stands for British Thermal Units per Hour. They're the industry-standard measure for the rate of heat delivery.

Furnace output range from 40,000 to 200,000 BTUH. You might think bigger is better for delivering lots of heat during those cold winter months. However, you’ll want to avoid a furnace that turns on and off too frequently as that wastes energy. Your contractor can assess your home and make a recommendation for the size of your furnace based on your home's square footage, insulation type, windows and more.

Tip: If you want to find out more about how efficiently your home is using heating and cooling, a home energy audit can help.

How can I look for an efficient furnace?

With both furnaces and air conditioners, it's best to look for ENERGY STAR®-certified models, which use up to six per cent less energy than other models.

The easiest way to determine your furnace's energy efficiency level is to look for the EnerGuide label. Every EnerGuide furnace label includes an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating.

High-efficiency furnaces have 92 to 97 per cent efficiency. Older model ratings were typically around 65 per cent, which means over a third of your home's heating would go to waste.

While price tends to rise with efficiency rating, remember that your high-efficiency furnace will help you save in the long run.

Safety tip: Be diligent about furnace maintenance to ensure you're safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide detectors are mandatory for all Ontario homes. Remember to always include one on every floor of your home and outside of sleeping areas.

Capitalize on efficiency with your thermostat

Installing a smart thermostat can help you get the most of your new furnace. Unlike programmable thermostats, which you can set to adjust at specific times, smart thermostats learn your habits and adjust on their own. You can also control them remotely through a mobile app, so if your schedule changes or you forget to change a setting while you're away, you don't have to stress.

Maintenance is everything

With newer, higher performance furnaces, maintenance is more crucial than ever. Keeping your filters clean and replacing them every three months (or even sooner during pollen season, or if you are doing renovations that create a lot of dust) will prevent your new furnace's motor from running ineffectively, saving you money on your ongoing energy and maintenance.

Remember to book an end-of-summer maintenance service by a licensed contractor. They'll vacuum the burners, remove and clean the blower, clean the pilot light and clean the flame sensor of your furnace to keep it running smoothly.

What about alternative heating systems?

There are other heating systems you can consider for your home besides a furnace. Air-source heat pumps are a great energy-efficient choice that can help you control your costs and lower your home's carbon footprint. For some homes, ground-source heat pumps might also be a good option.

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