New furnaces may not be the subject of a page-turner of a book but the savings with superior efficiency will allow you enough money to build your own library. New furnaces’ efficiency ratings now score as high as 97% compared to older furnaces with ratings of 60–80%, meaning 20-40% of their energy source was completely lost.
Comfort during the coldest months begins by having the right furnace system for your home. If you’d like to understand furnace options, maintenance, or repairs, and know how to choose the best furnace, our guide reviews these topics.
How does a furnace system work?
A problem will likely occur with every home’s furnace system at some point. The first step to solving a problem is understanding how your furnace operates. The problem can stem from any number of components in your furnace.
To simplify this explanation, we’ve summarized the process in three steps below:
1) Select your desired temperature on your thermostat or set a daily schedule
2) Your furnace’s sensor receives the temperature change and adjusts the fuel use accordingly
3) Fuel flows through the burning element of your furnace until the desired temperature is reached and maintained
There are three types of furnaces
These are modulating single-stage and 2-stage furnaces. Each type can be an excellent option for heating your home. Choosing one comes down to your budget, desired energy efficiency and home.
A modulating home heating system has a burner that adjusts the amount of fuel burned incrementally to maintain a consistent temperature. This reduces temperature fluctuations. This makes it the most precise and consistent furnace option. If you have that “perfect” temperature that’s just right for you, then you would love a modulating furnace. However, that also makes it the most expensive upfront.
These are the most basic furnaces available for homes. Their most exciting feature is the On and Off switch. With single-stage furnaces, they’re either running at full capacity or not when turned off. This makes them less energy efficient but also less expensive to purchase upfront.
As the name suggests, two-stage furnaces have two settings to work with. You can have them set too high or low in intensity. These are the preferred mid-tier furnace because they offer homeowners some temperature control and energy efficiency. They’re generally more expensive than single-stage furnaces but far more affordable than the modulating models.
If it isn’t the correct size, you’ll need to replace it much sooner than if you install a properly sized system. Furnaces are designed to run in cycles. When their cycles are frequently cut short or extended too long, it causes them to work much harder than they need to.
If you have an oversized furnace, it will put out too much heat for the space. Your thermostat will always read a higher temperature. This causes your furnace to turn off early before all of your homes can be thoroughly heated. This process is called short cycling. Over time, it causes your furnace unit to wear out faster and require more repair work throughout its lifetime.
A furnace that is too small for the house will put out too little heat to keep the home warm. So, the furnace will stay on for far longer than it is designed to in an attempt to heat the house properly. This puts just as much stress on the system as if it were oversized, with the same result. The course will quickly wear down and require repairs more often.
The best way to properly determine your required furnace size is to have your local HVAC company come for an assessment. They will determine which furnace size is best for your home.
Different furnace fueling options
Now that we’ve reviewed the main types of furnaces, we will go over the different fuel options. To make an informed buying decision, you need to know the advantages and disadvantages of each fuel.
Efficiency for each fuel option is measured by AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency). It attempts to measure the average efficiency over a season. A higher AFUE means better efficiency. Lastly, what you choose for your home will depend significantly on cost and availability in your area.
Oil furnaces are typically older but can be an excellent option for rural areas. If other options are more expensive, heating oil could be the best fuel option for you. It’s available in most parts of Ontario but generally isn’t as energy-efficient as gas and electric. The older the oil furnace, the less efficient it will be.
Natural gas furnaces are the most popular furnace option in North America. Their gas valves and burners operate precisely in conjunction with your home’s thermostat controls. In most cases, gas furnaces are inexpensive to fuel, highly efficient and affordable to have installed. If your home has the required ductwork for operation, then you should strongly consider this fuel type.
These furnaces convert electrical energy to heat energy using circuit breakers. They typically cost more power to operate compared to natural gas and oil furnaces. However, they’re becoming more popular among environmentally conscious consumers. It’s important to note that electric furnaces are designed to last up to 30 years. On the other hand, gas furnaces only last up to 20 years. For a more detailed comparison between fuel options, you can visit Fixr.com.
Buying vs. renting your furnace system – The benefits of both
Besides selecting the right furnace type for you and your family, there are many other things to consider. A final variable to consider is your responsibilities, whether you buy or rent a furnace unit.
It’s essential to choose the furnace that makes sense for your home and budget. Here is a comparison of the benefits between renting and buying a furnace.
Some expected benefits of buying your furnace system upfront are:
-You’re in control of when you perform maintenance
-Warranty options are available
-May increase Home value by adding an owned asset
-May save some money in the long term by paying upfront
Some expected benefits of renting a furnace unit are:
-More Peace of Mind
-Costs less money in the short term with one consistent monthly payment
-Lifetime repairs and maintenance
-24/7/365 telephone support
If you’re leaning towards this option, you must read the contract carefully. Repairs, maintenance and support, aren’t always included with every company. Regardless of the option you choose, make sure you do your due diligence with research.
Installing a new furnace system
Installing something as complex as a new home heating system is not a good idea. A professional technician brings experience and updated knowledge of code requirements, modern electronics and new technologies. Unless you are a certified HVAC technician, a self-installed furnace could lead to an inefficient, unsafe system.
What you can expect during your installation visit
Two trained technicians will do most installations. A good team will arrive on time and be prepared with all the parts and tools necessary. Once your unit is installed, the team will conduct tests to ensure it’s functioning well. They will also clean up and dispose of the old heating system’s parts.
To prepare for an inspection or installation, you should clear the work area of clutter and keep children and pets away.
Installation of a new furnace unit could take anywhere from half a day to a full day. This also includes testing and clean-up.
A good quality humidifier can go a long way to improving your home’s comfort. When air is heated, it’s humidity drops. This can make your home feel colder, leading to the heat being turned up even more.
Homeowners have the option of using a humidifier that attaches to their furnace to work in conjunction with the system. A few positives of using a humidifier are:
- They’re simple to maintain
- They offer more precise humidity control
- Increase your home’s value
You can visit The Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada’s website for more detailed home humidity information.
Thermostats are like the brains of your furnace system. They communicate the changes you’d like made in your home’s temperature. Having a reliable thermostat ensures your home’s comfort level can be where you want it. Homeowners have a few options when selecting a thermostat for their furnace system.
Manual thermostats are the most affordable and straightforward choice. They don’t allow for programming temperatures for specific times. They need to be manually set.
The main difference between these and manual thermostats is they have options for multiple settings. For example, you can set specific temperatures for specific times during the day or night. You need to make sure the programmable thermostat you choose is compatible with the rest of your furnace system.
Smart Wi-Fi thermostats
These are becoming increasingly more popular. They are significantly more expensive to purchase and configure but offer a lot of conveniences. You can control your furnace’s function from your computer or smartphone. The most exciting part is that they can learn and optimize temperature routines based on how you use your system.
We should note that as thermostats become more complex, we need to be making sure they are compatible with the rest of our furnace system.
Filters are essential parts of a furnace system for removing dirt, dust and allergens from the air. They get caught in the filter before air circulates through the unit and then throughout your home. Filters improve the air quality in your home and enhance your system’s efficiency by keeping it cleaner.
When you have a new furnace installed, it will come with a new filter. However, when replacing a filter, you’ll have several options. We’ll review a few of them here.
These are the cheapest options for your home. They catch up to 80% of particles and are the minimum amount of protection you’d want for your system.
Electrostatic filters use electrostatic cotton or paper fibres to trap small particles. They’re the preferred choice for homes with children and pets. Approximately, they should be replaced every three months. However, this type of filter does have a reusable and washable variation if you’re looking to save time on replacing them.
These filters are made from polyester or cotton. They offer high-efficiency results by trapping particulates 0.3 microns in size, such as bacteria and viruses. They trap between 70% and 90% of airborne pollutants. Pleated filters are more efficient and last longer compared to fibreglass/synthetic filters. They eliminate more contaminants from your air without sacrificing airflow within your system. With that being said, they are more expensive than fibreglass and electrostatic filters.
Maintaining your furnace system
Just like you don’t wait for your car to stop running before you change the oil, you should not wait for your furnace to break down before you have it inspected. Especially as your furnace ages, some parts become worn or dirty over time. Some of these parts include belts, motor bearings, and the burner assembly. You want to make sure that your furnace is maintained regularly to avoid a costly breakdown during the winter. Consistent maintenance can also improve energy efficiency and prolong the life of your home’s furnace.
Ideally, you’ll have a reputable company come out for regular maintenance before winter. If you’re currently renting a furnace, we recommend having the company that installed it come out. This should already be part of the contract.
If you own your furnace, then you’ll have a variety of HVAC companies to choose from. Some company characteristics you should look for are:
- Fast response times for communication
- Great online customer reviews
- At least 10+ years in business
You may also want to consider how many service calls the company does each year. This can be an indication of how popular and reliable they are.
What Happens during Furnace Maintenance?
The general checklist that should be followed is:
- Check and potentially replace the air filter
- Clean and adjust the pilot light
- Inspect Burner System
- Inspect Heat Exchanger
- Inspect Flue Pipe
- Lubricate moving parts
Aside from changing filters, we recommend leaving furnace maintenance to a professional HVAC company. For more information on furnace maintenance, visit our website.
Fixing your furnace
Having a reliable heating system in your house will make your life easier and your home a comfortable place to live in over winter.
Having a broken furnace is not only bad for the durability of your house, but it also can be detrimental to your health. In extreme cases, it can lead to Carbon monoxide poisoning. Don’t try fixing the furnace yourself unless you’re a certified HVAC technician. Please leave it to the accredited experts. Your safety depends on it.
Signs you need a furnace repair
- The furnace doesn’t turn on
- The furnace unexpectedly shuts down
- The furnace has difficulty sustaining temperatures
- You can smell a burnt electrical smell in the house
- Cooling turns on while the furnace is running
- The fan doesn’t turn off no matter what you do
- The furnace makes a lot of noise
- Rising utility costs
For more information on furnace repair and common problems, you can visit our website.
Winter preparation checklist
This wouldn’t be an ultimate guide if we didn’t include a checklist on how you can prepare your furnace system for winter this year.
1) Make sure your furnace is on. This is the best way to test how it functions before you need it. If you get a burning smell after turning your furnace on, it might just be accumulated dust. Ventilate the room and wait a couple of hours for the scent to disappear. If the smell persists, you may have a more severe issue. For more information on furnace smells and their meaning, you can visit our website.
2) Inspect and clean your air vents. Blocked air vents will cause your furnace to work harder, increasing the system’s temperature and risk of a fire. Before winter arrives, remove furniture, plants, toys, equipment or anything else that can obstruct airflow.
3) Inspect and potentially change your furnace’s air filter. Changing the air filter in your furnace is one of the most important things you can do to keep it working efficiently. When the filter becomes plugged, the furnace has to work harder to get air moving.
4) Check the intake and exhaust pipes outside. They could be plugged with snow, leaves, vegetation or other debris.
5) Book an annual maintenance/inspection appointment. If you haven’t had your furnace looked at by a professional yet this year now is the time to do it. As mentioned above, you want to have your furnace looked at before you need it over winter.
Following this winter checklist doesn’t take much time but can pay off over the winter months.