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How to Choose Your New Furnace

choosing a furnace is tough with many options

Don’t let any beautiful September or October weather fool you. Edmonton winter is on its way, and that means turning on the furnace for the first time is at hand. If you have not already seen our tips for preparing your furnace for winter, you should check them out here. (Add link) 

But what if you find you need a new furnace? For example, any of the following reasons might apply:

  • The old one’s broken down
  • It’s become too expensive to run and fix.
  • It’s a new house, so this is the first installation
  • You’ve renovated, and the current furnace just doesn’t cut it.
  • Your family, even the dog, keeps reminding you that the house is too cold, or too hot, or the heat’s uneven, and you’re tired of the complaints.

What do you do? Where should you start? And how much should you expect to pay?

First step – arm yourself with crucial furnace knowledge.

It helps to do your own research so that when you talk to a contractor, you at least have some basic understanding. So do some reading, ask around, try sifting out what you think are favourable sounding boards. Some friends you should probably never ask. Then there are some whose opinions you value based on your past experience with them.

What furnace capacity do you need?

Obviously, you need a furnace that will comfortably and efficiently heat your own home. So the first question is, what’s the size of your home? Here are some generally recognized BTUs (British Thermal Unit is a traditional value assigned to heat) required, based on a home’s square footage. 

The larger the square footage, the more BTUs are required for heating. The figures below do not include the basement since it does not materially add to the load. However, if the area is extensive and fully finished, your contractor will make adjustments as required.

  • 1,200-square-foot house: 36,000 to 72,000 BTUs
  • 1,500-square-foot house: 45,000 to 90,000 BTUs
  • 1,800-square-foot house: 54,000 to 108,000 BTUs
  • 2,100-square-foot house: 63,000 to 126,000 BTUs
  • 2,400-square-foot house: 72,000 to 144,000 BTUs

The BTU usage recommended for each house size is not a single number but rather a broad range. Square footage is not the only factor.

  • Climate zone
    Edmonton is in Climate Zone 5. (Of course it’s the coldest.) Recommended BTUs are between 50 to 60 per square foot.
  • Quality of Insulation
    How well is your home insulated?  New homes tend to be around 50 BTUs and the older ones closer to 60 BTUs. To get the total BTUs required, you simply multiply the total square footage by the recommended BTU per square foot. 
  • Other factors
    Window thickness (single/double/triple glazed), ceiling height, number of people living in the home and the temperature they find comfortable. 

These are some of the major concerns that an experienced contractor will consider in recommending the ideal furnace for your home. 

What type of furnace do you need?

High efficiency

Almost all homes today are equipped with high-efficiency furnaces. These furnaces have a minimum rating of 92% AFUE. AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency and is a ratio of how much fuel goes into the furnace and how much is actually converted into heat. If a furnace has 92% AFUE, it means that 8% of the fuel is going up the chimney and not turning to heat.   

Single Stage, Two Stage,  Modulating

What is a Single-Stage Furnace?

A single-stage furnace has a single blower that comes on full blast regardless of whether it’s 50 above outside or 10 below. It uses more gas to heat your home. The valve that controls the amount of fuel that enters the burner in your furnace has two different positions. Open and closed.

What is a Two-Stage Furnace?

A two-stage furnace has a three-position valve to control the amount of fuel entering the burner. One position is fully open, one is fully closed, and one is partially open. The reasoning behind the two open stages is based on the outside temperature as it impacts the temperature inside the house. If it’s only moderately cold, like some days in October and March and those odd Edmonton weeks in November and January, you don’t need your furnace going full blast. If it’s 30 below, then you will want it fully open. 

What is a Modulating Furnace?

The modulating furnace is the most efficient in maintaining a constant level of heat in your home. It does this through a feedback loop, constantly readjusting the amount of fuel being burned throughout the day to maintain that even temperature.

Variable speed verses non-variable speed 

This refers to the furnace blower (or fan). Variable means the blower will speed up or slow down based on the load on the home. i.e. the blower reacts to how hot or cold it is outside. It both reduces the number of hot and cold spots in the home as well as removing humidity. 

Furnace options to avoid

Too big of a furnace (overcapacity). Possible issues include:

  • Heats in quick bursts
  • Turns on and off making it less energy efficient
  • House can get uncomfortably hot or cold
  • Wear and failure to the system from frequent cycling on and off 

Too small of a furnace (under-capacity). Possible issues include:

  • Furnace won’t be able to keep up with low temperatures – continually running with few pauses.
  • Heating uneven – hot and cold spots in the house 
  • High energy bills – because the furnace is constantly running 
  • Increased wear and tear leads to a premature need to replace

Research the best Furnace Brand for you.

Furnaces are somewhat akin to cars in today’s marketplace. Major car manufacturers must meet reliability standards; otherwise, the customer will walk. The result is that most vehicles on the road are very reliable.

The same is true for furnace manufacturers. The standards are high, the warranties good. If you wanted to see how much confidence a manufacturer has in their brand, check the warranty. The warranty will tell you whether their product is one you should consider above another.

At ProSolutions, we install, service & repair all major furnace brands and have options to fit budgets for all homeowners.

Lastly – Get a reputable Edmonton professional onside.

In our opinion, this is a slam dunk. You’re making a significant investment in your home. That furnace will be there anywhere between 10 and 20 years – probably longer than you. And you don’t ever want to have to think about it. 

So search around. Find out about the furnace contractors in Metro Edmonton and spend time researching their reputation.

Talk to people who’ve used them. Check their Google & Facebook Reviews, check the Better Business Bureau and other agencies. Sit down with two or three of them – see who you feel comfortable with. That comfort level is essential. After all, that contractor’s likely to be your Edmonton go-to person for many years. You want to be confident that if a problem crops up, you know where to turn.

Discussing your furnace replacement budget.

The contractor is going to ask you a lot of questions. One of them is going to be about your budget. He or she will want to know the figure in the back of your mind. In other words, what monthly amount are you going to be comfortable with? What portion of your cheque can you allocate to heating your home? So before you meet with the contractor, prepare yourself. Figure out what you can afford. And see if there are any particular issues you want to cover. For example, is there some part of your home that doesn’t get enough heat? Is somewhere else too warm? 

This is a good time to mention that in an upcoming post, we’ll focus on the approximate cost of a furnace replacement. We’ll detail five different home sizes/types and the appropriate furnaces for each. That will give you some idea of cost based on the type of home you have in Edmonton. 

You should also ask about furnace financing options available through your furnace installation company. Many of the medium-large companies can provide financing for up to 180 months on new furnace installation (and other home comfort systems).

Why certified/proper installation is so important

Of equal importance to having the right contractor is an installation team that’s second to none. A sound installation is going to take the best part of a day. To get it right, these experts have to know their stuff. You want assurance that they’ve done hundreds of installations like yours without a hitch. And that if anything did go wrong, it was fixed fast, professionally. 

Remember this. Not all homes are created equal. Installation can be complex depending on the age of the home, the available space (how congested and awkward is it to get to), how to meet current code requirements. The more challenges, the more complexity, the longer the installation takes, which is why experienced installers are so critical. 

Jason Billey, ProSolutions Ltd. Owner.

The Purchase Decision

So far, we’ve given you the best advice we can on what to consider in buying that furnace. What remains are price and warranties. In this article, we gave you a guide to selecting your next furnace. In the next article, we’ll break down price based on four different house styles – a bungalow, a two-storey home, a townhouse and a split level.

Here are some price ranges for today’s furnace replacement:

  • Superior performance ranges from $3000 – $6000
  • Premium products are generally $6000 and up.
  • Minimal performance ranges from $3000 and below.

TL;DR Version

Here are our top 5 tips

What do you need to know when shopping for a new furnace?

  1. Start off by being informed. In other words, don’t meet with any company or contractor without having some understanding of what you’re in for.
  2. Know what your budget is and any other issues you’re concerned about, so when the contractor has questions he or she needs answers for, you’re ready.
  3. Listen carefully to what goes into determining the square footage of your home and the furnace capacity that will handle it efficiently
  4. Take your time to decide the benefits and drawbacks of the best type of furnace as well as things to avoid. Carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each and why your contractor makes certain recommendations.
  5. Getting the right furnace for your needs is a complex process. Make sure it’s a smooth one by hiring an Edmonton contractor you trust, whose installation team can handle any issue, however complex.

All the above points are important to consider in the purchase decision. Once you are familiar with these, you will be in a much better position to act when the contractor submits a proposal and price for your consideration.  We’ll go into more detail on price and value in the next article.