- Posted by Hinged
Our new home was built 42 years ago. When we bought it, all of the quirky, dated features were advertised as “plenty of charm”. One of the more subjectively “charming” features is the ancient furnace. I say “is” because even though we have a new boiler that is not much bigger than a shoebox, the old cast iron monster is still down there filling our basement with charm.
Here are five tips to help you select the right heating unit and have it installed correctly.
Type of Fuel – For heating your home, the available fuels are Coal, Wood, Electricity, Oil, Natural Gas, and Propane. There are also hybrids available that utilize renewable energy sources like solar and geo-thermal combined with electricity. Coal and Wood have negative air quality issues and require a lot of hands on work. Unless you are trying to live off the grid, these two really aren’t in the running. With Electricity, there aren’t really any moving parts to wear out, but if you have it you may still be thinking about replacement because in most cases it’s the most expensive way to heat your home. Here in New England, Gas and Oil have been competing to be the most economical for years with Propane constantly coming in third. It is a tricky comparison, as pricing, availability, and efficiency are changing factors that make it hard to compare them on a cost alone basis. In general, if Natural Gas is available for your home, it should be your first choice. When choosing between Oil and Propane, it often comes down to the condition of your chimney and the desire to get rid of an in-ground oil storage tank. Propane furnaces do not need a chimney, like natural gas units, they rely on intake and exhaust piping through the side of your home. Both fuels require storage tanks, but a potentially leaking in-ground oil tank can be a serious environmental liability compared to a propane tank. Hybrids like geo-thermal and solar are environmentally friendly, but are substantially more expensive to install than more conventional systems. Annual savings can offset the added installation expense, but it may take many years to recoup your investment. The choice of which type of renewable energy hybrid is beyond the scope of this post.
Type of System: Furnace vs. Boiler – These terms are often used interchangeably, but technically a furnace heats air and a boiler heats water. Other options involve both the equipment in your basement and throughout your house. If you have old fashioned radiators, you probably have a steam furnace. Baseboard radiators run on hot water. If you have ductwork, you may have a furnace heating air, but just because you have heated air coming out of registers doesn’t mean you must have a furnace. There are many systems where fluid is heated in a boiler and then piped to an air handler or heat exchanger where it warms the air for heating and cools it for air conditioning. These are hydro-air systems and their big advantage is that it is a lot easier to move heated fluids around your house than heated or cooled air so you can put air handlers closer to the space they are conditioning. The result is less ductwork which results in higher efficiencies and equipment that works for heating and cooling. If you are starting from scratch, hydro-air is usually the first choice.
An advantage of a boiler over a furnace is that the same unit can also be used to make hot water for your sinks and baths. Since it is likely that your original equipment for heating and hot water were installed at the same time, if one is worn out, usually the other one is as well. If your furnace is being replaced, it may be a good time to replace your hot water heater too. If that is the case, consider switching to an on-demand unit that only runs when your home is calling for either heat or hot water.
Brand – There are many manufacturers of home heating equipment. The best brand for your home usually has more to do with the location and quality of the dealers and the familiarity of the installer with the products than one brand being dramatically superior to another. Another consideration when choosing brands is warranty. Take a look at all the options and compare the fine print.
Model and Size – Get the most efficient model you can afford. In the long run, it should result in savings. There are published efficiency ratings for how effectively each model converts fuel to heat. Be careful if you are comparing units that burn different fuels, as the fuels contain different amounts of energy per volume. For hot air systems, look for variable speed fans. As to size or capacity, the size of the unit being replaced is only a starting point. Make sure that your contractor is aware of any changes or renovations that have been done on your home when resizing equipment. Even something as simple as storm windows can dramatically affect heating demand. For efficiency, it is better to be at the lower end of the size required than to be oversized. Too much capacity means that your system will only run for short periods of time and never run at maximum efficiency.
Contractor – There is a lot to be considered when replacing your heating equipment. An experienced, reputable contractor like those available on Hinged.com, will insist on installing equipment that will be efficient and improve the comfort of your home. In general, deciding who to use based solely on price can cost you a lot more in the long run, so don’t automatically choose the least expensive option. Instead carefully compare proposals and pay close attention to the type, model and size of the equipment that they are proposing. One last thing to look for is whether the proposal includes removal and disposal of your old equipment. If it is not specifically spelled out you may end up with that “charming” old monster living in your basement.