2012 Guide to Buying a New Gas Furnace

Our 2012 Guide to buying a new gas furnace will walk you through the process of determining which models you will want to consider more closely.  No gas furnace is right for everyone.  There are several key factors to consider as you choose the gas furnace that is best for you.  In this 2012 gas furnace buying guide, you’ll find the information you need to make an educated purchase that will turn out to be the right one for your home and specific needs.  It starts with considering these factors:

Gas Furnace Efficiency

Furnaces are made in a range of efficiencies to meet individual needs.  Currently on the market, the least efficient furnaces are 80% efficient – a number you might see as 80% AFUE.  The AFUE stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency.  It totals the amount of Btu’s of heat created and divides it by the amount of fuel used, exactly like gas mileage.  An 80% AFUE furnace captures 80% of the created heat for use in your home while 20% is lost along with the exhaust gases.  After 80%, furnaces jump up to 90% efficient.  From there, you can find furnaces up to 98% efficient. These higher-efficiency furnaces use a second heat exchanger to transfer more of the heat into your home so less is wasted

The more efficient the furnace is, the more it will cost.  For example, in the same series, a 95% efficient furnace may cost as much as 40% more than an 80% furnace.  That may translate into $400-$1,000, depending on the total cost of the furnace.  The upside to higher-efficiency furnaces is that they operate more efficiently.  A 95% efficient furnace will use about 15% less fuel.  If you have a $200 heating bill, that’s a $30 saving per month.

The key to finding the most cost-effective efficiency level for you is matching the furnace to your climate.  Balance the cost of the furnace with relative cost of energy to find the one that makes the most sense.  For example, you can find online a map showing climate zones in the United States.  Many of them divide the country into 4 zones.  Consider the warmest zone to be zone 1 and the coldest to be zone 4.  These efficiencies will likely be the most cost-effective for your area:

Zone 1 (warmest): 80% or 90% AFUE furnaces will be most cost-effective.

Zone 2 (warm/moderate): 90%-93% AFUE furnaces will be most cost-effective.

Zone 3 (moderate/cool): 93%-96% AFUE furnaces will be most cost-effective.

Zone 4 (coldest): 95% AFUE and higher furnaces will be most cost-effective.

Gas Furnace Features that Improve Comfort

There are several performance features which can make your home more comfortable.  The most important, and the 2 that affect price the most, are staged heating and a variable-speed blower.  Standard performance furnaces run at full capacity when on.  Staged heating means that the burner runs at less than full capacity most of the time.  Two-stage furnaces run at 65% to 70% capacity on low, depending on the model. New modulating burners run between about 40% and 100%, some modulating in 1% increments.

When furnaces run at lower capacity, they are quieter.  In addition, the heating cycle is longer and gentler.  The result of a longer, gentler cycle is more balanced temperatures throughout the home as well as better air filtration.  If a humidifier is installed in the furnace, it will do a better job adding moisture to your home during the winter months.  Single-stage models are the least expensive; 2-stage models are next; modulating furnaces are fairly new for 2012 and tend to be significantly more costly than even 2-stage furnaces.

Variable-speed blowers tend to accompany 2-stage and modulating burners.  They match their speed to the level of heating the furnace is providing.  If a central air conditioner is part of the system, a variable-speed blower will help reduce humidity when it is running.

As you consider your next furnace, how much important a factor is precise indoor climate control?  With a single-stage burner and single-speed fan you may notice some temperature fluctuation as well as cooler air at the start of the heating cycle because the fan is blowing full-force before the air is fully heated.  Two-stage and modulating burners reduce those issues or fully eliminate them.

How important is high-performance to you?  Personal preference is the key in most cases.  However, if there are residents in the home that have breathing issues such as allergies, asthma or COPD, a furnace with staged heating and a variable-speed blower will provide much better air quality, especially if an air purification system is also included. It will also reduce humidity and make breathing easier in hot weather.  Finally, if an ultra-cozy home is a high priority for you, you’ll be more comfortable with staged heating and variable speed airflow but you’ll pay more to get it.  On the other hand, if you prefer to save money on the furnace you choose and believe you’ll be comfortable with a standard furnace, you can find them up to 96% efficient to match your efficiency needs based on your climate.

Highest Quality Gas Furnaces

Most gas furnaces made today by major brands are of very good quality.  A few stand out as superior, at least in their top of the line models.  The highest-quality gas furnace series currently available are the Lennox Signature Series, Trane XC, American Standard Platinum, and Carrier Infinity.  Close behind are the Bryant Evolution, Rheem Prestige, Goodman Communicating, Heil QuietComfort and a few others.  Brands like Ruud, Coleman, Maytag, Aire-Flo and Armstrong make worthwhile products too.

Keep in mind that each top manufacturer makes several series of products and sometimes they vary in quality.  For example, the Lennox Signature Series furnaces are significantly better than the Lennox Merit Series and the American Standard Platinum furnaces are superior to their Silver Series furnaces.  When you shop for gas furnaces, understand where the specific furnace falls in their product lineup in terms of quality.  You get what you pay for.  A top-quality furnace might be capable of 20 years of service or more with few significant repairs.  A mid-grade furnace might last 15-20 years while a budget-priced furnace might last 12-18 years, depending on the model and how heavily it is used.

Choosing the Right Gas Furnace

As you review these furnace factors, consider your specific needs and desires for your home.  Consider your climate as well as your budget.  If you plan to live in your current home for a long time, choose a higher-quality model than if you plan to move shortly.  You’ll also save money in the long run with the most efficient model that is cost-effective for your climate.  For those who want the greenest technology possible in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the most efficient gas furnace you can afford might make the most sense.  Use our reviews to compare models and gas furnace prices, along with all of their features.  They are designed to help you find the model that is right for your home.


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