Select A Department:

Courses in this Department

How to Make Your Home Healthy and Safe

Build a Safe Home Playground

Make Your Home a Safe Haven for Kids

Avoid Grill Fires, Explosions and CO Poisoning

Don't Let a Burglar Ruin Your Vacation

Is Your Tap Water Safe?

Are Your Cleaning Products Making Your Family Ill?

Localities Crack Down on Homeowners Alarm Calls

Radon Sends Ripples through Water Systems

Are you a Hazardous Waste Case?


In Search of a Furnace

Is that noisy, smelly behemoth in your basement blowing your energy bills up the flue? It's time to take advantage of newer equipment and technology. But before you buy anything, remember that choosing a furnace is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition, says James Dulley in Cut Your Utility Bills. You'll need to match the equipment to your budget and long-term plans,

Today's technology provides up to 40% savings in heating costs while improving indoor air quality. Start with a furnace rated for 90 percent energy efficiency and then consider what type of equipment is best suited to your lifestyle and budget needs. For maximum comfort, a "two-stage" heat output furnace with a variable speed blower is your best bet. A two-stage furnace trots along at a quieter, lower level about 80% of the time, then kicks into high gear when temperatures get frosty. By running longer, it delivers even room temperatures and maximum recirculation of indoor air for better air cleaning.

The variable-speed blower is smarter than a one-speed blower because it knows how to adjust itself--slow at first when the furnace turns on, then gradually faster as it warms up. That way you don't get a burst of unheated air. If you plan to install a high quality, two-level air conditioner along with your new furnace, you'll need a variable-speed blower to go with your A/C, too.

You may wish to consider investing an additional $100 on a "sealed combustion" system that draws outside air through a small plastic pipe for burning. Exhaust gases are vented through a separate pipe. It's safer and more efficient. Another piece of equipment to know about is the "condensing" heat exchanger. Any furnace claiming to be 90% efficient should have one.

The more efficient the furnace, the higher the price. If you're not ready to invest in a fully-equipped unit, then choose single- heat output and single blower speed.

The bottom line is, how much are you willing to pay upfront in return for greater comfort and energy savings down the road? If you plan to move in two or three years, don't count on getting a satisfactory return from a higher priced, super-efficient furnace. A few years is not enough time to reap the benefits of lower utility bills. And while lower heating costs are a potential selling point, there's no guarantee the furnace will pay for itself when it comes time to sell your home.

Also, remember that proper sizing and installation are more important than price in the long run. The equipment won't run correctly if your heating contractor fails to properly match the the unit's heating capacity to your home. Don't get stuck shivering and paying for improperly sized or installed equipment.