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Your central heating system is either a gas furnace or an electric heat pump. A gas furnace will operate independently from the rest of the HVAC system. By contrast, a heat pump uses the reverse cycle of the air conditioner, so that all of the components are working year-round. The air handler blower can be either single-stage in basic systems or variable-speed in high-efficiency systems. However, all of these components to your heating system must be carefully matched together during installation. A mismatched system will operate poorly. In some cases, it may not operate at all.
Parts of a Heating System
Heat Pumps. If you use only electricity to heat and cool your home, then a heat pump is the most energy-efficient system that you can use for indoor comfort. In fact, heat pumps provide three times more heating than the equivalent amount of energy they consume. Heat pumps also do double duty as your home’s air conditioner. Indeed, a high-efficiency heat pump can reduce the amount of electricity you use for heating by as much as 30 to 40%.
Furnace. The standard furnace today operates at 80% efficiency. Thus, for every dollar you spend on gas, 20% is discarded as carbon monoxide and 80% is brought into your home as heat. In colder climates, you can purchase systems at up to 98% gas efficiency.
Air Ducts. Today, ductwork in homes consists of insulated flexible tubes that snake across the attic floor or under the house. For most people, however, heating ducts are out of sight and out of mind. Thus, we often neglect them. In fact, a recent study by the Arizona Energy Commission concluded that the average home loses up to 30-50% of the hot air before it ever gets to the rooms where it is needed due to leaking ductwork. As a result, you could be overpaying your utility bills by as much as 30-50%.
Blower Speed and Stages
Single-Speed/Single Stage. This is a basic furnace. It is limited in that it only provides a high heat mode. Furnaces are designed so that they are able to heat your home on the coldest days. However, there are only a few days per season when that condition exists. A single-speed furnace does not have the ability to adjust to milder conditions. This causes large temperature swings and a less comfortable home. In addition, this may lead to increased energy usage and system repairs.
Two-Speed/Two Stage. Technology enables a gas furnace to improve indoor air circulation and overall comfort, while reducing operating noise. It operates at a slower, more consistent level more than 90% of the time. This means lower temperature swings and cold drafts which are associated with single-speed furnaces.
Variable-Speed. Variable-speed furnaces feature the best technology as well as being the quietest furnaces in the industry today. The blower motor ramps up gently, quietly and economically to provide a nearly continuous flow of warm air in a low capacity operation, maximizing your comfort. In addition, the blower motor uses only 6.5% of the power of a standard furnace blower motor.
AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, and it is the way in which furnaces are rated for comparison. Most furnaces produced are between 80 and 96.6% efficient. However, it’s important to remember that not all units with the same AFUE ratings are equal. The differences become clear when you look closer at things like construction, quality, reliability, durability, and enhanced warranties.
Nothing Lasts Forever
In most cases, a heating system will last about 10 to 20 years. After that, you should consider replacing it, even though it might still run and blow cold air. Indeed, installing a new high efficiency heating system could cut your gas bill by up to 60% as compared to the cost of running your old system. With savings like that—along with all of the federal tax credits, and factory and utility rebates that are offered frequently—it simply doesn’t make sense to keep using it. In other words, replacing your system can turn out to be the wisest move. Thus, you shouldn’t wait to do it when the time has come.