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How Efficient Is Your Furnace?

We are in a world where the phrase “they don’t make things like they used to” often rings true. The sturdy oak nightstand or the vintage fridge in the garages are testaments to the craftsmanship of yesteryears.

 However, one exception is your furnace!

Your furnace isn’t a retro collectible that will add charm to your aging home. Rather, an old furnace is a silent money-wasting machine, draining your hard-earned cash with every utility bill payment.

How much money are you throwing away? Let’s take a closer look at the cost of an older furnace.

What Is An AFUE rating?

Furnaces are measured by an AFUE rating, which stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. Given in percentages, an AFUE rating measures how much heat is lost on average annually.

TheAFUE indicates the percentage of energy from the fuel source that is effectively converted into heat for your home, while the remaining percentage is lost as waste through various processes like combustion gasses and heat dissipation.

For example, if a furnace has an AFUE rating of 90%, it means that 90% of the energy from the fuel is used to generate heat, and only 10% is lost as waste. The remaining 10% might be lost through processes like exhaust gasses venting outside.

In Canada, the current building code requires furnaces to be 92% efficient. (Building codes are not retroactive, meaning there are many homes across the country with a furnace that doesn’t meet the new standard.) If you are replacing your furnace, or building a new home, 92% efficiency is required.

Standard-Efficiency Furnace

For homes constructed before the 1990s with the original furnaces, the picture is grim. These homes are equipped with standard efficiency furnaces—an ironic term, considering their wasteful nature. 

A standard furnace may only be 50% to 60% efficient. This means that 50 to 60 units of energy are converted into heat for every 100 units it consumes, wasting 40 to 50% of energy. 

These old-school furnaces did not have a second combustion chamber and often did not have a blower fan to move the heated air through the home. Typically, standard efficiency furnaces have one stage meaning the furnace has only an “off” or “on” mode. Either the furnace is running at full capacity or it isn’t, which also diminishes the efficiency.

**Please note: standard efficiency furnaces are no longer up to code. That means if you were to buy a new furnace in Canada, 92% efficiency is required.

Mid-Efficiency Furnace

Moving on to mid-efficient furnaces: these are commonly found in homes built between 1990 and 2010. The numbers don’t paint a much brighter picture. Freshly installed, these natural gas furnaces tend to hover around 78% to 82% efficiency—a large improvement over their standard counterparts. Yet, this still means that around 20 units of energy out of every 100 purchased are cast aside as waste. Over time, older mid-efficiency furnaces can plummet to a mere 55% to 70% efficiency. You could be losing a staggering 45% to 30% units of energy.

High-Efficiency Furnace

Enter the high-efficiency furnace: a game-changer that’s so effective it’s mandated in new homes. Whether you’re a dedicated green enthusiast or simply looking out for your budget, using less energy makes sense. Not only are you lightening your environmental footprint, but you’re also protecting your finances as temperatures drop or energy prices increase. After 2016, the Canadian government mandated furnaces be more than 92% efficient.

Is a high-efficiency furnace worth the investment?

From time to time I have come across American articles or Youtubers who profess that a high-efficiency furnace is not worth the investment. This does not ring true in Canada. All new furnace installations in Canada must be high-efficient! 

Not only is this a better investment, you don’t have a choice. High-efficient furnaces are the only furnaces that meet the building code in Alberta. 

That means if you are replacing your furnace or building a new home, the only furnace option is high-efficiency. 

There is a range of types of furnaces that can meet the efficiency criteria and each has various features and associated costs. 

Let me explain: In Alberta, most of the furnaces are natural gas. Some Alberta homes have electric furnaces, but they are more expensive to operate.

The following terms refer particularly to natural gas furnaces.

Furnace Stages Explained

The number of stages of a furnace refers to the number of stages of the gas valve. Having more stages allows the furnace to produce various levels of heat, and therefore supply only what is demanded. 

Initially, furnaces were designed to be single-stage, but eventually, double-stage and then multi-stage furnaces became more common.

Furnace Speed Explained

The furnace speed refers to the blower fan. (Makes sense right? A fan has various speeds, and so does the fan in your furnace.)

The furnace fan can help your furnace be more efficient because the furnace is able to blow the heat at various speeds. 

A fully modulating furnace not only provides multiple stages of the gas valve but also has various blower speeds. 

Under the umbrella of high-efficiency furnaces, there are various models offering various features.

A furnace with fewer features that are installed properly can provide as much efficiency as a furnace with more features (stages and speeds) that are not set up properly.

Sadly, our technicians run into this problem all the time. To get the most from your furnace, make sure you have a yearly inspection with an HVAC specialist who can ensure the furnace is set to optimal efficiency.

A fully modulating furnace not only provides multiple stages of the gas valve but also has various blower speeds. 

Under the umbrella of high-efficiency furnaces, there are various models offering various features.

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