The Complete Guide to Home Furnaces

The Complete Guide to Home Furnaces
Mark Wilson
HVAC Content Lead

Working with our subject-matter experts, I cover every corner of the HVAC industry for Fire & Ice, educating our customers to help them make the best decisions for their homes.

About This Article

Your complete guide to residential furnaces. We cover furnace facts, gas vs. electric furnaces, brands, common myths, installation and maintenance best practices, and more to help you find the best furnace option for your home.

Welcome to the Fire & Ice Guide to Home Furnaces! We aim for nothing less than to answer every question you might have about furnace costs, installation, maintenance, furnace types, efficiency, brands, and more.

Use the article navigation bar to the left or click any of the chapter links immediately below to navigate through the guide.

Skip to a Section:

Chapter 1: Furnace Basics: Operation, Types & Sizing

Chapter 2: Furnace Efficiency

Chapter 3: Furnace Maintenance, Repair & Upkeep

Chapter 4: Popular Furnace Brands

Chapter 5: Myths About Heating Your Home

Chapter 6: Furnace Installation Cost

Chapter 7: Finding the Best Furnace For You

Chapter 8: Furnace Add-Ons (Humidifiers, Filters & Thermostats)

Chapter 9: Furnace Installers Near You

About Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning:

Fire & Ice is a top-rated provider of residential HVAC service and replacement. We are a locally-owned HVAC company in the Columbus metro area. We service, maintain and replace furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, ductless mini-splits, and indoor air quality products.

Our service technicians are experts and can diagnose and repair all brands of HVAC equipment. We also install air filtration, air purifier, humidifier, and dehumidifier products. For the convenience of our customers, emergency service is available 24/7/365.

We believe in educating our customers to make the best decisions for their homes and families and are always available to answer questions or address concerns. We believe wholeheartedly that “Your Trust is Our Business”.



Furnace Basics: Operation, Types & Sizing

Chapter 1: Furnace Basics: Operation, Types & Sizing

Before you can arm yourself with knowledge about installation, price, and sophisticated heating options available on some units, it’s important to have a foundation of knowledge about how your furnace operates. By fully understanding how the heating process works, you’ll be better prepared to ask the right questions when it comes time to choose an HVAC contractor.

 

What Is a Furnace and How Does It Work?

A home furnace is designed to heat your entire home. While ductless heating options exist, the vast majority of homes will have ducted, central air systems.

Every furnace has a sequence of operations. While some of the steps will be standard in any furnace, others are specific to what fuel source or type of furnace you own. Below we list the most common operational steps that allow a furnace to work:

  1. The thermostat will notice a difference between the indoor temperature and its settings. It will “call” for heat from the central heating system.
  2. Ignition occurs. On some systems, there is a pilot light that is lit at all times. This provides the starter fuel for the furnace’s burners. On many modern furnaces, there is an ignition plate that acts sort of like a spark plug or a car’s cigarette lighter. On electric units, the heating coils will begin to warm up.
  3. On a gas unit, the burners then ignite and run for an amount of time sufficient to provide heat for your home to make up the temperature difference. This gas will enter a heat exchanger at a metered rate. The heat exchanger separates the gas, with potentially harmful gases (such as carbon monoxide) discharged and vented out of your home. The remainder goes into your ductwork to heat your home.
  4. On an electric unit, there is a more direct transfer from heating coils to ductwork. This doesn’t require a heat exchanger.
  5. Regardless of the system type, your blower fan will push the heat at a specific rate through your ductwork and into your home.
  6. This begins the heating cycle. Return air ducts draw air back from the home to the furnace, thus replenishing the air supply for the system and cycling air to achieve an even distribution of heat in your home.
  7. Your furnace filter captures particles in your air during this cycle. Generally, air passes through the filter after traveling through the return air ducts and immediately before reentering the heating phase of the cycle.
  8. Once the desired temperature has been reached, the thermostat relays another signal to the system to shut down until the next call for heat.

What Types of Furnaces Are There?

Depending on where you live, what type of equipment and energy lines you currently have in your home, and what your heating needs are, one type of furnace may be better or worse for you. Below, we list the major types of furnaces and some pros and cons for each.

Natural Gas Furnace:

Gas furnaces are the most numerous type in the United States. They’re especially popular in northern climates that have harsh winters.

PROS:

  • The cost of natural gas is historically cheap.
  • Numerous brands and models to choose from.
  • The most efficient models rival electric in overall efficiency and have minimal waste gases.

CONS:

  • May require adding a gas line to homes that currently lack access.
  • More parts and processes mean a larger maintenance burden compared to some other models.

Electric Furnace:

Electric furnaces are traditionally paired with heat pumps, which provide both heating and cooling. Electric systems are very popular in the Southern United States where the heating burden is lower in the winter months, which allows the heat pump to handle a larger portion of the overall heating.

PROS:

  • Hyper-efficient and environmentally friendly.
  • Fewer internal parts than most gas furnaces, which makes maintenance easier.

CONS:

  • The cost of electricity is historically very high, creating awful energy costs for some.
  • Requires a high-efficiency heat pump to be cost-efficient in colder areas.

Oil & Propane Furnaces:

These are often seen as older furnace models, but manufacturers still make new furnaces that use oil or propane as their fuel source. They’re often used in rural areas without access to natural gas lines.

PROS:

  • In colder climates, still usually a cheaper option compared to electric.

CONS:

  • Costs of fuel can fluctuate wildly, so it’s hard to predict energy costs year-over-year.
  • Can occasionally be messy and require careful upkeep to ensure efficient operation.

Alternative Fuel Sources:

We’re getting down to fuel sources that represent a tiny fraction of the heating world, but they do still exist. This category includes things like wood furnaces and corn furnaces. Much like oil and propane, these are generally for areas without easy access to more traditional fuel sources.

PROS:

  • More steady heat than a fireplace or standalone space heater.
  • Corn burns clean and can approach the efficiency levels of various mid-range electric and gas furnaces.

CONS:

  • Many contractors won’t service or install these types of furnaces.

Furnace Efficiency

Sizing Your Furnace

The “size” of your furnace, which is more easily understood as the power or heating capacity of a furnace, is an important factor in any home.

The appropriate size for your furnace is determined by a calculation called the Manual J Load Calculation. This is a fancy name that just means an HVAC contractor measures things like the square footage of your home, the number and size of the windows, what condition those windows are in, the height of the ceilings, the condition of the insulation, and more.

The result of the calculation is a tonnage, which is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). One “ton” is equal to 12,000 BTUs of heating capacity. Residential furnaces generally range from one ton to five tons. Any greater need would likely require multiple furnaces, but this is generally only for businesses and the largest houses (>5,000 square feet).

Both the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Department of Energy state that all HVAC contractors should perform this calculation.

Most HVAC companies don’t perform a correct load calculation. They skip this because it saves them time and money and because most homeowners don’t know to expect it. The result is a poor estimate of your home’s needs, which means you could end up with an incorrectly sized furnace.

CHAPTER 1: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. How Does a Furnace Work?
  2. Gas vs. Electric Furnaces: Cost, Efficiency, Installation & Comfort
  3. Sizing Your Air Conditioner, Heat Pump and Furnace



Furnace Efficiency

Chapter 2: Furnace Efficiency

Efficiency means two things: comfort and cost. Both are equally important, especially if you plan on spending more than a handful of years in your current home. The right furnace can mean thousands less in utility costs and a significantly more comfortable home.

So let’s see what affects efficiency, and how it’s measured.

AFUE Rating

AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. It’s a measure of furnace efficiency for gas furnaces.

AFUE is measured on a scale up to 100%. A theoretical 100% efficient furnace would produce zero waste gas. Think of it like gas mileage. The higher your efficiency, the more mileage per dollar you’re getting out of your furnace. So, for example, a 50% furnace would get 50 cents of heating for every dollar spent.

AFUE Rating Levels:

  • Standard Furnace: these are 80% efficiency furnaces and are the most common modern furnace type. The excess gas is typically vented through a chimney flue.
  • High-Efficiency Furnace: generally refers to anything at or above 90% efficiency. The most efficient gas furnaces can exceed 98% efficiency.

Q: How efficient is my old furnace?

A: This depends on many factors, including how old your furnace is, how well-maintained it is, and what its peak potential efficiency is. If your furnace is over 10 years old, chances are it’s operating at less than 80%. The oldest, least well-kept furnaces can reach lows of 40-60%, which can translate to cold spots in your home and hundreds of dollars lost every year.

Q: What about if I have an electric furnace?

A: Electric furnaces are technically 100% efficient. For this reason, they have certain environmental advantages over low-efficiency furnaces. However, because of the traditionally high price of electricity compared to natural gas, this doesn’t always translate to utility cost savings. As we talk about elsewhere in this guide, several factors will determine if an electric system is cost-efficient for you.

 

Single-Stage, Two-Stage, and Variable-Speed Furnaces

A standard, single-stage furnace has exactly two settings: 100% on and 100% off.

A two-stage furnace has one more. Usually, this is 60 or 70% of its maximum heating capacity.

Why is this important? Because you don’t always need 100% of your furnace’s heating output. Oftentimes, this is wildly inefficient.

A variable-speed (or modulating) furnace has numerous settings. Often, the lowest stage is 40% of the unit’s maximum output.

What Are the Benefits of Multi-Stage Furnaces?

  1. More efficient by only giving you the heating you need.
  2. Lower utility bills, especially in more mild winter months when 100% heating output isn’t needed.
  3. Lower heat stages allow the air in your home to mix more thoroughly. On a typical winter day, this means that there will be fewer cold spots in your home as a result of unmixed air.
  4. Less starting and stopping for your equipment means less wear and tear on it long-term, even if it’s occasionally running longer.
  5. Quieter operation at lower stages.
  6. Most modulating furnaces come with learning technology, which allows the system to adjust its settings to better heat your home and provide you with optimal comfort.

CHAPTER 2: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. SEER, AFUE and HSPF Ratings in HVAC: Why They Matter
  2. Single-Stage, Two-Stage and Variable-Speed Furnaces: Differences and Benefits
  3. Trane XC95M Modulating Furnace Review: Technology & Benefits



Furnace Maintenance & Upkeep

Chapter 3: Furnace Maintenance, Repair & Upkeep

Maintaining your furnace through regular maintenance is always recommended. This section assumes that you’re proactively maintaining your system because you’re simply throwing money and comfort away if you’re ignoring your system’s maintenance needs.

Instead, this chapter is about what homeowners can do on their own, what they shouldn’t try to deal with, and how to tell the difference between the two.

To do this, we’re going to cover common furnace problems (with solutions!) and walk you through when, why and how to change a furnace filter.

 

Common Furnace Problems

ONE: Dirty Filters

The Problem: When your filter gets dirty, all sorts of bad things happen. Your air will be more filthy, which can affect your allergies and overall health. Second, and just as important, your airflow will be severely blocked. This affects your entire furnace system since proper heating requires that you maintain certain air pressures in the system. Long-term, it will make your furnace work MUCH harder, which will shave years off of its lifespan.

The Solution: You can do this yourself by changing your filter regularly (or cleaning your filter, depending on the type). Keep reading into the next section to learn more about this process.

TWO: Wear & Tear on Your System

The Problem: The older your system gets, the more likely you’ll start to see signs of wear. Eventually, any system’s heat exchanger, blower motor, and ductwork will start to have small issues that can lead to big, expensive problems.

The Solution: To a certain extent, there’s nothing that can be done to stop this entirely. But you can slow it down considerably. It’s these areas where regular, professional maintenance and tune-ups will add years of life to your system. Often, the technician can anticipate future problems as well, and take proactive steps to save you money and avoid a costly major repair.

THREE: Ignition

The Problem: Furnaces sometimes fail to start, and the problem is often with the ignition. If you have a pilot light, this light can sometimes wink out, which will prevent startup. Other times, your ignition charger will fail to spark correctly.

The Solution: A pilot light going out is something you can often solve yourself, to avoid the charge of a service visit. Refer to the user’s manual for your furnace for instructions (you can also find most manuals online if you lost your physical copy). If your furnace has a mechanical ignition starter, you’ll likely require a service visit from a professional and potentially a replacement igniter.

FOUR: Thermostat Malfunctions

The Problem: Something’s wrong with the thermostat, usually related to its basic functions of starting and stopping the furnace.

The Solution: First, check your user’s manual to make sure the thermostat is set correctly (sometimes it will be set to “Cool”). Second, check to make sure it doesn’t need new batteries, which is only applicable for some thermostat models. Lastly, you may have to call a service technician, but make sure you do your due diligence to avoid incurring a service charge.

 

How Long Should a Furnace Last?

15-20 years is a good average expectation for a well-maintained furnace. The oldest systems can reach 20-30 years (or more!), but those usually have had major components replaced at some point. Professional maintenance plays a key role in longevity. Ignoring it can reduce a system’s lifespan by a decade or more.

Changing a Filter

Changing your filter is something you can have included as part of a maintenance visit (often at no additional charge), but you can also do it yourself. Below we cover the basics of when, why, and how to change your filter.

WHEN?

The answer will depend on the type of filter you have. Low-end furnace filters are sometimes good for no more than a month. Most will fall in the 3-6 month range. A few can last up to a year without needing to be replaced or cleaned. Consult the materials that come with your filter for the proper length of time between replacements.

Importantly, you still have to replace your furnace filter during the cooling season. The air conditioning side of your system uses the same filtration system.

WHY?

Your air will be dirtier, which can affect your allergies and overall health. Filters can (and do) trap bacteria and viruses (including coronavirus particles!), so you’re putting yourself at greater risk of the flu and other illnesses.

HOW?

  1. Locate the filter in your furnace. A user’s manual can help if you’re having trouble locating it. Often, it’s behind a panel that slides in and out.
  2. Make sure your furnace is OFF before doing this.
  3. Determine which way the air flows through the filter so that you know which way to orient it. For reference, air always flows from the return air ducts to the blower motor and heat source.
  4. Most filters should allow you to simply slide the old one out and the new one in. The filter will have an arrow on it, indicating airflow direction. Make sure it’s positioned properly.

And you’re done!

Furnace Maintenance and Tune-ups

The single most important thing you can do to ensure the longevity of your furnace is to have it tuned up once yearly. There are DIY guides out there showing you some of the steps that go into furnace maintenance, but a trained HVAC professional is going to be able to assess your system for a variety of risks, and take steps to prevent larger problems.

The difference between getting or ignoring yearly maintenance is often the difference between a system that lasts 8-12 years and one that lasts 15-20. And during that time, the tuned-up furnace is operating more efficiently (see also: less expensive).

So what’s included in furnace maintenance? I’m glad you asked. The list below isn’t comprehensive, but includes the most common steps taken by our technicians:

  • Carbon monoxide levels
  • Satisfactory flue venting
  • The condition of gas line components
  • Safety shut-off equipment
  • The condition of your furnace’s heat exchanger(s)
  • The condition of your system’s filter
  • The condition of your furnace’s flame sensor
  • Your furnace’s temperature rise
  • The condition of your system’s blower motor

Furnace Repair

The line between needing a repair and needing a new system is rarely clear. That’s why it’s important to know the specifics of your repair: the cost, the risks, and the benefits of a new system. By doing this, you can make better decisions when it comes time to repair or replace your system.

 

Cost of Furnace Repair

There isn’t just one cost to a repair, because repairs can include dozens of different things. Below, we’ve listed many of the most common repairs, and typical pricing here in Central Ohio. (Note: depending on seasonal and yearly fluctuations in materials costs and parts availability, or where you live in the country, these prices may change):

  • Blower motor: $850 - $2,000
  • Burners: $450
  • Circuit board: $550 - $1,100
  • Draft inducer motor: $850 - $1,500
  • Furnace filter: $10 - $90
  • Flame sensor: $100 - $300
  • Heat exchanger: $1,000 - $3,500
  • Heat strips: $700 - $1,000
  • Ignitor: $300
  • Gas valve: $700 - $1,200
  • Limit switch: $175 - $250
  • Pressure switch: $250
  • Sequencer: $300
  • Smart valve: $700 - $1,000
  • Thermostat: $200 - $1,000
  • Transformer: $400

All prices above include the cost of labor and fees. If you see a price that’s a lot lower, chances are they’re quoting the parts only.

Signs You May Need Furnace Repair

Your furnace isn’t always going to warn you when it needs to be repaired. You often have to look for the warning signs. What are those warning signs? They could be any of the following:

Changes in Airflow. Noticing more cold spots that usual? Or maybe cool air (or no air) coming from a particular vent? This is a big red flag.

Short Cycling. If your furnace is kicking on and off more than usual, something is probably wrong. It should be able to heat evenly over a consistent period of time without a lot of starting and stopping. This not only is a warning sign, but can further damage the furnace if left unchecked.

Abnormally Long Runtime. Can’t seem to get the house warm? You likely have issues with your furnace unit. If you find your furnace running for hours without proper heat, call a professional.

Abnormal Sounds and Smells. No, it’s not normal to smell something odd whenever your furnace kicks in. Additionally, if it runs loud, that means one or more parts are extremely degraded or improperly tuned.

Puddles of Water and Leaks. Furnaces produce moisture runoff, and this should be vented outside your home. If it’s condensing in the home, there are larger issues.

The bottom line is that you need to be proactive in monitoring the health of your furnace if you want to get the most out of it. No one likes having to remember to schedule maintenance or pay the small yearly fees for tune-ups. But the alternative is paying thousands more in operational costs, and having to purchase a new furnace years before a well-maintained one.

CHAPTER 3: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. HVAC Tune-ups: Why You Need One & What’s Included
  2. HVAC Maintenance Plans: Benefits & Considerations
  3. How, Why and When to Change Your Furnace Filter
  4. How Much Does a Furnace Repair Cost?
  5. Furnace Troubleshooting: Common Heating Problems & Repairs

 

Popular Furnace Brands

Chapter 4: Popular Furnace Brands

Does brand matter? Some people have a preference or have used a particular brand of furnace their entire lives.

Here at Fire & Ice, we firmly believe that the company that installs and services your equipment is more important than the brand you have in your home. Good contractors can install and service any major brand and type of furnace, and the best ones avoid cutting corners to give you the best value for your investment.

Here is an alphabetical list of 10 of the most popular and most trusted furnace brands that manufacture HVAC equipment in the US.

American Standard

American Standard is under the same umbrella of companies as Trane and prides itself on its customer satisfaction ratings. They have been in operation since the 1880s.

Bryant

Bryant has been in business since 1904 and produces a variety of gas furnaces. They are responsible for various innovations in the industry, including the first 80% efficient boiler.

Carrier

Carrier was founded by Willis Carrier, who is also credited with the invention of the modern air conditioner. Carrier remains a giant in the industry for both this and their commitment to quality, according to Consumer Reports data.

Daikin

Daikin boasts 30 production facilities and R&D centers in the US, making them a major player in US heating and cooling. The company has a worldwide footprint and has had its North American business for over 25 years.

Goodman

A comparatively young manufacturing company founded in 1982, Goodman has nevertheless built a large nationwide business that designs, engineers, and assembles their equipment in the United States.

Lennox

Lennox is a name ubiquitous with HVAC. Founded in 1895, a network of over 6,000 independent contractors install Lennox products in North America.

Rheem

Rheem has been around since 1930. The boiler side of their business is equally well-known, in addition to home heating and cooling products.

Ruud

Over a century ago Edwin Ruud, the founder of Ruud, invented the first automatic water heater. Their heating and air conditioning business began in the 1950s, and they’ve since grown to one of the largest heating and cooling providers in the country.

Trane

Trane began in the late 1800s and has become one of the most trusted names in heating and cooling manufacturing. They pride their manufacturing business on their rigorous testing standards.

York

Founded in 1874, in 2006 York became a brand of Johnson Controls, allowing them to expand their product range. The world’s first air-conditioned office building used York equipment.

Related: Check out our Trane Furnace Reviews

Why Do HVAC Contractors Only Install Certain Furnace Brands?

Most companies that install furnaces will offer 2-3 major brands, and often nothing else. Why is this?

The reasons are twofold. First, we’re all aware of the economics of bulk orders. By working with a smaller number of brands, local companies can receive cost savings on larger orders, which they’re then able to pass along to their customers. So it makes financial sense to choose a limited number of brands to install.

Second, the way manufacturers work with contractors can make a contractor’s job easier or harder. Many companies have preferences of which brands to work with, for reasons related to ease of operations.

Here at Fire & Ice, we install Trane and Carrier products because we believe strongly in the quality of those brands. For other products such as ductless mini-splits, humidity-control products and filters, we work with other companies such as Mitsubishi (which is under the Trane umbrella of companies) and Aprilaire.

RELATED: Complete Trane Gas Furnace Guide

Beyond any of this, a good contractor can install or service ANY brand of furnace, since the principles are the same in most equipment. Finding a knowledgeable and honest company is more important than the brand you choose.

CHAPTER 4: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. Fire & Ice Product Listings



Myths About Heating Your Home

Chapter 5: Myths About Heating Your Home

Take the Home Furnace Quiz!

Answer the following questions to the best of your knowledge. Then read down to the end of this chapter to see the answers.

  1. True or False: Setting my thermostat higher will heat the home faster.
  2. True or False: Despite heat rising, I need to heat all floors of my home evenly to avoid cold spots.
  3. True or False: I need to run my heater constantly in the winter to keep my pipes from freezing.
  4. True or False: Closing vents will save me money by heating only the rooms I use.
  5. True or False: Running a ceiling fan can help me stay comfortable in the winter.

 

The reasons people believe myths about heating and cooling vary, but the main one is this: HVAC is complicated.

You shouldn’t be expected to understand the intricacies of a furnace’s mechanical operation. Often, this operation can include combustible and flammable materials, electricity, metallic parts, and airflow at various stages and pressures.

With that said, the basics of furnace operation were covered in Chapter 1 of this guide. And below, we’ve listed a few common areas of misunderstanding:

Heat Pump Operation

This is a furnace guide, true, but many furnaces work hand-in-hand with heat pumps to provide heating for your home. This is particularly true in most electric furnace systems.

All modern heat pumps can provide heat in moderately cold climates, usually down to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The most sophisticated heat pumps can continue to provide significant amounts of home heating down to as low as 16-17 degrees!

This is a big deal for utility costs, and depending on where you live, having this extra heat pump functionality can be a big deal.

Furnace Size

Size is another way of referring to a furnace’s power or maximum heating output. It’s measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units) and should be tailored to your specific home needs.

Plenty of companies take a “one size fits most” mentality and estimate the furnace size you’ll need. This furnace will heat your home, but often not as efficiently as a properly sized one.

That’s with a full sizing calculation (or “load calculation”) is necessary to determine the heating needs of your home. An estimate for a new furnace should always include this detailed calculation, which includes windows, insulation, doors, ceiling height, square footage and more.

Home Furnace Quiz Answers:

Check out the earlier questions before reading these answers to test your knowledge:

  1. FALSE. Setting your thermostat higher will NOT heat your home faster.
  2. TRUE. If you only heat your lower floors to the desired temperature, you’ll have cold spots throughout your home. Making sure you have adequate ductwork running to and from ALL major areas of the home is important to keeping your home comfortable.
  3. FALSE. Due to things like insulation, any temperature above freezing is unlikely to cause even minor damage to your pipes. That said, when the temperature dips to very cold temperatures, or if you have exposed pipes near the edges of your home, a more proactive approach may be needed.
  4. FALSE. Your furnace system is designed to heat your entire home. If you close vents, certain rooms may heat up a little quicker. But as the heat mixes throughout your home, it will cause a lot of starting and stopping for your heating equipment. Over time, this creates wear and tear and can take years off the life of your system.
  5. TRUE. Heat collects near the ceilings of your rooms, so circulating that warm air with a ceiling fan can help. Since the breeze itself can feel cooling, this works best when the fan is on in a room without people present.

CHAPTER 5: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. The Definitive List of Home Heating Myths
  2. Common HVAC Myths Busted
  3. Sizing Your Air Conditioner, Heat Pump and Furnace



Furnace Installation Cost

Chapter 6: Furnace Installation Cost

So you need to know how much this is going to cost. We hear you. It’s frustrating to get a runaround.

We can’t give you an exact price, since that depends on brand, model, and the size of your home. But we can give you an accurate range.

We’ll also explain what goes into the cost of a furnace, and a few notes on making sure you’re getting a good installation.

Two Important Price Points:

  1. All prices below include labor costs. Many online calculators only include equipment costs. Labor fees can be up to 50% of a total installation cost! Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
  2. These ranges also include things like permit and inspection fees, which are legally required in most states. The only things it won’t include are large-scale ductwork modifications or woodwork/metalwork that may be needed if the area is too small for a full furnace unit and add-on products like humidifiers. Additionally, all of our furnace installs come with a new filter at no extra charge.

Cost of a Furnace Installation

Mid-Efficiency Furnace (~80%)

  • Single-stage: $3,000 - $4,100
  • Two-stage: $3,750 - $5,300
  • Modulating (variable-speed): $4,300 - $5,400

High-efficiency Furnace (90%+)

  • Single-stage: $3,400 - $4,950
  • Two-stage: $4,300 - $6,550
  • Modulating (variable-speed): $6,250 - $7,600

 

Electric Systems

While the ranges above will remain true for the vast majority of systems, if you have a fully electric system, chances are your heating needs don’t stop with just your furnace.

You’ll probably want to pair your electric furnace with a heat pump, which provides supplemental heat and can avoid using your furnace in milder fall and spring months.

Below is a link to our cost article on heat pumps, keeping in mind that the cost of a full system is often less than it would be to have them installed separately:

ARTICLE: How Much Does a Heat Pump Cost to Replace?

What Affects Furnace Cost?

Several factors contribute to cost and can produce ranges like those listed earlier.

  1. Size of your home.
  2. The quality of your windows. If they’re poor, the heating need is greater and will require a more powerful furnace.
  3. Quality of the insulation.
  4. How many stages the equipment has (see Chapter 2 for more on this), which affects efficiency and comfort.
  5. Add-ons such as HEPA filters, air purifiers, and humidifiers.
  6. Type of equipment (electric, natural gas, propane, etc.).
  7. Where you live in the country. While the ranges above will be roughly true anywhere, the cost of living and the cost of different types of equipment will vary depending on region.
  8. Cost of materials, which can rise or fall due to manufacturing supply and demand. Largely, these factors are out of the control of homeowners and local contractors.

CHAPTER 6: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. How Much Does a New Furnace Replacement Cost?
  2. Furnace Installation Process From Start to Finish
  3. Bad Furnace Installation - What To Watch Out For



Finding the Best Furnace For You

Chapter 7: Choosing the Best Furnace For You

How do you choose the right heating system for you, your home and/or family? Simple: you ask the right questions. Then, whether you answer them yourself or with the help of an HVAC partner, you’ll be well-positioned to make the choice that’s best for you!

Question: Does my area of the country have harsh winters?

If you’re in the southern United States, chances are you don’t need a lot of heating in the winter. Therefore, an electric system is a viable option. In northern climates with frequently freezing temperatures, the cost of electric utilities can be incredibly expensive. In that case, you’re often better off with a natural gas system if you have access to a natural gas line.

Q: What’s my budget? Do I care more about low utility bills long-term or upfront cost?

The chapter above this one talks about price, and that’s a great place to start. But it’s also important to note that high-end equipment CAN pay for the difference in upfront cost over time. But that needs to be weighed against your initial budget.

Q: Do I just want a comparable furnace to my old one, or do I want an upgrade that will provide greater levels of comfort?

How good was your old furnace? Are you just replacing it because a costly part broke, but otherwise it heated your home well? A similar system may be just what you need. However, if you had issues with your previous system, what’s the point in getting the same thing again?

Q: Do I plan on being in my home for 1-5 years? 5-10 years? 10-20 years?

If you’re leaving in the next five years, we’ll be honest, a high-end system isn’t going to be right for you. But if you just moved into a home with your new family and plan to spend 10-15 years in the house, getting a system that will be more efficient and lower utility bills can make a lot more sense. The longer you plan on being in a home, the more you should be looking at variable-speed, higher-end furnace and air conditioning options.

Q: Does my house have issues with low humidity in the winter and high humidity in the summer?

Believe it or not, both of these things can be “furnace” questions. The blower motor in your furnace moves air in both the summer and winter. If you have trouble removing humidity in the summer, getting a modulating, multi-speed system (which has a multi-speed fan) can be MUCH more efficient at removing humidity in the home. But it relates back to your furnace purchase, even though it’s not strictly an issue with heating.

These aren’t the only questions you can ask yourself or your HVAC partner. In Chapter 9, we talk a little bit more about questions you should be asking your HVAC company to make sure you’re getting the most out of your system.

 

CHAPTER 7: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. How Long Does a Furnace Last?
  2. Gas vs. Electric Furnaces: Cost, Efficiency, Installation & Comfort



Furnace Add-Ons, Humidifiers, Filters & Thermostats

Chapter 8: Furnace Add-Ons (Humidifiers, Filters & Thermostats)

Once you settle on a furnace, you’re not quite done. At least not if you want to ensure that you’re as comfortable and healthy as possible.

Yes, your HVAC system directly relates to the health of you and your loved ones.

Below, we discuss Filters, Humidifiers and Thermostats, and how each relates to your comfort, health and convenience.

Whole-House Humidifiers

Whole-home humidifiers are just that: solutions to make sure your entire home doesn’t become overly dry in the winter.

What are the problems associated with dry air? I’m glad you asked!

  1. Nosebleeds
  2. Coughing more than usual
  3. Floorboards that crack and warp
  4. Your house will become noisier as a result of the wood drying up and making frequent creaking noises
  5. Low humidity allows for bacteria and viruses to live longer, which puts you and your family at greater risk of contracting the flu and other diseases.

A whole-house humidifier will help to solve each of these problems, and works in conjunction with your furnace to circulate moisture.

What’s the Ideal Humidity Level for your Home?

Most experts agree that anything between 30-60% is an acceptable range for home humidity. Anything lower will produce problems with dry air, and anything above 60% will risk things like bug infestations and mold.

If we dig a little further into the results, we see that recommendations usually fall between 40-50%. If you’re able to keep your home within this range, you should be in great shape at any time of year!

Filter Options

A cheap filter will catch bowling balls, small children, and not much else. Ok, that’s not quite true, but it’s true that not all filters are created equally.

A filter has a MERV Rating (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values), which is a fancy way of calculating how efficient it is at trapping particles.

MERV rating matters. For example, it’s been shown that a MERV rating of 13 or higher will capture coronavirus particles in your home! That’s right; filters can help you to avoid illnesses, including potentially deadly ones like COVID.

There are more filter options that we’d have time to go through in this furnace guide, but it’s worth familiarizing yourself with your options. At the end of this chapter, there are some links to articles where you can learn more about how filtration benefits your entire home.

Buy Your Filter From Fire & Ice

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Thermostats

Thermostats are necessary, but almost no two are alike. Below are a handful of options you can consider, for pairing with your furnace system:

Programmable Thermostats

Most modern thermostats will be programmable so that you can set different schedules for things like weekends or your workday. Many of the more sophisticated ones come with apps so that you can program them remotely.

Wifi Thermostats

Speaking of apps and remote access, wifi capability is technically separate from being programmable, though the two are often linked. Wifi thermostats are often able to pair with a variety of mobile and household devices to create “smart homes.”

Communicating Thermostats

Communicating refers to a thermostat’s ability to “talk” to different areas of your HVAC system. For example, a communicating thermostat can read the outdoor temperature, the humidity levels, and reference past data about the length of time it took to heat your home at a specific outdoor temperature. In this way, it actually learns how to better serve your home and creates algorithms to manage your furnace as it heats your home.

Communicating thermostats are almost always paired with modulating, variable-speed furnaces that can take advantage of all the benefits of this thermostat type.

Zoned Thermostats

If you have a large home, or it’s sectioned off, you might have a zoned thermostat that only controls the temperature for a portion of the home. Often, these are installed with mini-split systems or in instances when the home is too large for a single furnace. The most advanced zoned systems can control your air duct vents to properly navigate air throughout the home.

HVAC Odds & Ends

You can go even further into customizing your home’s HVAC system. The accessories above are either necessary (filter) or are the most common in homes (humidifiers), but your accessory options don’t stop there. Depending on your needs, you may consider the following:

  • Air Purifiers. These can proactively eliminate bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus!
  • Thermostat Sensors. Many thermostats can read temperatures from multiple sensors, which gives them a more accurate estimate of the average temperature throughout your home. Investing in these in larger homes can pay off.
  • Maintenance Plans. Ok, this isn’t an accessory, but we couldn’t help but plug this all-important add-on. It’s often the difference between an efficient system that lasts 20 years, and a problem-filled system that only lasts 8-12 years.

CHAPTER 8: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. Indoor Air Quality: Air Filtration & Air Purifying HVAC Products
  2. What’s the Best Humidity Level For Your Home, and How Do You Control It?
  3. Fall & Winter Home Heating Tips and Strategies
  4. Is a Whole-Home Humidifier Right For Me?
  5. Can HVAC Protect From Coronavirus and Other Illnesses
  6. HVAC Thermostats 101: Installation, Features & Controls



Furnace Installers Near You

Chapter 9: Furnace Installers Near You

Now that you know all you’ll need to start your new furnace project, it’s time to pick a company to work with. But what’s the best way to do that?

We’re going to offer a few strategies below, followed by some resources for helping you choose the RIGHT heating and cooling partner.

The company you choose can be more important than the equipment you choose, so it’s not a decision to be made lightly.

Strategy #1: Educate Yourself

You’ve started your journey by reading this guide. But if you’re looking beyond just a furnace, you’re likely missing information that will be helpful as you make decisions on your choice of company and equipment.

We pride ourselves on having the web’s most comprehensive repository of residential HVAC information, so I’d encourage you to explore our Learning Center. Outside of that, there’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you’re getting ready to make a significant HVAC investment, take the time to talk through everything with your HVAC partner.

Strategy #2: Reviews & Feedback

Reviews matter and word of mouth matters. While these aren’t the only things to consider when choosing a company, they should be one step on your journey.

Check out a company’s Google reviews. Then look at their negative reviews (even great companies have them). If a company is attentive to their negative reviews, responding and adjusting as needed, they’re going to be more reliable than a company that tries to sweep negativity under the rug.

Other review sites can help as well. Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, and others exist to help you make an informed decision.

Strategy #3: Hold Them Accountable

Being prepared with the right questions to hold your HVAC company accountable is the best thing you can do once you’re getting estimates from sales professionals.

To help you with this, we’ve even come up with a list of 10 questions you can ask to get deep into a company’s practices. Our HVAC Contractor Checklist is designed for exactly this purpose. Click the graphic below to get yours!

HVAC Contractor Checklist












More generally, you’re going to want to make sure of things like whether a company tests (commissions) the furnace once it’s installed, whether they use independent contractors that are paid by the job (not good) or full-time employees who are held accountable for their work (good), and whether they obtain permits and schedule required inspections of every job they do (legally required, but sometimes skipped).

 

CHAPTER 9: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  1. Top 7 Things to Look for When Choosing an HVAC Company
  2. Best HVAC Contractors in Columbus, Ohio
  3. Cutting Corners: A Look at the Best and Worst HVAC Company Practices in Columbus, OH

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You now know more than 99% of homeowners when it comes to your home furnace system.

More than that, though, you have a lot of great information to make the right decision for your next HVAC project.

If you’re in Columbus, OH, and the surrounding Central Ohio area, we hope you turn to us for that project. And if you’re anywhere else, make sure you demand the most out of your HVAC partner. You deserve it.

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Learning Center

Explore our learning center. It's a comprehensive section focused on answering your questions, providing detailed information, and tips that will improve buyer education when it comes to your home's HVAC system.

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