The Ultimate Furnace Guide
Are you ready for winter? In Canada, we know the importance of making sure your home is ready for the extreme wind, snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures our winters can bring.
Staying comfortable during the cold months starts with having the right heating solution for your home that runs smoothly and efficiently all season long. Whether you are considering upgrading your heating equipment, need a repair, or are looking for ways to help save on energy this winter, this guide will help to answer your questions and provide you with the information needed to make smart and informed decisions about your heating equipment.
10 Questions This Guide Will Answer
Buying a new heating system — where to start?
The process of finding the right heating equipment for your home can often feel like an overwhelming task. There are a variety of options to consider and, depending on the needs of your home, there are different features available to customize your equipment for optimal comfort.
To help you navigate through this complex buying or renting decision, below are some details about the various options and answers to common questions about home heating.
Select heating system type:
Furnaces — what to know
To tailor a solution to your home, we recommend having a trained professional assess your needs and recommend what is best for you and your home. Learn more about booking an expert in-home consultation here.
Different Furnace Types
There are three main types of furnaces: single stage, 2-stage and modulating furnaces. All three types of furnaces are great options for heating your home. Finding the right one for you comes down to your home, budget, and desired level of efficiency.
Single stage furnace:
Single stage furnaces are the most basic and commonly installed type of furnaces. This type of furnace only has one d setting. When on, your furnace operates at the maximum flame setting—there is no middle ground between the system being on or off.
This type of furnace often comes at a lower up-front cost but is not the most efficient option.
Two-stage furnaces have two different settings when your furnace is on, a high setting as well medium intensity setting to deliver a wider range of operation. This type of furnace can help to give you more temperature control in your home.
The furnaces are more expensive than the single stage options but are generally more energy efficient as there are different levels of heating available.
Modulating furnaces offer an advanced type of heating technology that delivers more even heating throughout your home. With a modulating furnace, the flame increases and decreases in finer increments to help maintain your home’s temperature. This reduces temperature fluctuations and helps meet your comfort needs more precisely.
Modulating furnaces are the most expensive to purchase upfront but will deliver consistent heating most efficiently.
Before buying check the equipment’s Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency or AFUE rating. The higher the AFUE is the more efficient your furnace is.
Technology found in today’s furnaces
New furnaces have a variety of advanced features to help reach optimal comfort and ensure maximum efficiency. Here are a few of the new technologies found in today’s furnaces:
In a condensing furnace, the exhaust is moved through an additional (secondary) heat exchanger. More heat is extracted from the exhaust gasses and transferred safely through the home. This additional heat recovery allows for increased fuel efficiency.
Electronically commutated motors (ECM)
An Electronically Commuted Motor (ECM) is a motor technology in forced air heating applications that works to reduce the electrical consumption of the furnace motor. This technology can reduce your furnace’s electrical consumption by as much as 60% over a standard motor. These motors work with the furnace, adjusting speed to provide adequate air flow. Less electrical consumption results in a reduction of air noise in your home.
Modern furnaces come with electronic ignition, which is a technological advancement replacing the pilot light system. With electronic ignition, fuel is only used when it is time to start the furnace. In older technology, a pilot light would use a small amount of fuel continuously, resulting in additional energy consumption.
Intelligent digital electronics and Wi-Fi
New furnaces have a digital integrated control board that control all the functions related to the heating/cooling operations in your home. It controls the gas valve, the igniter, the flame sensing circuit and blower fan. The control board also communicates with standard thermostats, smart learning thermostats, air conditioners and humidifiers.
Ceiling fans aren’t just for the hot summer days! Switching your fans to spin clockwise in the winter help allows the warmed air to circulate throughout your home.
Different fueling options
Before you purchase a new furnace, consider which fuels are available in your area. You should review advantages and disadvantages of your available energy sources.
Gas furnaces are some of the most commonly installed heating appliances in Canada. This type of furnace is a top choice for many homeowners because it provides a safe, reliable and comfortable solution to heating homes. In recent years gas furnaces have also become more efficient and advanced, using sophisticated technologies to connect with other home appliances like smart learning thermostats.
Benefits of a gas furnace:
In Canada, most new gas furnaces have efficiency ratings from 92-98% Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), which let you feel confident that your new heating solution will not blow your monthly budget. The AFUE is a standard rating specified by the furnace manufacturer.
Depending on the area you live in, gas is typically more cost effective than oil or propane.
Gas furnaces installations are usually very straightforward; a professional (and licensed) team should be able to install your unit at an affordable rate.
There are many models of gas furnaces available, making it easy to find the right solution for your home and budget.
Smart home compatible
Modern units can be integrated with smart learning thermostats allowing you to control your home’s temperature from anywhere.
Things to consider when buying a gas furnace:
In rural areas, gas may not be available and there may be a more readily available or affordable fuel
Gas furnaces require ducts to circulate heat throughout your home
Gas furnaces need to be inspected regularly so it is important to schedule annual maintenance
Gas furnaces are generally larger than a ductless split unit and will take up more space
How a gas furnace works
- Set your thermostat to a desired temperature, or program a temperature schedule.
- The thermostat sensor monitors the temperature, and when needed, calls on the furnace for heat.
- The furnace control board switches on the induced draft motor.
- A pressure switch senses a pressure change and the igniter is activated.
- The fuel is released to the burners.
- Burners ignite in sequence, warming the heat exchanger(s).
- A flame sensor allows fuel flow to continue as long as it is burning.
- The blower fan moves heat into the ducts.
- Air flow is monitored by limit switches.
- The thermostat signals that it is satisfied and the control board shuts off the gas.
Heat pumps and boilers
Depending on your home, budget and desired level of efficiency, a furnace may not always be the right option for heating your home. There are many great alternative options available.
An air source heat pump split is a compact, modern, refrigerant-based heating and cooling system. It consists of an outdoor unit and one or more indoor units, sometimes called heads. Splits were first popularized in Asia and Europe and are now becoming more common in North America.
The outdoor unit looks like a slim version of a conventional air conditioning unit. The indoor units are mounted in the ceiling, on the wall, or near the floor like baseboard heaters.
Benefits of an air source heat pump split:
- Installation can be done by most well-trained service experts
- Ductwork is not required, making it a great option for homeowners in condos or older homes
- Provides all-season comfort as a highly efficient, clean energy option
- Often less expensive to operate than fossil fuel based or electrical appliances
- Depending on the area that you live in, you could be eligible to apply for government incentives
Considerations of an air source heat pump split:
- Up-front installation costs for heat pumps can be high
- Older models may be limited in their heating capability in cold climates
- Some models are unable to manage humidity as well as other options
- A backup heat source is often required
Rent or Buy
Getting your new furnace
Beyond selecting the right furnace type for you and your family, there are several other things to consider to ensure your unit is the right choice for your home and budget. Here is some information about furnace financing options, installation and accessories.
Should I rent or buy my new furnace?
One of the most important decisions when upgrading your heating equipment is choosing whether to rent or buy your system. Before making the decision, you will want to determine the equipment you are having installed, the total cost of ownership and the cost and effort of maintenance.
Renting and buying are both viable options, and making the right decision really comes down to your needs, time and budget. To help you evaluate the two options, here are a few things to consider
Should I buy my furnace and air conditioner together?
Your furnace plays and essential role in keeping your home warm as well as running your air conditioner in the summer. When it comes time to replace your furnace, consider upgrading your AC at the same time to help ensure you are getting the most out of your investment.
Benefits of replacing your air conditioner and furnace at the same time:
Anytime you upgrade outdated equipment you could be investing in a more efficient system. Replacing both your furnace and air conditioner at the same time will help you maximize your energy savings.
Since your furnace and air conditioner work together, replacing just one piece could prevent the newer piece of equipment from reaching its potential performance.
Furnace and air conditioners are often sold together, so if you decide to upgrade both there may be deals or discounts available. Having both pieces of equipment installed at the same time may also result in cheaper labour and installation costs.
Installing a new furnace
The key to having a great heating system starts with a good installation. Here are a few of the frequently asked questions about having your furnace installed.
Can I install a furnace myself?
Even if you are a handy person, installing something as complex as a new home heating or cooling system is not a good idea. A professional technician brings experience and updated knowledge of code requirements, modern electronics and new technologies. Unless you are a certified HVAC technician, a self-installed furnace could lead to a poorly operating, unsafe system.
What makes a good furnace installer?
- Good installers properly assess your needs: A reputable installer does not just take out the old furnace and put in a new, same size furnace without confirming if it is the right fit for you and your home. A professional HVAC team will take time with you and discuss your changing needs and preferences, advances in efficiencies, the size of your home, insulation and windows, sunlight exposure and other home systems.
- Good installers recommend the right configuration, size and model for your situation: An incorrectly sized furnace may wear out more quickly and could be less efficient. Oversized furnaces turn off and on frequently, which may lead to higher operating cost and shorter equipment life. On the other hand, if the furnace is too small, it may not properly heat your home.
- Good installers know what to ask about your comfort preferences: A professional team will know how to conduct a heat-loss calculation that results in accurate sizing of your system. They are also familiar with new technologies, leading brands, models and add-ons. Some brands or models offer features that are just right for your home and changing needs.
How long does a furnace installation take?
Depending on the system that you are having installed, a furnace installation can take anywhere from a half-day to a full day to be properly installed. This includes the installation, testing and clean up.
What should I expect during the installation?
Most furnace installations will be done by two professionally trained technicians. A good installation team will come on time and prepared with all the parts necessary to get the job done. The technicians should also be wearing booties over their shoes to protect your home, rolling out additional carpet and floor protection where needed.
The furnace installation itself can take a few hours and once it has been installed, the team will fire it up and conduct tests to make sure it is working properly and in sync with your other systems. Then they clean up completely, removing the old furnace, all parts and packaging.
How should I prepare for a furnace inspection?
Before the installation, you should ensure the furnace room and any other work areas are clean, clutter-free and well lit. For everyone’s safety, keep children and pets away from the work area.
Manual thermostats are economical and simple to control but the temperature in your home will only be adjusted when you manually change the settings of the thermostat.
- Temperature must be changed manually
Programmable thermostats can help save on heating and cooling costs by adjusting the temperature inside of your home automatically throughout the day. These thermostats are very easy to operate and can be set to meet your changing needs – such for a work week vs. weekend. Advanced models of these types of thermostats can even switch between heating and cooling during seasons like spring and fall where you may need both.
- Most models allow for multiple settings
- Not suitable for all systems
Smart Wi-Fi Thermostats
One of the newer trends in smart home technology are smart thermostats that you can control from your computer or smartphone. These thermostats learn, remember and adjust to how, when and where you use your system. They can help you to save on your energy consumption by adjusting the temperature only when it knows you need it.
- Energy-efficient and convenient
- Remote access to change temperature via your smartphone
- Greater control of your heating and cooling could mean lower energy usage and money saved
- More expensive than traditional thermostats
- Not every smart Wi-Fi thermostat works with every heating and cooling system
Communicating Wi-Fi Thermostats
Beyond being able to control your home’s heating from your smartphone, communicating Wi-Fi thermostats can also communicate directly with your furnace. This feature means your thermostat can receive warnings and error codes from your furnace and ensure everything stays running smoothly. They also allow the equipment to operate at its peak efficiency and to modulate its output.
- Energy efficient
- Allows your equipment to operate at its peak efficiency
- Remote access to change temperature via your smartphone
- More expensive than traditional thermostats
Do I need a furnace humidifier?
Canadians spend about 90% of their time indoors on average. Winter poses a particular challenge because when air is heated, its relative humidity drops. Low humidity makes your home feel colder, which can lead you to turning up the heat, increasing your heating bill, causing more discomfort. A humidifier helps add humidity in the air in your home, in turn, increasing your comfort and making you feel warmer.
Whole home humidifiers
Whole home humidifiers work in conjunction with your heating and cooling system to increase humidity throughout your house.
Here are some of the advantages of whole home humidifiers:
- Precise humidity control: Whole home humidifiers have a control to monitor humidity levels and add moisture when required to improve indoor air quality
- Simple to maintain: It only needs cleaning once or twice a year and is connected directly to your home’s water supply so that you do not have to fill its reservoir
- Increased home value: Contemporary HVAC systems, including whole home humidifiers, may increase your home’s value
Remember to replace or clean your whole home humidifier pad once or twice each year. This is just as important as replacing or cleaning your furnace filter.
Air filters remove dust and allergens from the air inside your home, contributing to improved air quality for you and your family. In addition, filters help to stop dirt and dust from entering your equipment. When dirt gets into your system, this may make your equipment less efficient, and work harder than it has to. This can affect the expected life of the appliance, increase maintenance costs, and the chances of failure.
When it comes to selecting an air filter, there are a range of options varying in quality and price. Generally, the higher the MERV rating, the more effectively the air filter. Here are a few of the options you can consider when upgrading your furnace filters:
Fiberglass air filters (MERV 1-4): Fiberglass air filters have thin flat surfaces that capture about 20% of pollutants ranging from 3 to 10 microns, removing mainly larger particles like dust, lint and small insects. Fiberglass air filters help protect equipment but are less effective for indoor air quality. These filters should be replaced every month. These filters may not provide adequate protection for today’s higher efficiency equipment
Electrostatic air filters (MERV 6-8): Disposable electrostatic filters use self-charging electrostatic cotton or paper fibers to attract and trap small particles. They can be appropriate for homes with children, pets or smokers. You should replace them approximately every three months.
Pleated air filters (MERV 6-13): Pleated filters are popular because they capture between 70% and 90% of the airborne pollutants between 3 and 10 microns. They are made from polyester or cotton. Pleated filters should be replaced approximately every three months or as needed.
High-efficiency air filters (MERV 9-16): Some are 4”-5” pleated synthetic cotton framed by a rigid metal grid. They can trap up to 95% of particles down to 0.3 microns, tiny dust particles, mold, and pollen. The lifespan of these filters can vary so be sure to follow the manufacturers recommendations or change as needed.
Air filters are categorized according to Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values or MERV ratings. MERV ratings range from 1-20. Air filters with lower MERV ratings will remove a smaller percentage of pollutants. Filters with a MERV between 7 and 12 are considered good quality.
Maintaining Your Furnace
Are you ready for the heating season? A Canadian winter can come in a flash, and you want to make sure that you and your home are ready for the cold before the temperature drops. Just like you don’t wait for your car to stop running before you change the oil, you should not wait for your furnace to break down before you have it inspected. Especially as your furnace ages, some parts become worn or dirty over time such as pilot lights, belts, motor bearings, and the burner assembly. You want to make sure that your furnace is maintained regularly to help avoid a costly breakdown during the winter.
Be sure to schedule your furnace maintenance in September or October to avoid the rush!
Why should I have my furnace maintained?
- In the middle of a cold winter day is the worst time for your furnace to stop working, you want to make sure any issues are identified earlier
- Even if your furnace does not stop working, it might be performing poorly resulting in more strain on your equipment
- A poorly performing furnace could cost you more to operate
- Replacing a furnace is expensive compared with the cost of a few periodic checkups
Can I inspect the furnace myself?
By all means, check and change your filters, but unless you are a qualified HVAC technician, it is not safe to attempt to fully inspect your own furnace.
Do not try to open or repair a furnace. Unless you are a qualified furnace technician, never attempt to remove the door or open the furnace in any way. Electronics and anything inside your furnace are for professionals only
Who should maintain my furnace?
There are a few things that you will want to keep in mind when deciding which HVAC company you want to have tune-up your furnace:
- Look for a company with technicians that have a fast response time and avoid those that take days to respond to a call
- Do some online research and read their reviews to see if others have had a positive experience with the company
- Find a company with highly trained technical experts who specialize in different HVAC solutions
- Look at how many service calls the company does each year
What should I do before the furnace inspection?
Before the technician arrives, help ensure safety for everyone by clearing the furnace room and the path to the equipment of any clutter or other items. Replace bulbs to ensure adequate lighting. It is a good idea to have a spare furnace filter on hand. The technician can then check the filter system, and if needed, install the new filter for you. For everyone’s safety, separate and keep your children and pets away from the work area.
Maintaining your furnace filter and humidifier
Part of making sure your furnace stays running smoothly all winter long and keeps your home comfortable starts with making sure that the furnace accessories are also properly maintained. Here are a few of the common questions you may have about maintaining both your air filter and humidifier:
Why are clean filters important?
You can help to ensure a high level of indoor air quality by ensuring your filters are replaced or cleaned regularly. Air filters help both your indoor air quality and your furnace run smoothly. Because air filters do so many jobs, filling up quickly with pollutants, debris, hair and allergens, they have a short lifespan. They must be replaced or cleaned frequently, to maintain good performance.
Replacing air filters more frequently during heating season helps keep the air flow moving. You could set up calendar reminders for filter checks, or arrange furnace maintenance and leave it to the professionals.
How often should I replace my air filter?
The frequency of filter replacement or cleaning will depend on the kind of furnace you have and the kind of filter it uses. The home environment will also have an impact of filter replacement. Homes with pets, or increased dust/dirt may need to be changed or cleaned more often. In general filters should be changed every three months, when they are dirty or according to the recommendations of your equipment manufacturer. It’s a good practice to keep a supply of filters on hand to make it quick and easy to change dirty filters when necessary.
How many filters are there?
Usually there is only one filter for a furnace, one pad for a humidifier, and one to two filter for a heat recovery ventilator. There may also be a separate filter for your air conditioning, depending on the model and configuration.
Some homes have an electronic air filter, powered by the furnace control board when the circulation blower fan turns on.
How do I replace my furnace filter?
- Turn off your heating equipment – also be sure that your thermostat is set to off
- Locate your old filter – it is usually found in a main vent or behind your furnace
- Determine the size you need –your old filter should have the size printed on the side
- Decide on the type of filter that you want – consider the needs of your family and home
- Find the arrow on your new filter – this will indicate which way it needs to be inserted
- Insert your new filter
Humidifier pad maintenance
Your humidifier pad should also be changed or cleaned periodically and the frequency will depend on the type of humidifier that you have, as well as the quality of the water connected to it. Be sure to ask your service technician about the proper humidifier pad maintenance for your equipment during your regular maintenance.
Preparing your home for winter
Try not to leave it until the last minute when snow is piling up outside. But life happens, and your service company should be happy to undertake a checkup even well into winter. Try to book furnace maintenance for September and October before the rush.
1. Consider a protection plan
Put your furnace inspections and regular service on autopilot, by signing up for a compressive protection plan to make sure you are always covered. Learn more here.
2. Make sure the furnace is turned on
It seems obvious, but it does happen that the furnace gets turned off and not turned back on.
3. Check the batteries & test the thermostat
If your thermostat has batteries, check the batteries. Now might be a good time to also check the batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Some people choose to check their batteries twice a year at the same time they adjust their clocks for daylight savings time.
It’s easy to test a thermostat. Just check the temperature level and turn it up about 5 degrees higher. Your furnace should come on within a few minutes. If it does not come on, there is a problem with either the thermostat or the furnace. Change the batteries if applicable and if that does not help, call a professional and have them inspect your furnace and thermostat.
When you are doing maintenance around your home, be sure to replace the batteries and test both your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector. This should be done at least twice a year.
5. Change the air filters
Furnace filters, humidifier pads, ventilator filters all require checking and regular replacement. The best way is by changing or cleaning your furnace filter, humidifier pad and any other equipment filters in your system. For more information on filters see the filter section below or click here.
6. Keep intake and exhaust vents & grilles clear and clean
Clutter, dust and dirt are the enemies of your home’s heating, cooling and ventilation system. Clean and unblock areas in front of heating grills, radiators, intake vents and outside exhaust vents.
7. De-clutter the furnace room
Keep your furnace room and all areas around your furnace clean and clutter-free. If your furnace room is also your laundry room, do not hang wet items on furnace equipment as it can create a serious fire risk. Store all items away from your heating equipment and provide clear access to your furnace at all times.
If your furnace is in need of repair, it is important not to leave it. Depending on the problem you are facing ignoring the issue will not only leave you cold this winter, but may also further damage the equipment. For most problems, it is best to call a licensed and trained HVAC technician to come and inspect and repair the system to ensure the system is fixed properly.
For more information about having your furnace fixed, here are a few frequently asked questions for the most common furnace issues:
If it is not working or not working right, the on switch might be off, the breaker may have tripped, the thermostat might be set wrong, and the filter might be very dirty, the air ducts might be physically blocked or the dampers might be closed. If you have checked these items and it still is not working, it is time to call a professional and have it inspected.
If it is blowing cold air your thermostat fan setting might be set to ON. Change it to AUTO so that it only blows when there is warm air to blow.
If your furnace is leaking water, it is usually related to condensation leaking from a blocked or damaged hose used in a high efficiency furnace, air conditioner or humidifier. It might also be the water supply to the humidifier. All leaks should be referred to a qualified technician.
Popping or banging sounds especially if they occur after the blower turns off, are usually caused by expansion and contraction in the ductwork. A squeaking noise during operation may mean worn out fan bearings. A scraping sound could be a blower wheel fault. Tapping may indicate something caught up in the blower blades. Buzzing often relates to a problem with a transformer box. All furnace sounds should be checked by a qualified technician.
Cost increases can be caused by different occupants, usage patterns, or weather, higher fuel prices. If none of this sounds right, check that your filters are clean, your vents are unblocked, and that your thermostat settings are proper. If none of that solves the problem, you might need a cleaning and inspection.
This should really be left to a professional, but carbon monoxide alerts, odours, soot, changes to burner flame and metal discolouration might all point to a cracked heat exchanger. Professional technicians may use a special camera or combustion analyzer to provide a more accurate diagnosis.
There are many different factors that can determine how long a furnace will last including age and operating conditions. Conditions include the kind of furnace, the local climate, proper regular servicing and heavy or moderate usage. Warning signs that it might soon be time to look at new furnaces include increasing repairs, noise, or rust.
No one wants to break the bank trying to keep their home warm and comfortable during the cold winter months. Help to keep your energy costs down as the temperature dips by implementing a few of these simple tips:
- Keep curtains and blinds open: Just because it is cold outside does not mean that the sun is not still strong; by opening the curtain and blinds in your home you can use the sun as a natural source for heat.
- Upgrade to energy efficient equipment: If you are looking to replace your furnace, check to see if the unit that you are considering is ENERGY STAR® certified to ensure it is efficient.
- Switch your home’s thermostat: Upgrading your thermostat to a programmable or smart thermostat allows you to take control of the temperature in your home and your energy bill.
- Use ceiling fans: Ceiling fans are not only for the hot summer months; by switching the fan direction to clockwise you can better distribute warmed air.
- Bundle up: A simple and inexpensive way to keep warm when the temperature drops is to opt for an extra sweater or cozy up with a blanket instead of cranking the heat.
Upgrading both your furnace and your air conditioner to efficient models at the same time will help you maximize your energy savings.
If you have any questions about cooling your home or are looking for a new air conditioner, Call on Reliance™ today to schedule time with one of our trusted Home Comfort Advisors. The advisor will assess your home and discuss your needs to find the right solution for you and your family.