Best Home Furnace

What Brand & Model is the Best Home Furnace?

Ask three heating contractors which company makes the best home furnaces, and you are likely to get three different answers – maybe more! Heating contractors often align themselves with a particular manufacturer or distributor in order to secure better pricing terms, product support, training, cooperative advertising funding, and other perks. In this day and age, asking whether a Trane is better than a Lennox is a lot like asking whether a Honda is better than a Toyota – it largely comes down to a matter of preference. As long as the manufacturer offers a competitive warranty, a homeowner should feel comfortable with just about any brand of furnace. If available, extended warranties that include parts and labor are desirable. Most furnace warranties only include parts, so if something fails, you are still on the hook to pay for the labor, which is often the most expensive part of a furnace repair.

Many “off brand” furnaces are actually manufactured by major brands. For example, Carrier and its subsidiaries manufacture Bryant, Day & Night, Heil, Payne, and Tempstar furnaces. As long as the warranty is competitive within the industry, an off brand furnace can provide similar features at a lower price point without sacrificing reliability.

Every furnace manufacturer offers a variety of models usually categorized in the following manner:

Fuel > Efficiency > Multi-Stage or Modulating Capability > Features > Size

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The EnergyGuide label is a federal program that helps customers compare the efficiency of appliances from refrigerators to water heaters.

Working with a reputable and experienced contractor is critical in order to select the appropriate furnace for your home from the hundreds of unique models offered by any manufacturer. This summary will equip you with knowledge to ask the right questions as you work to choose the equipment and installer that is right for you:

  • Fuel: Almost all furnaces made by major manufacturers are powered by fossil fuel. In most metropolitan areas, natural gas furnaces are the norm. In rural areas, propane or fuel oil may be used. Usually, natural gas and propane furnaces are the same product, but require some parts to be changed during installation when converting a furnace to run on propane.
  • Efficiency: Furnace efficiency is rated according to Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). AFUE refers to the amount of fuel burned versus the amount of heat created. The least efficient furnaces available are 78.0 AFUE (78% of the fuel burned is converted to usable heat) and the most efficient are 98.0 AFUE (98% of the fuel burned is converted to usable heat). We recommend installing a furnace with at least 95.0 AFUE
  • Two-Stage or Modulating Capability: Most furnaces are single stage, meaning that they are always either turned completely off, or running full blast. Two stage furnaces are capable of switching between a high and a low heat output. Modulating furnaces are capable of running at a variable heat output ranging from very low to full blast – kind of like burners on your gas stove. Two stage and modulating furnaces are typically more efficient than single stage furnaces, because by running at lower outputs, they can run at peak efficiency for longer and avoid energy losses associated with cycling on and off. Two stage furnaces are very good for small to medium size energy efficient homes that only need a small amount of heat in all but the coldest weather. Modulating furnaces are great for large homes, and especially large homes with zoned duct systems that may only be providing heat to certain parts of the house at any given time. In fact, it is practically impossible to design and install a reliable, efficient, quiet heating system with multiple duct zones that does not also utilize a modulating furnace. Two stage furnaces usually cost between $500-$1,000 extra to install compared with single stage furnaces. Modulating furnaces often require proprietary thermostats and other controls, and are generally installed as components of larger, more complicated heating systems, so a heating system featuring a modulating furnace can be thousands of dollars more than a basic single stage system once all additional installation costs are factored in.
  • Features: Furnaces are available with a wide range of features. Some of the more universal and worthwhile features include:
    • Fans: The fan that circulates heat from the furnace can use a lot of electricity. Multi-speed or variable-speed fans can save a substantial amount of electricity, but are commonly only available on higher-end dual stage or modulating furnaces.
    • Controls: With the increased proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other devices which keep us constantly connected to myriad aspects of our lives, home automation technology has rapidly improved and increased in popularity in the last five years. While almost any furnace can be paired with a traditional programmable thermostat or a Nest thermostat, major furnace manufacturers are developing sophisticated proprietary control systems designed to be paired with their higher end furnaces. For example, the Trane XC95m furnace is designed to run optimally when paired with the Trane ComfortLink II, in a system that provides advanced air filtration, manages multiple heating zones, monitors a variety of factors to calibrate the furnace to run most efficiently , and provides service reminders, all while being controlled from the device of your choice. If you plan to have a modulating furnace and/or multiple duct zones, a manufacturer’s proprietary system is worth considering.
    • Filtration: Like controls, filtration can be provided either by a stand-alone accessory such as an Aprilaire or by a manufacturer’s proprietary product. Both proprietary and aftermarket filtration systems may provide a wide range of options, including timer or automated controls, service reminders, and electrostatic or ultraviolet purification in addition to filtration. Once again, if you are planning to install the high-end furnace with proprietary controls, it’s best to use the proprietary filtration for seamless integration. Also, if someone in your household has athsma, allergies, or other air quality concerns are present in the home, it’s worth installing a fancier filtration system. However, for basic systems, a stand-alone filter is sufficient, provided it filters at least MERV 11 and is installed properly. Filtration should always be installed right at the furnace, not at the return duct grille.
    • Size: Size does matter! Depending on a wide range of factors, including where you live, how large your home is, which direction it faces, and how well insulated your home is, the correct size of your furnace may vary drastically. Like jeans, every model of furnace is available in a number of sizes, and won’t do its job properly if you choose the wrong size. Traditionally, heating contractors have installed drastically oversized furnaces, which leads to a number of problems (LINK TO FURNACE OVERSIZING). To ensure your home gets the correct size furnace, worth with a qualified home performance contractor who will use the ACCA Manual J method to properly size your furnace.

More important than the brand or features of the furnace is the quality of the installation. Your furnace should last at least 15 years, but will waste energy and be problematic from day one if the system is not installed well. A qualified installer should do all of the following:

  • Be properly licensed and insured
  • Obtain permits and inspections for the installation to ensure code compliance
  • Size the system according to ACCA Manual J
  • Install air filtration at the furnace
  • Provide a guarantee that all ducts are tightly sealed and confirm duct airtightness with a duct blaster test once installation is complete
  • Educate the homeowner on how to operate the system

In short, the most important feature to look for in a furnace is the reputation and ability of the company carrying out the project, not the company that manufactures the components.


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Copyright September 2014 by Advanced Home Energy

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