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The Politics of Heating

Tis the season for politics, and your furnace is no exception. Your vote in November will not impact your furnace directly, but higher federal efficiency standards take effect May 1st, 2013. The new minimum standard for our region is 90% efficiency for gas furnaces, and 83% efficiency for oil furnaces. In most cases the cost of a higher efficiency furnace is recovered by a combination of tax credits, utility rebates, promotions, and/or decreased operating cost.

However, many homes use a heat pump combined with a relatively expensive to operate fossil fuel (natural gas, propane, or oil) furnace as the backup heat source. Since the heat pump can provide up to 80% of the heat, an increase in the efficiency of the backup heat generates minimal payback from reduced operating costs. Consequently, after May 1st, 2013, you will be investing more to replace your backup heating system yet realizing very little of the benefits.

Heat pumps aside, in some cases, the installation costs of a high efficiency gas furnace can become so expensive, that the offsetting benefits return very little. One of the biggest factors (after equipment cost) is the difficulty and feasibility of installing the new venting required by a high efficiency furnace. If your furnace is in the middle of the house, or in a finished basement, the new venting could very well cost more than the benefit of higher efficiency.

The average life of a furnace is 18 years. If your furnace is 15 years or older, you may want to consider replacement prior to May 1st, 2013. You’ll have all of the options available to you, and you may end up choosing a high efficiency furnace anyway. And just like in the voting booth, it will be your decision. Not someone else’s.

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