On those cold winter mornings, there’s nothing better than pulling up the covers and feeling the furnace turn on, keeping you cozy and warm.
But, did you know that heating your home uses more energy and costs more money than any other system in your home? Energy Saver – an office of the U.S. Department of Energy – notes that heating your house makes “up about 42% of your utility bill.”
While factors like home size and gas rates can affect your utility bill, so can the efficiency and age of your gas furnace.
In this article, we’re going to break down what you need to know about furnaces and more importantly, why your furnace could be losing efficiency.
What does the furnace rating (AFUE) mean?
At its most basic, furnaces heat air and distribute the heated air throughout the house using air ducts.
The efficiency of your furnace is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), which must be displayed on all new units. AFUE measures how efficiently the furnace converts energy in its fuel to heat over a year.
More specifically, a furnace with an AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy in its fuel becomes heat, while the other 10% escapes from chimneys and elsewhere.
Keep in mind, that the AFUE does not include the heat loss that commonly occurs via the ducting or piping, which according to Energy Saver can be as much as 35% of the energy output.
While electric heaters have higher AFUE ratings of 95-100%, they are often the least economic choice for homeowners given the higher cost of electricity.
Why is your furnace losing efficiency?
Over time, it’s common for a furnace to lose efficiency, due to age, as well as wear and tear. But, there are several things you can do to improve efficiency in your furnace, which will improve heating and result in lower bills.
- Clean or Replace Your Filter
The most common reason for an inefficient furnace is a dirty filter. Most people don’t realize their filter needs to be routinely changed, so they leave the same one in for months, or even years. If you don’t change your heating system’s filter on a regular basis, it not only hinders the unit’s energy efficiency, it can cause long-term damage and reduce the air quality in your home. Check the unit for specifications, but the filter should be changed every few months, if not at least once a year.
- Check for Air Leaks
It’s not uncommon for even the most sound homes to have air leaks that cause the heated air to escape the house. If your house isn’t properly insulated, your hot air (and your money) could be going out the window – literally. Heat can be lost through drafty windows and doors, through the ceilings, and even your walls
- Your Radiators Are Blocked
Be sure and keep all baseboard heaters and radiators clear of furniture or other objects to ensure the heat is distributed evenly and as able to reach the entire house.
- Check for Cracks, Loose Parts on Your Furnace
Loose parts and fittings can create enough space to reduce airflow and cause rattling. Don’t forget to also check the blower fan, which can break or bend. Also, the fan belt is a good place to look for fraying. Lastly, check the combustion chamber for cracks.
- Weatherize for Winter
In addition to ensuring your furnace is running properly, you should also be weatherizing your home each year. This means reinsulating areas that you know to be leaky or drafty. Use weather-stripping to block air leaks around doors and windows.
- Check the Burner Flames
Inspect your burners and ensure they are free of debris. If your burner flames are blue, that means the burner is clean. If they’re yellow, you have dirty burners. Turn off the power and gas and then vacuum your burners.
- Check the Limit Switch
Did you know if your furnace has a bad limit switch your blower could be running all the time? This will result in a shorter life for your blower. When they fail, the heat is always on, making it very hot.
- Clear Heat Pumps & Intake/Exhaust Vents
If your furnace vents to the outside, you should always make sure nothing is blocking the vents. Clear any leaves or debris in the area. If you have a heat pump, clear any debris from the fins of the outdoor compressor unit.
- Update your Heating System
As heating systems age, they begin to lose energy efficiency. Even with a new filter and proper maintenance, a furnace that is 15-20 years old will not be nearly as efficient as it was when it was brand new. It may be time for a new furnace.
Regularly checking and maintaining your furnace will help prolong the life of your unit and ensure cost-effective and efficient heating of your home. Before the cold grip of winter hits, consider whether or not you need a new furnace.
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