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Furnace Basics 101: Energy Efficiency

You may remember your parents adding coal oil to the furnace if you grew up in a rural area in the 1970s during the energy crisis. It was cheap, smelled like kerosene, and heated the house warmly. Who doesn't remember bringing their pillow and favorite blanket to one of the floor registers and falling asleep feeling the forced air hitting their feet. Today's furnaces don't require coal oil. Furnaces run on gas, electric, or propane. What kind of furnace would be most efficient for you? It depends on the type of home you have and what kind of furnace you have room for.

Types of Furnaces

Heating and cooling systems that can be housed in basements, attics, or larger crawl spaces are called split systems. Packaged systems are less cumbersome as the furnace and air conditioner are in one unit that is housed outside. People with smaller homes that want to gain space often choose packaged systems. People living in more rural areas or in the suburbs may find that propane works for their needs.

Gas, Electric, or Propane?

Furnaces heating homes with natural gas is economical, especially when temperatures fall in the northern climates of the United States. Electric furnaces aren't as economical and can be a big drain on budgets no matter where you live. Propane is a gas, not an oily substance like coal oil, but it runs dirtier than natural gas. Still, it is economical, and the tank is housed outdoors away from your home. Gas furnaces use gas lines to run, while propane does not. Many people who have older homes use propane as they don't have gas lines buried on their property.

Which Is More Efficient?

According to the Department of Energy, gas and electric furnaces are now rated by their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The AFUE rating must appear on the furnace. The higher the rating, the more energy efficient it is. Furnaces can be retrofitted to gain a higher AFUE rating. Propane also has an AFUE rating, although it is housed in its own tank outdoors:

  • Older, low-efficiency systems: operate at 56 percent to 70 percent AFUE
  • Mid-efficiency systems: operate at 80 to 83 percent AFUE
  • High-efficiency systems: operate at 90 to 98.5 percent AFUE

Electric has the highest AFUE ratings; gas and propane run a close second and third. Opting for high-efficiency systems will save you money over time and run cleaner than the older systems--without the coal oil smell. To learn more about your recent furnace options, contact a company like Sullivan Super Service.