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Let’s say your boiler or furnace is coming to the end of its useful life. Or maybe you’re interested in finding out if there’s something else on the market that will help you save on energy expenses or even help save the planet. Before you make that purchase, it’s critical you and your contractor are on the same page regarding your energy goals, your desired savings, and the value you want your system to add to your home. Be sure to ask these key five questions to help guide your decision.

1. What are your qualifications?

New furnaces and boilers offer cutting-edge technology that makes them run more efficiently. If the contractor designing your heating system doesn’t know the ins and outs of these next-gen models and how they’ll affect your home’s performance, you might not get the most out of all that tech. That means your first line of questions is all about qualifications.

“They should be licensed in their territory if a license is required,” says Kevin Brenner, founder and president of Healthy Home Energy & Consulting. “Use your spidey sense. Do they show up on the right day and right time for the appointment? You have to ask for references, and you actually have to call the references. Ask them for a certificate of insurance where you, the homeowner, is named as additional insured.” The old rule about getting three estimates is never a bad idea. It’s important to do the homework when picking the expert who is going to make the house livable.


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2. What is the efficiency rating of the boiler or furnace?

New boilers, furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, and even windows now come standard with energy-efficiency ratings. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provides a set of numbers that, put simply, measures the energy going into the unit as compared to what’s coming out. “If the input is 100 bags of energy and you’re getting out 98 bags of heat, it’s 98% efficient,” says Brenner.

That said, installation quality is everything. “They are testing these units in a lab,” says Brenner. “You can’t test efficiency on them until after they’re installed. The best thing you can do is make sure the installer is installing the units as per the manufacturer’s specifications. If it’s correctly installed, there’s a very good chance you’re going to meet those laboratory conditions.”

Keep in mind that those numbers alone won’t guarantee that you’ll be as snug as a bug. To ensure that you’re getting the most out of your heating devices, do everything you can to make the house as airtight as possible.

Related Post: How Efficient is Your Furnace or Boiler?

3. What’s the most fuel-efficient furnace or boiler I can buy?

If you haven’t already picked out a model, an HVAC contractor with expertise in energy efficiency can help guide you to one that will work for you based on your goals and your space.

Furnaces and boilers both need a source of incoming air to run. The air can be drawn from inside the house via return ducts. This is known as a “naturally aspirated” system. If a system pulls air only from outside the home, it’s called a “sealed combustion” system. “A gas or propane-fired sealed combustion unit is the most efficient on the market,” says Brenner. “They’re typically smaller, they usually hang on a wall, and they have efficiency ratings in the mid-90s.”

The sealed combustion units are more efficient because they eliminate the need for return or make-up ducts. According to the DOE, “These make-up air ducts that are required for naturally aspirated units are a source of uncontrolled air leakage through the building enclosure and therefore increase energy use.” In addition, sealed combustion units eliminate concerns of back-drafting where exhaust gasses can be leaked into the house.

4. Will I pay more for an energy-efficient unit, and if so, how long will it take to get my money back?

As is with everything in life, quality products cost more, and the same is true in the HVAC business. Appliances with a higher efficiency rating are generally more expensive but eventually pay off in the long run in more ways than one.

“You are usually going to pay more for energy efficiency; you usually get that back in six to seven years,” says Brenner. “When you are upgrading to a different level of equipment and if you care about saving the planet, buy the most energy-efficient appliance you can buy.”

Your contractor’s expertise should also extend to energy-efficiency rebates your new equipment may be eligible for, through your utility, manufacturer, or state/federal government. Make sure you ask about rebates before you make any purchase. Remember, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act means more money may be flowing into rebate programs and tax incentives in your state, so you’ll save up front, as well as through energy savings down the line.

Related Post: Homeowner’s Guide to Energy-Efficiency Rebates and Tax Credits

5. Are there any new innovations in furnaces and boilers that I should know about?

New technology is changing the way we heat and cool our homes. To get their furnaces efficient enough to earn those high ratings from the DOE, manufacturers are constantly tinkering with new designs.

Clever furnace makers have come up with a way to capture the heat from exhaust gasses using a “secondary heat exchanger,” which boosts the energy efficiency of the unit. “Condensing boilers and most sealed combustion units have a secondary heat exchanger,” says Brenner. “The original heat exchanger takes out a whole bunch of heat as you’re combusting; the secondary heat exchange removes the heat from the flue gasses.”

In many furnace systems, the blower has two settings: off or full blast, which can actually make a room feel cold. New highly efficient systems use a variable speed blower. “A variable speed blower is extremely important,” says Brenner. “It ramps up and then ramps back down depending on what the room temperature is.”

So there you have it: a set of key questions to ask anybody looking to be your new furnace contractor. When buying or selling a home, the quality and age of its HVAC system helps determine the sales price, which is why you need to choose wisely, even if you’re planning on a move years in the future.

To help figure out what your next system is going to look like, login or sign up for Green Door and create a Home Investment Plan. Once you have your customized improvement tasks, use the Find a Professional tool to locate and connect with a Pearl Network HVAC Contractor in your area who can provide Pearl Certified installation.

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