The Mechanics of Buying A Furnace
You cannot shop for a furnace the way you shop for a camera or a pair of shoes. There are no “furnace stores” where the different makes and models can be examined, compared, and priced. So what are the steps to take when buying a furnace?
To get first-hand information on the different makes and models available, you will have to contact a number of heating firms. Ask them for the manufacturers’ illustrated sales literature on the furnaces they sell and install. You should also contact your local gas utility or a local contractor for assistance and information.
Your utility can usually provide information on the cost of purchasing, renting, or installing furnaces and the estimated seasonal heating costs of the type of equipment you plan to use. If you have decided on a particular type of furnace, read the literature carefully to find out if it describes the features you are looking for—such as a condensing heat exchanger, a commutating motor and direct drive for the circulating fan, etc.
Also look for the EnerGuide rating. This is the seasonal efficiency (AFUE) rating, not just the steady-state efficiency. Make sure you distinguish between the two types of ratings.
As previously mentioned, conventional and mid-efficiency gas furnaces do not run at their maximum efficiency if they are oversized; conversely, a condensing gas furnace can be more efficient if slightly oversized.
A heating contractor cannot determine the size of furnace you need just by walking through your house. The “size” of furnace means the heat output from it after it is running in steady-state operation. If you are replacing an existing gas furnace, the output of that furnace will give only a rough idea of the maximum size you should consider.
A further complicating factor is that many existing gas furnaces were nearly always rated and labelled on heat input rather than output, so you must subtract at least 22 percent from the labelled size to get the maximum existing output of that unit. On the other hand, your new gas furnace will be rated according to its heat output.
The contractor will have to calculate the heating requirement of your house using either the fuel consumption of your present furnace over a known heating period (after other gas use is factored out, such as for the water heater and kitchen range) or by making a thorough measurement and examination of your house to determine size, insulation levels, and degree of tightness of the house envelope. If the contractor does not show any interest in any of the above facts, then his or her calculation of the correct size for your new furnace is simply a “guesstimate.”
To make sure proper furnace sizing is determined, the quotation and contract should include a statement similar to the following: “The furnace size will be determined by a heat loss calculation using the formulas published by the Canadian Gas Association (CGA), the Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the electrical utility, or other recognized organizations. A copy of these calculations will be given to the homeowner.”
It is important to hire a contractor who will install your equipment properly to ensure that it will operate efficiently. Check with your local gas utility or provincial gas regu-latory office to find out how to get in touch with a fully qualified, registered or licensed contractor.
If your neighbours have had similar work done recently, ask them how satisfied they were with their contractor. If you are buying a relatively new type of furnace design, try to get the name of other homeowners who have had such equipment installed to find out about the appliance’s performance and the workmanship of the installer.
Before you decide what to buy, obtain firm, written bids from several companies on the cost of buying and installing a complete new unit, along with any other fittings and adjustments required, including changes to any ductwork or piping and a final balancing of the heat supply to the house.
Remember that a building permit may be required for this type of work, and the contract should state whether the installer or the homeowner is responsible for obtaining it.
Checklist for Having a Natural Gas Heating System Installed
You should get several estimates on the work to be done. When you are comparing these estimates, cost will be an important factor, but there are other considerations involved. Some contractors may be better at explaining what has to be done. Some may use higher quality components, and others may schedule the work at your convenience.
Estimates should include the following items:
- The total cost for all necessary work.
- An itemized list of all material and labour costs included in the bid; alteration or improvement of existing heat distribution ducts; installation of furnace and gas supply piping and ductwork; installation of water heater and vent (where applicable); installation of chimney liner and any attendant masonry work; and additional equipment such as the installation of gas appliances, humidifiers, air cleaners or air conditioners.
- A statement describing how much existing equipment will be used in the new system.
- A rough diagram showing the layout of ductwork or water pipes and the location of supply piping and heating equipment.
- A statement that clearly defines who is responsible for: – all necessary permits and payment of related fees – on-site inspections by the utility – scheduling of all other required work by the utility, such as supply pipe installation and hookup – removal of any existing equipment that will not be used with the new system – all related costs, such as subcontracts with tradespeople.
- A clear estimate of when the work will be completed.
- A warranty for materials and labour.
- A schedule and method of payment.
Ask contractors for the names of homeowners for whom they have done similar work. The Better Business Bureau will know if the contractor is a member and whether any recent complaints have been filed against him or her. Your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade may also be able to help.
The contractor installing the heating system may be able to install additional gas-fired appliances for a favourable price at the same time the heating system is set up. This work can often be undertaken without duplication of the inspections, permits, and the labour associated with such jobs.
Some utilities or dealers will also offer rental of heating equipment or lease-to-purchase plans. You may find it advantageous to participate in one of these plans rather than to purchase the equipment outright.
Do not hesitate to ask the contractor for a clear explanation of any aspect of the work before, during, or after the installation of your heating system.