Residential Gas Furnaces
There are many makes of gas furnaces on the market and it is important to know the Make, Model and Serial Number of your system so you can provide the information to your service contractor when calling for service. Preferably you would call a contractor that is an authorized distributor of your make of unit or you may chose a contractor that is close to your residence or place of business. The Gas Company will provide 24 hour service without a premium for after hour service whereas an independent contractor will most likely charge a premium rate, travel time and a vehicle charge.
The gas company is not the best at predicting their response time and some of the wait times can be long at peak times only to have the employee turn your gas off and inform you to call your local contractor. The Gas Company or 911 are always the one(s) to call if you smell gas, or if everyone in the home or place of business is experiencing flu like symptoms such as headaches, nausea or vomiting. Both young and elderly people will be affected sooner than healthy adults.
Tips for reducing the cost of service...
- Record the make, model and serial number of your furnace to relate to your contractor when calling for service
- Ask ahead what method of payment is expected and what the rates and standard charges will be
- Make sure you provide clear access to the furnace for the serviceman
- The serviceman is required by law to wear safety footwear so protect your carpets if you can before he arrives
- It is okay to watch, but stay a safe distance back while the serviceman is working
- If you have pets, lock them away from the area of the serviceman (they may have allergies or be fearful of dogs)
- If the cats litter box is next to the furnace, move it and clean the area or your serviceman might just leave
- Be sure to have adequate lighting around your furnace for safety
- Clear any stairwell or pathways to the furnace that would make in and out trips difficult
- If after hours, turn an outside light on for the serviceman to see your entrance and house number
- If you have a history of problems with your system, provide work reports to the serviceman
- Keep a copy of previous service reports at the furnace for review by the technician
- Ask the serviceman if there is anything that you could have done to prevent the call for service
- Some Saturday when you have time, take the front cover off your furnace and turn the temperature up so you can observe what happens and when during a normal cycle. This can help describe a problem when calling for service.
Commonly recognized names of various manufacturers...
- Lennox, Carrier, ICP (Keep-Rite), Trane, York, Amana. Many of these manufacturers sell "Knock Off" brand names to wholesalers that are virtually identical to the big name product. Examples of these are Payne, Arco-Aire, Lux-Aire.
This is a form provided to a customer when a serviceman has found an appliance is unsafe to operate. It could be a problem that is repairable or something that requires replacement. The issuance of a red tag usually will mean the appliance has been turned off for your safety or if the problem is not an immediate risk to health or property may have a fixed expiry date to correct the problem or the fuel source will be terminated. You could be issued a Red Tag for a safety violation such as storing combustible materials too close to an appliance or mechanical failures to the chimney venting or cracks in the heat exchanger. Anyone that removes a Red Tag without correcting the problem or operates an appliance that has been so tagged can be fined and / or jailed and worst of all, could be injured or killed by the faulty appliance. Any Red Tag that is issued will identify the problem that was found, who found the problem, what address the problem is at and who to contact when the problem is corrected. The person effecting the repair to clear a Red Tag must be a licensed technician with an active certificate issued by the Ministry governing fossil fuel burning appliances (TSSA).
Repair or Replace
Probably the most common question asked is "When should I replace my furnace?" The answers are, when the cost of a repair is 60% of the cost of a new unit, when new products on he market can provide more efficiency, when a furnace is 20 years old or more, when there is a heat exchanger failure that is no longer covered under warranty part replacement. A heat exchanger that is still covered by extended parts warranty could still cost $600.00 to $1,000.00 to replace in labor costs alone.
Mid Efficiency or High Efficiency
Our government is constantly upgrading the standards for fuel efficiency on everything from cars to furnaces to electric motors. The minimum standard efficiency for a furnace today is about 92%. Prior to High Efficiency furnaces the norm was 82% efficiency and was classed as Mid Efficiency. Long gone are the days of a constant or "standing pilot light" burning 365 days of the year. The pilot flame of old would cost about $8.00 per month to operate and leave a carbon footprint so big that it would give Al Gore a heart attack.
The mid efficiency furnace of the 90's was simply a conventional furnace with a power exhaust and intermittent pilot added to the system. High Efficiency furnaces have been available in one form or another since the 1980's when Lennox introduced the "Pulse" furnace that had an efficiency rating of 98%. Unfortunately the furnace was so noisy that several hundred dollars had to be spent to try and make the noise level tolerable and the furnace was somewhat prone to failure of a very unique primary heat exchanger. This design was scrapped for more conventional furnace design. For a furnace to be rated as High Efficiency it had to exceed 90% fuel efficiency and in order to do this required two heat exchangers (primary and secondary). The primary exchanger is where the gas is burned in much the same manner as it has been for the past 40 + years.
An old style furnace, would at this point, vent the products of combustion up through a metal chimney to the roof. The new High Efficiency furnaces take that flue gas and channels it through a second exchanger situated between the fan and the primary exchanger. The remaining heat from the flue gases are cooled to a point that condensation occurs and this is why High Efficiency furnaces require a drain. The old style of furnace would vent flue gases up the chimney at temperatures exceeding 350 degrees F. The secondary exchanger on the new furnaces will extract so much of that wasted heat that the exiting flue gas temperature is now around 100 degrees (cool enough for you to put your hand in front of). This is also why this style of furnace is called a "Condensing Furnace". A metal chimney up through the roof is no longer required and is replaced with a form of plastic pipe (System 636) that vents the exhaust out the nearest wall. Any fuel that burns, requires oxygen or air to burn. The older style of furnaces used air from within the house that you had already paid to heat to support the combustion process then exhausts that air out the chimney resulting in a negative pressure in the home.
The new H/E furnaces bring outdoor air into the furnace burner compartment through a separate vent pipe resulting in further savings and no pressure differential in the home. Earlier versions of H/E furnaces used either "ABS" plastic or "PVC" pipe for the venting of the flue gases. Although there was no reported incidents of failure of this type of venting the gas code was upgraded in 2007 prohibiting the use of both these materials. Currently only "System 636" venting is approved and is a form of "CPVC" plastic that withstands a higher temperature and requires both a primer and solvent cement to connect the pipe and fittings. The code requires the ABS or PVC pipe to be replaced only if the furnace is replaced or if the existing venting is altered for any reason since the code change. The new material is more costly than the material used previously. Furnaces have evolved in the past decade to the point where they provide self-diagnostics of almost any problem that might occur. This feature along with improved safety and efficiency make your furnace one of the most reliable appliances you will own any save you money when service is required. There are even systems on the market today that you can communicate with via remote wireless thermostats and the internet to raise or lower the temperature before you get home or lower the temperature after you leave. The latest version of H/E furnaces have variable speed fan motors (ECM for electronic controlled motor) that save hydro and two stages or fully variable heat output based upon outdoor temperatures or demand for heat in the residence. These new options are still costly and the price will eventually reduce as production levels improve and increase.
All this banter about efficiency it might be timely to mention that electric heat is 100% efficient compared to the best gas furnace at approximately 98% efficiency. Unfortunately, even though electric power is a renewable energy source and the most abundant it is still the most costly bang for your buck when it comes to heating. Heat pump systems highly popular in the 1980's) can provide up to about 320 % efficiency (YES, three hundred and twenty percent) under ideal conditions. This means 1 kilowatt of electric feed into the unit can provide up to 3.2 kilowatts of heat. This system is still practical for homes heated with forced electric heat or fuel oil. This
efficiency does decline as the outdoor temperature decreases on conventional "air to air" heat pumps. Heat pumps that use water from a closed loop system instead of air are making a strong comeback in new condominium construction.
This is explained in more detail in the "Learn About" section of our web site under the title "Heat Pumps" If you are replacing your furnace it is more important to have a quality install than a quality furnace. The best furnace on the market will not work as well as a Brand "X" furnace if poorly installed. It is not that difficult for even a lay person to recognize neat workmanship that was installed with a sense of pride over sloppy workmanship where speed of work is more
important than quality. I was always told that success is guaranteed if you always do more than is expected.