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Furnaces FAQ

  • What is a variable speed furnace?

    In a “variable speed” furnace, the indoor blower motor is able to move at variable speeds in order to accurately control the movement of cooled or heated air throughout the home. More precise control of airflow has several benefits, including improved air quality, energy efficiency and the ability to customize the temperature in different parts of your home.

    Air Quality: A variable speed motor can keep the fan running constantly in your home, meaning that the motor continues to circulate air even when the furnace, air conditioner or heat pump isn’t running. This improves airflow and allows filters to capture more airborne contaminants and particulates.

    Energy Efficiency: Variable speed motors require less electricity than standard motors, saving you money and benefiting our environment.

    Improved Heating and Cooling Efficiency: Variable speed technology improves heating and cooling efficiency, or AFUE.

    Zoning: Variable speed motors allow you to customize the temperature in different areas of your home, also known as zoning. This keeps your home at optimal temperature for various needs, and also cuts down on your energy bill, as you can decrease the heating or cooling in seldom-used areas of your home.

    Humidity Control: A variable sped motor used in conjunction with a programmable thermostat allows you to control the relative humidity in your home, improving air quality and comfort.

  • I am easily woken when the furnace comes on. What is the quietest furnace possible?

    High-efficiency two-stage furnaces will product the least amount of fan noise. A furnace of this type has a fan that operates on a low setting most of the time, and increases to a higher level only in a higher heat demand. This results in quiet operation for a better night’s sleep.

  • I’ve started hearing that we should use natural gas wherever possible instead of electricity. Why is this important?

    The electrical grid in Ontario is under stress, so if you live in Ontario you may have been advised to use natural gas, as reducing the use of electrical products reduces strain on the grid. Heating is accountable for 40-60% of your energy bill, so switching to natural gas heating will decrease your energy costs and also alleviate strain on the electric grid.

  • Will my new furnace work differently than my old one?

    Furnace technology has significantly progressed in recent years, meaning that a modern furnace will have enhanced functionality in comparison to an older, conventional furnace. Modern furnaces provide more consistent and efficient heating than older furnaces, which can change operation of your system, but also enhance your comfort level. Modern furnaces circulate more air over the heat exchanger, meaning that the air coming from furnace registers may not feel as warm, but has increased airflow and more consistent comfort overall. Newer furnaces also integrate with high-efficiency air conditioners, meaning that furnace blowers are more powerful in order to be compatible with add-on cooling. Because cold air is heavier than warm air, your HVAC system needs a stronger blower to deliver cooled air. In older homes, this increase in your blower’s power could result in different sounds than you’re accustomed to, because older air duct systems were originally designed to accommodate heating only. Installation of a variable speed product that automatically changes speed to accommodate airflow needs of heating and cooling cycles can reduce noise levels.

  • Can I use my chimney with my new furnace?

    Because furnace technology has significant advanced in the past few years, older chimneys may not be compatible with new furnaces for several reasons including size, dimensions, ventilation efficiency and construction materials. Modern furnaces are more efficient than conventional furnaces, transferring more heat into your home and less heat up the chimney than older units. Although this is much more energy-efficient, it also means that preexisting chimneys may be too big for the new furnace. If the chimney is too large, it could result in improper ventilation of flue products and development of condensation within the chimney. Inadequate ventilation may also violate building codes. Older chimneys may also not be in the right location or of the right height for newer furnaces. Additionally, the general condition and lining of the chimney may not meet the needs of a new furnace installation.

  • How do I know when my Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector needs to be replaced?

    Over time, plug-in carbon monoxide detectors lose their CO sensitivity, meaning that they have a limited lifespan. Some are meant to last up to 10 years, and others last fewer than 5 – check your manual to identify the product’s lifespan. If your CO detector is more than a few years old, it’s time to replace it. You can also test your detector with a commercially available CO test kit.

  • How can I make sure that my HVAC system is safe for operation?

    An annual safety check is required to make sure that the unit is safe. Even small cracks or leaks in the heat exchanger or other furnace malfunctions can cause carbon monoxide to build up in the home, which is a serious health hazard and may be lethal.

  • What is the difference between furnace filters?

    A standard 1” disposable furnace filter traps about 5-10% of particulate contaminants that pass throough. This efficiency can be improved by upgrading to a media or electronic-style filter, which are 60-65% and 90-95% efficient, respectively. This will also cut maintenance costs, as dirty systems are the primary cause of equipment malfunction, and improve energy efficiency.

  • Do I need to get my furnace cleaned every year?

    Getting your furnace cleaned every year has a number of benefits. Firstly, a clean furnace operates more efficiently, cutting back on your energy bill. Secondly, and more importantly, a cleaning includes a maintenance check, in which your contractor checks the unit for damaged or defective parts. This will keep you safe and carbon monoxide-free for the winter.

  • My thermostat is equipped with a two position setting for the fan, “automatic” and “on”. Where should I set it?

    In the “automatic” setting the fan will operate when the heating/cooling system is running. The “on” setting maintains a continuous flow of air, which is ideal for homes with air cleaning systems. Your air cleaning system only functions when the furnace is circulating air, so in this case it is best to keep the fan continuously on.

  • I have trouble getting even amounts of heat/cooling to certain parts of my home. How can I get more heat/cooling to the upstairs/downstairs of my home?

    It is possible to change the amount of heating/cooling a room gets by adjusting the register. In rooms that are receiving too much heating or cooling, adjust the louvers inside the registers so that they are partly closed. This will divert more air to the rooms that are insufficiently heated or cooled. A furnace equipped with a variable speed blower motor is an additional solution. A variable speed furnace will remedy airflow issues, keeping the airflow consistent throughout the home. These types of furnaces are also more energy efficient, using about 1/3 of the energy required by standard furnaces, substantially reducing your energy bill. A zoning system will also allow you to customize the amount of heating or cooling that each area in your home receives. Using a zoning system, temperatures can be set independently in different areas of the home using multiple thermostats.

  • What is two-stage heating?

    Two-stage heating refers to a system in which the furnace has two levels of heat output, with a high setting for the coldest winter days and a low setting for more mild days. The low setting is adequate 80% of the time, meaning that the furnace is able to run for longer periods than a standard furnace, providing more even heating distribution. There are many advantages of a two-stage furnace installation, including more even heating, improved air filtration, and increased energy efficiency. Improved energy efficiency Because two-stage furnaces operate largely in the lower-capacity stage, they require less energy than standard furnaces. This is great for the planet and for your energy bill. Quieter operation A two-stage furnace kicks on in the lower stage rather than reaching full capacity immediately. This prevents sudden bursts of air. Enhanced air filtration performance Because low-speed operation keeps your furnace running for longer periods of time, air filters are able to capture more airborne contaminants and particulates. Even heating Because low-stage operation keeps a furnace from switching on and off as often, it eliminates the temperature swings of a standard furnace. Two-stage heating is often able to keep the temperature within as little as one degree of the set point.

  • What is the temperature I have to set on my thermostat when I go for vacation for a few days?

    We recommend setting your thermostat to 13 degrees Celsius. This temperature is low enough to conserve energy, but also protects pipes and other parts of your home. It’s also advisable to turn off your water supply, preventing a water leak and costly damage to your home.

  • How do I determine a proper size for my furnace?

    Appropriate gas furnace size varies based upon your square footage, climate, and even your floor plan. A heat load calculation, conducted by a certified contractor, is the only way to properly size your furnace.

  • Should I have a carbon monoxide detector installed?

    Your home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector located in the sleeping quarters, and more than one is advisable for larger homes. Carbon monoxide detectors are necessary to warn you of carbon monoxide, but are not intended to replace annual inspections and servicing of your exhaust systems and fuel-burning equipment.

  • How often should I have my gas furnace serviced?

    Annual service by a licensed gas technician or heating contractor will avoid costly emergency furnace repair down the road. Between these service calls, you can perform some routine maintenance yourself:

    Regularly inspect the furnace filter, and clean or replace it when it becomes dirty. A dirty filter will compromise heating efficiency and air quality.

    Check the fain or blower and clean off dust or debris. Check the motor’s fan belt, and replace it if it appears to be worn out.

    Check the manufacturer’s instructions to see whether your fan motor needs to be oiled by hand. Many newer motors are sealed, so do not require this.

    Other maintenance may be necessary for a high-efficiency furnace. Check the manual or contact the heating contractor who installed or is servicing your furnace.

    Remove loose debris from cold air returns and heating registers. Be sure that returns and registers aren’t blocked by furniture, drapes, rugs or other items.

  • I’m afraid my old furnace will quit in the middle of winter, is it worth replacing before it breaks down?

    You definitely want to avoid your furnace breaking down in the middle of a cold Ontario winter, leaving you out in the cold. If your contractor advises furnace replacement, you’re best off not waiting until it’s too late. If you’re wary of the price tag, keep in mind that modern furnaces are up to twice as energy efficient as older furnaces, meaning that you’ll see an immediate reduction in your energy bill, helping to compensate for the cost.

  • Is there a “best time” of the year to install a new furnace?

    The best times of year for new furnace installation are spring and fall. During these times contractors are not as busy with emergency service work. You also prevent your older furnace unit from failing in the winter months, when you need it most.

  • What is a heat pump?

    A heat pump is a combined heating and air conditioning system that is used year round. In warm seasons, a heat pump functions as a conventional air conditioner, extracting heat from inside and transferring it outdoors. In colder weather, this processes reverses and the heat pump unit collects heat from outdoor air and transfers it inside the home. Although outdoor air is very cold in winter months, it still contains some heat, which the heat pump is able to extract to warm your home. If the outside heat is insufficient, a conventional electric heater supplements the outdoor heat to meet the home’s heating needs. A heat pump is much more energy efficient, producing 2-3 times more heat than the heat it uses.

Furnaces FAQ | Consumers Energy Management Inc. Toronto, Ontario