Most of us take home heating for granted. You probably don’t spare much thought for what your furnace is doing until it starts making odd noises or until your energy bill starts to increase rapidly for no good reason. Understanding your heating system, is essential for keeping it in good working condition. Here are nine facts you should know about home heating systems like yours.
- Your heating system accounts for the majority of your energy usage
Temperature control is by far the biggest energy/utility expenditure for most people. According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling account for more than half of the energy used by the average home in the United States. Compared to other energy users in your home—such as your lights, refrigerator, water heater, or washer and dryer—your heating system costs more to run and eats up more energy. It is partially for this reason that maintaining your furnace and making sure it can run as efficiently as possible is so important. A poorly maintained heating system will account for an even higher percentage of the home’s total energy usage.
- Most furnaces will last for 15-20 years
In terms of the appliances in your home, your furnace should have a fairly decent lifespan. Most furnaces last for 15-20 years. Air conditioning units, by comparison, typically top out at 10-15 years, while kitchen appliances like your dishwasher and microwave would be lucky to reach the decade mark. Of course, preventative maintenance can keep your furnace alive for longer, and perhaps even help it exceed that 20-year mark.
- Setting your thermostat higher won’t heat the house any faster
One of the biggest myths about home heating is that cranking up the heat on your thermostat will heat a cold house faster. For instance, if you come home from a trip and the house is 65 degrees, you might goose the thermostat to 77 with homes that it will get you to the desired temperature of 70-72 degrees faster. In actuality, your home will heat at the same speed no matter what temperature you set. Setting a higher thermostat temperature will just increase the likelihood of you forgetting to adjust it back to your preferred temperature. Many homeowners end up wasting energy (and ending up with a house hotter than they want) by attempting this misguided practice.
- All furnaces consist of three main components
All furnaces consist of three main components: the burner or heating element, the heat exchanger, and the blower. The burner (in a gas furnace) or the heating element (in an electric furnace) is responsible for generating the heat. The burner or heating element heats up the heat exchanger, a series of coils or tubes that then transfers the heat to air. The exchanger is also responsible for keeping gas and breathable air separate from one another. The blower, finally, propels air through the heat exchanger and out into your home’s ductwork.
- Furnaces are the most popular method of home heating, but not the only way
Most homes in the United States are heated with furnaces, whether gas or electric. However, there are other options for heating. Boilers, for instance, heat homes by heating water and then sending it through radiators, heat registers, and other installations throughout the home. This technique heats the house through radiant heat, versus the forced air technique of furnace heating. Also common are heat pumps, wood burning stoves and fireplaces, and gas or electric space heaters.
- Lots of factors can affect your furnace’s performance and efficiency
So many different factors can impact your furnace’s performance and efficiency. Maintenance history and frequency is a huge factor, as a professional tune-up can identify and fix issues that might degrade performance. Other factors include the condition/cleanliness of your air filter, how well insulated the house (and especially the duct work) is, the condition of the ducts themselves, and how dusty the house is in general. Dust and dirt can clog your filters, dirty up your duct work, and make it difficult for the furnace to do its job, thereby reducing its efficiency.
- Electric furnaces are an attractive alternative to gas furnaces in some places
The majority of homes that are heated with furnaces in the United States use natural gas. However, there are also electric furnaces, which can be an attractive alternative in some parts of the country. Heating a house with electricity costs more than with natural gas, but the upfront cost of an electric furnace is lower and the lifespan is longer (usually 20-30 years). Gas units do heat the house more quickly and effectively than electric, which makes them better in places with grueling winters. In milder climates, though, electric furnaces are often sufficient. For homes in rural areas, where there isn’t infrastructure for a natural gas connection, electric furnaces are also much easier to implement.
- Three-quarters of all no-heat calls in the winter are due to deferred maintenance
Experts say that as many as three-quarters of all no-heat calls in the winter can be traced back to deferred furnace maintenance. As this statistic proves, not taking care of your furnace can absolutely result in it failing when you need it most.
- Furnace inspections will often pay for themselves
Investing in regular furnace inspection and servicing might seem like a hassle, but it will pay for itself in the long run. From boosting the efficiency of your home heating unit (and lowering your energy bill) to saving you from having to call for an emergency repair or replacement service in the dead of winter, routine inspections are worth your time and money.