As much as we rely on our furnaces to keep us warm every winter, to many they can still seem to be mysterious and even confusing machines. Sometimes it’s easy to want to limit your knowledge to the simple fact of whether your furnace is working — but it’s worth diving a little deeper than that. For example, you might be in a position where it’s time to upgrade your heating equipment, and you want to know if putting your furnace in the attic is a good or bad idea. Perhaps instead you’ve recently purchased a home and discovered your equipment is all tucked away beneath the roof, and you’re wondering if that’s really the best place.
Whatever the reason you have, questioning the placement of a furnace in an attic is a good idea. Although still commonly suggested by some HVAC contractors, it was a much more popular option in the past. Today, that’s not as true, as it’s become more evident that there are some real and significant drawbacks to putting a furnace in an attic. While it can make your home quieter, it could have an impact on your wallet. That’s not always true, though. So how do you figure out whether it’s the right place for your equipment? Let’s look at all the facts.
The Real Answer Depends on Your Attic
The number one reason there is such a strenuous debate about whether a furnace in the attic is good or bad is because not every attic is the same — meaning there is no “one size fits all” answer that can describe every possible case. For that reason alone, getting the opinion of an experienced third party can help you identify whether this is truly the right way to proceed. Doing some research on the type of attic you have in the first place is a good “square one” to use for making a start.
The critical question is this: is your attic conditioned or unconditioned? If the answer is unconditioned, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the drawbacks we’ll discuss a little later; furnaces in these attics will experience a range of issues that a unit placed at ground level in a closet simply won’t encounter. For attics that are conditioned, or what technicians call “inside the thermal envelope,” you might get some benefits.
Chief among those is quiet operation; many homeowners who opt for an attic installation do so because it will make their homes quieter. It can also allow for more even distribution of warm air throughout the home, as it is easier to position ductwork and place vents as needed for full coverage. You can’t always say the same about floor vents more common to older ground-level installations. However, attics installations have their fair share of problems, too.
Efficiency Losses in Unconditioned Spaces Outweigh Gains
With all that said, you can generally count on attic placement being a bad idea — in part because high-efficiency furnaces, which dominate the market today, just can’t function in attic space — usually due to both the volume of air necessary for operation and because of safety considerations. If you’re preparing to upgrade an old furnace, it might be time to consider moving it back down to the ground level. You’ll start to save money on your heating costs, too, and your furnace will perform closer to its indicated SEER.
That is because with an attic installation, vents must go down into the thermal envelope to deliver warm air. The more penetrations in the envelope there are, the more conditioned air it will lose — which ultimately forces your system to work harder. The unconditioned nature of the space can also lead to thermal issues with the ductwork itself, as it expands and contracts over time with temperature fluctuations. That can cause damage that’s costly to fix. On top of all this, attics can sometimes become traps for carbon monoxide when used for furnaces.
Turn to the Pros to Decide if a Furnace in Your Attic Will Be Good or Bad
It should be easy to see that there are many potential drawbacks to consider when locating furnaces inside of an attic. For homes built more recently that fold the attic into the home’s thermal envelope, the problems are less pronounced, and you’ll be better able to take advantage of the benefits such a location can offer. Overall, though, this is the type of situation that is best confronted with the help of someone well-versed and experienced in the HVAC industry. To help you determine if a furnace in the attic is good or bad for your home in particular, consult heating professionals that you can depend upon for swift, reliable service and clear advice. By making a careful choice, you can ensure that you enjoy consistent heating for many winters to come.
Valley Comfort conducts heating and furnace repair services in the following communities: Santa Rosa, Napa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, St Helena, Calistoga and Windsor