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(707) 539-4533 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

updated 5/14/22


Creating a comfortable work environment goes beyond purchasing nice office furniture or offering a catered lunch once a week; there are more fundamental elements to consider, too, like the temperature inside the workspace. In the summertime, you rely on advanced cooling systems to keep out the heat and keep staff focused on the tasks on the to-do list. Similarly, when the mercury takes a plunge, staff expect a warm space that will allow them to work without distraction. Whether you are considering a commercial furnace for a new building or replacing an existing installation, there are several things worth keeping in mind. What should you know before you reach out to a professional installer for help?


Determining the right type of commercial furnace


Commercial FurnacePicking the type of furnace you’ll add to your building is often the first step. There are many options available, from traditional forced air central heating to heat pumps and even ductless systems. In conventional setups, you may have several fuel types to choose from for heating air, e.g. an oil-based furnace or one fired by natural gas. The setup of your building will play some part in this decision. For example, if you do not have space for fuel oil storage, you will need to consider a different installation type. You should carefully consider the amount of room available for installation alongside other factors, such as operating costs and energy efficiency.

What if you have a minimal workspace that does not have ducting you can tap into with a new installation? In this case, considering a “split system” that includes a heater can be the ideal choice. These are often combined with AC units and use a heat pump system to extract heat from outside air. For spaces that only need heating occasionally, these can be a cost-effective choice.


Considerations specific to your business or building


Sizing your furnace is perhaps the most critical consideration in choosing a unit and preparing for installation. While the inclination many people may have initially is to determine the “biggest and best” furnace they can find, this is often a recipe for poor performance. A bigger furnace is not necessarily going to deliver better heating for your business. In fact, an oversized furnace may produce so much warm air so quickly that, while your business will warm faster, the furnace will face increasing strain due to short cycle times.

Increased energy and maintenance costs can make this a frustrating headache, just as much as an under-powered furnace would. Coordinating closely with a furnace provider can help you determine the precise sizing that is appropriate for your business. The best choice will be the one that meets your targets for heating efficiency, energy usage, and maintenance demands.


Prepare for maintenance in the future


If things never broke down, the world would be a much less stressful place. In reality, though, a commercial furnace will need occasional maintenance alongside regular servicing to remain in peak operating condition. The good news is that because you are likely only to run your furnace for a set “season” each year — no one turns on the heat in July — wear and tear from use can be limited. However, the high volume of heating that does occur in the cold months means that long periods of strain can create failures within the system. By and large, these are not troublesome or overly costly fixes — especially if you engage in annual pre-season maintenance and occasional check-ups.

As part of your installation considerations, it’s worth making plans for how you will handle maintenance. Familiarizing yourself with the most common operating faults a particular model may experience, plus basic maintenance requirements (such as filter change intervals), can give you an idea of what you will encounter. Not only does this make budgeting for maintenance expenses simpler, but it also affords you an opportunity to line up a service provider. Just like considering BTU output or energy efficiency ratings, how you will care for the furnace into the future should be part of your considerations.


Choosing an experienced provider for assistance


With some of these fundamental considerations in mind, you can develop a strong foundation from which to move forward with your plans to order a commercial furnace installation for your building. Balancing all the different factors together can be difficult on your own. However, with the help of an (experienced and professional team), identifying not only the right unit but the proper procedure for installation becomes much more straightforward. As you begin to take a deeper dive into your options, remember just how vital sizing is — and how different furnaces can impact your energy costs. When you’re ready to take the next steps, get in touch with a local business that can supply you with the right products and service.


Picking the Right Commercial Furnace


Having a comfortable workspace is an important part of maintaining high employee morale, especially as more and more people return to the office after years of working from home. This involves having comfy work furniture and a well-stocked breakroom, but one of the most vital aspects is temperature control. It doesn’t matter how much you spent on ergonomic chairs when your workers are all shivering in their offices because you cheaped out on a furnace. A comfortable temperature is important to help your employees feel relaxed and focused on the work at hand.


The same goes for public-facing spaces as well. If you have customers or potential clients coming to your place of business, you should make sure they’re entering a warm and comfortable building. Whether you’re starting a new business and looking to buy your first commercial furnace or you’re replacing an older one in your existing workplace, there’s some basic information you should know to ensure you’re getting the proper equipment. Of course, a professional HVAC installer will always be willing and able to help you, but knowing what you want beforehand will make the whole process a lot smoother and guarantee that you’ll get a system that fits all your needs.


Furnaces vs Heat Pumps


When buying a new HVAC system to keep your building warm, the first step is deciding what kind of system you want. There are plenty of ways to heat a building, but by far the most common methods are furnaces and heat pumps. Both options will do fine warming up your place of business, but there are some key differences you should have in mind when deciding between the two.


Traditional furnaces have been around forever, and they remain the most popular way to warm a house or workplace. A furnace generates heat, either by burning a fuel source like gas or wood or by using an electrically-heated element. Heated air is then dispersed through the building through ducts and vents, allowing a single furnace to control the temperature for the entire workplace. They’re simple, reliable, and have been used by businesses all over the world for centuries at this point.


Heat pumps have also been around for a little while, but they didn’t become popular as an alternative until about 50 years ago. Unlike furnaces, heat pumps don’t actually generate any heat themselves. Instead, they use refrigerants to draw heat in from the outside, sort of like a reverse air conditioner. They’re smaller and easier to install than furnaces, but the biggest advantage of a heat pump is that it can double as an air conditioner during the summer. If you’re thinking of replacing both the heating and cooling sides of your HVAC system at once, picking up a heat pump will save you money since it can operate both ways.


You can also pick up smaller heat pumps that don’t require any ductwork. These mini-split units can be extremely effective and energy-efficient, but they’re really only useful as an auxiliary heating source since buying enough of them to cover an entire building would be prohibitively expensive. However, you might want to use a few of these smaller heat pumps to provide easy zoned heating to specific offices or back rooms that have different temperature requirements than the rest of the building. It’s often true that the best HVAC system will involve a few different sources of heating and cooling to ensure that each area is covered in the best and most efficient way possible.


The main downside of a heat pump is that it’s somewhat dependent on the temperature of the air outside. If the weather outside your business gets genuinely chilly during the winter, a heat pump might have a difficult time keeping the whole building warm. A furnace, meanwhile, will always be able to generate enough heat, even if the temperature dips below zero. You can check out this map from the US Department of Energy to get a general sense of where you stand – if you live in Climate Zones 4 through 7, a heat pump might not be the best option for you.


Different Fuel Options


If you do decide that a furnace is the best way to heat your business over the winter, the next step is to figure out what you’ll use for fuel. While the days of shoveling coal into a burning furnace are long gone, it’s still important to think about what your heating system will run on. Some houses in the colder parts of the country still use wood or pellet furnaces to keep warm, but commercial furnaces generally come in two different categories: gas and electric. The fuel source you decide on will affect the running cost, effectiveness, and efficiency of the system, so it’s a good idea to give it some thought.


In many cases, the availability of each fuel source will vary depending on which part of the country you’re in. This can greatly affect the cost of heating with that fuel source, so we recommend looking up the price of different fuel sources in your area and keeping them in mind as you make your decision. Generally, the information in this post is specific to the United States, so if you’re in a different part of the world you may want to look up other sources for information on climate zones and fuel availability.


Gas Furnaces


Gas furnaces are a little more traditional than electric furnaces. Much like old furnaces from centuries ago, they burn a combustible fuel source to create heat, but instead of using coal or wood, they use natural gas or propane. When the fuel is burned inside the furnace, the heat generated is transferred into the air by way of a heat exchanger that filters out any exhaust gasses. The heated air is then passed through vents, just like any other central air HVAC system.


There are a few different fuel sources you can use in your gas furnace. Natural gas is by far the most common and efficient source, but availability can vary. Typically, the efficiency of a furnace is measured by the percentage of gas energy that is transferred into heat in the air. Today’s natural gas furnaces are generally over 90% efficient, with some high-end models reaching up to 98%.


In areas where natural gas is less easily available, like parts of the northeast, many business owners use oil furnaces instead. Oil furnaces tend to reach efficiency levels of between 80 and 90%, making them slightly less efficient than natural gas, but they’re also significantly cheaper to purchase and install. Propane furnaces are also a highly efficient option, although they’re pretty expensive to install. In fact, most modern gas furnaces actually use a mixture of natural gas and propane to get the most efficiency possible.


The most significant downside to a gas furnace is usually going to be the initial cost. Purchasing and installing a natural gas furnace can cost you up to $10,000, which is a pretty hefty price tag. That being said, the month-to-month operating cost of a gas furnace is usually going to be significantly lower than an electric furnace, so it will save you money in the long run. Before picking up a gas furnace, we recommend checking out the price of natural gas and propane in your area, since some regions have prohibitively high costs for these fuel sources.


Electric Furnaces


In many ways, electric furnaces are pretty similar to gas furnaces. They’re both controlled by a thermostat or multiple thermostats placed through your building – when the temperature dips below a certain threshold, the thermostat sends a signal to the furnace to start generating heat. Electric furnaces also work best when hooked up to a central air system with ducts to deliver heated air throughout the area. That means that your employees likely won’t be able to tell the difference between electric and gas furnaces. The main differences are in the internal workings of the furnace, and mostly have to do with operating costs and efficiency.


Unlike gas furnaces, electric furnaces don’t actually burn any fuel when they operate, at least not directly. They work a little bit like a big toaster. Inside the furnace are heating elements, thick bands or wires made of metal with high electrical resistance – usually nickel and chromium. When electricity is fed into these wires, the resistance of the metal causes them to heat up and glow. An internal blower fan then blows air across the heated wires, warming the air so it can be passed through the ducts into the building. Once the thermostat detects that the temperature is back to the desired levels, the fan and heating elements switch back off. This is essentially the same technology you’d find in space heaters and other personal heating appliances, but on a much larger and more efficient scale.


The biggest advantage an electric furnace has over a gas furnace is cost. As we mentioned above, gas furnaces are pretty expensive to buy and install, costing up to $10,000 depending on the size and complexity of the system. An electric furnace, meanwhile, will rarely cost you more than $4,000 or so. This makes them significantly cheaper upfront, which can be nice if you’re just getting started and don’t have a ton of extra capital to spend on expensive HVAC appliances.


Electric furnaces also tend to last longer than the gas alternative. They’re durable, easy to maintain, and don’t require external fuel tanks that have to be replaced every decade or so. On average, an electric furnace will probably last about 10 years longer than a comparable gas furnace, which is a pretty major advantage. They’re also potentially more environmentally-friendly, depending on the methods used by your local power plants to generate electricity.


There is one major downside of an electric furnace, however, and it also has to do with the cost. These furnaces require a ton of electricity to function, which means that your monthly power bills are always going to be a lot higher. Electricity is almost always more expensive to produce than natural gas or propane, so unless you happen to live in an area where natural gas is hard to come by, you’re going to be spending a lot more every month to keep the furnace running. This is especially true in colder parts of the country, where the furnace will really have to work hard to keep the building warm all winter.


Sizing a Furnace


Once you’ve decided on the type of furnace you’d like to install, you’ll have to figure out the size. This is an extremely important step and shouldn’t be overlooked. Generally, your HVAC installation contractor will help you out with sizing the furnace, but it’s still a good idea to have a general sense of what your requirements will be. At the very least, you should have some numbers for them to look over, like the square footage of your building, the number of windows, and a few other bits of information they can use to calculate the ideal furnace size.


As you might imagine, an improperly sized furnace will cause all kinds of problems for your business. A furnace that’s too small won’t be able to keep the whole building warm all the time, leading to temperature fluctuations and chilly employees. A small furnace will also lead to much higher power bills, since it’ll have to be running essentially 24/7 to heat the entire building. This also creates excess strain on the parts inside the furnace, requiring extra maintenance and shortening the lifespan of the furnace.


On the flip side, a furnace that’s too large will also lead to problems. You might think that having an extra large furnace would ensure everything stays warm at all times, but that’s not the case. A large furnace will heat the air too quickly, causing the temperature to fluctuate between hot and cold as the furnace turns on and off rapidly. This also causes strain on the inner workings of the unit, shortening its lifespan. You’re always going to get better results if you take the time to properly size your furnace as well as the rest of your HVAC system.


When we talk about the size of a furnace, we’re not really referring to the physical dimensions of the unit. Furnace size is based on the amount of heat it can generate in a single hour, measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). You can calculate a rough estimate of your size requirements with just the square footage of your building and the climate zone you live in. If you live in zones 1, 2, and 3, multiply the square footage of the building by 35. If you live in zone 4, multiply it by 40. For zone 5, multiply the number by 45, and for zones 6 and 7, multiply by 50. The resulting number is a rough estimate of the proper size requirements for your building.


Of course, this isn’t a perfect equation. It leaves out plenty of other factors, like windows, the size of each room, and the number of employees you’ll have in the building at any one time. However, for a more in-depth calculation, we recommend just talking to an HVAC installer. They’ll be able to help you find the exact right size for your business.


Furnace Maintenance


Like any other major appliance, furnaces require regular maintenance to stay up and running. However, unlike with, say, a washing machine or refrigerator, you shouldn’t just wait until something goes wrong before having your furnace looked at. Maintaining any HVAC system, furnaces included, is a lot more like maintaining a car than a regular appliance. Preventative maintenance is really the most important thing you can do here, since just waiting until you need to make repairs is only going to cost you more in the long run. The good news is that furnaces don’t need to be checked on year round because they’re generally only running during the winter. Bringing in an HVAC technician once a year before you turn the furnace on for the winter should be more than enough to keep it running for a decade or longer, depending on the type of unit.


Gas furnaces are generally expected to run well for about 20 years. However, they do require regular maintenance to keep operating, so missing even a single yearly check-up can cause problems. That being said, the only thing you really need to do as the owner is just clean out the filter fairly regularly. A clogged or dirty air filter will cut down on the efficiency of the system, driving your natural gas bills up and putting wear and tear on the furnace. We recommend checking out the filter every month or two and cleaning it if it looks dirty. If the filter is completely clogged, your best bet is to just throw it out and pick up a new one. The other big caveat for gas furnaces is that the external fuel tanks can be vulnerable to rust and corrosion, and often need to be replaced every 10 years or so. That means you’ll likely have to buy a new tank at least once during the lifespan of your gas furnace.


Electric furnaces are typically easier to maintain than their gas-powered counterparts. That being said, you should probably still get your electric furnace checked out every year in case of any problems. A repair bill will always be more expensive than a maintenance bill, so it’s smarter to stay ahead of any potential issues. Electric furnaces also have air filters, so you should make sure to check on these as well. If you keep up on regular maintenance, a high-end electric furnace can last you longer than a gas one, up to 25 or even 30 years.


When you’re installing a new furnace, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different maintenance procedures for the unit. Even if you won’t be handling the maintenance in-house, it’s worth knowing what the most common failure points in each unit are, so you can know what to expect if something does go wrong. You should also find a service provider as soon as possible. Often times you can just use the same contractor that handled your installation, but it’s still worth shopping around. It’s important to find a technician that you can form a long-term relationship with.


Finding the Right Provider


Balancing all the factors and finding the right furnace for you can be difficult, but it’s a lot easier if you work with an experienced team of HVAC professionals. We suggest asking your friends and family members for recommendations to make sure you’re working with someone you know you can trust to treat you fairly and do good work. If things go well, you can work with the same company for the entire lifespan of your furnace, so it’s a good idea to find someone you can trust and have a good rapport with. When all else fails, checking online reviews can also give you a good sense of whether or not a company is trustworthy and does good work.


If you’re in Sonoma, Napa, or Marin County and you’re thinking of installing a commercial furnace, or you just have more questions, feel free to get in touch with us at Valley Comfort Heating & Air. We’re confident that we have more than enough experience to handle any furnace-related needs you might have. You can contact us through our website, give us a call at (707) 539-4533, or come into our location in Santa Rosa and give us a visit.