Time to get a new heating system?

If you’re getting fat utility bills, blame your furnace: home heating and water heating account for a whopping 80 per cent of home energy use in Canada. On the bright side, you can save big by replacing an old furnace with an energy efficient furnace. Upgrading to a top-line, 95 per cent energy-efficient furnace from a 60 per cent efficient older model will save you 35 per cent off your heating costs, or around $200 per year depending on current fuel costs. Your provincial utility may also offer a rebate or tax incentive on the purchase of an efficient furnace. 

Check your numbers

Because many factors (cost of energy, weather, occupant behaviour, etc.) will affect your home heating needs, you should have a heating-load or heating-loss calculation performed by a qualified contractor. While there may be a fee of $150 to $300 for this service, the result — to determine the ideal capacity and distribution flows for the new equipment — will be invaluable in choosing the best type and size of heating system for your home. 

What kind of heat?

Gas and oil forced-air furnaces
Most homes in Canada use forced-air furnaces for heating. Newer models are much more energy-efficient than in the past, so replacing your furnace can save you money and energy. Look for an Energy Star–rated furnace with a minimum 95 per cent annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. AFUE is essentially the percentage of fuel turned into heat: higher AFUE means a more efficient furnace (though you’ll always lose some heat to the outside). Since 2010, all new gas furnaces manufactured for Canadian homes must have a minimum 90 per cent fuel efficiency.

Gas and oil boilers

Boilers use a fuel (usually gas, propane, oil or electricity) to heat water that circulates to heating units such as baseboard heaters or radiators. Boilers designed for space heating can also provide domestic hot water for residences. Energy efficiency in a boiler is also measured by its AFUE, as described for forced-air furnaces above. Gas- and oil-fired boilers can qualify for Energy Star, but electric boilers cannot.

Electric furnaces and baseboard systems 

Electric furnaces are not included in the EnerGuide rating system since there is little difference in energy efficiency between various market models. 

Integrated mechanical systems (IMS)

If your furnace has conked out and you need to replace it, consider integrated mechanical systems that heat your house and your water, while also providing ventilation. From an energy efficiency perspective, these "combo" units may be your best choice.

Heat pumps 

Heat pumps are becoming more widely used in Canada. Heat pumps transfer heat between the air or the earth (ground-source or water-source) and your house, using the same principle of condensing gases as a refrigerator. The system can heat in the winter and cool in the summer, and may also provide hot water. A heat pump may require a supplemental heat source for our coldest days, but the technology continues to improve and newer models should soon be available that can do without it. Heat pumps do use electricity to run the fan and compressor, so savings depend on local electricity prices. 

Expert installation 

For installation, hire someone who understands energy-efficient furnaces. A good installer will make sure new ductwork is installed properly and that the furnace and ducts are operating at maximum efficiency. The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada can help you locate an installer in your area

General furnace maintenance

The common lifespan for a furnace is two decades, but only if you have it checked by a professional annually for any maintenance that may be required. Skipping this vital step can cause your heating system to break down prematurely. Changing or cleaning your furnace filter regularly is an equally important step to keep your furnace in working order. Leave it too long and you'll be exposing yourself and your family to airborne dust particles that could affect your health.