What furnace should we get?

Discussion in 'HVAC Heating & Cooling' started by Sincraft, Jul 10, 2007.

  1. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Ok, need some expert (and possibly amateur) advice here!
    We have been 'thinking' of changing out our furnace for a few years now.

    We moved into this place, a townhouse with shared walls on both sides, but out 1400 sq townhouse utilizes about $300-350 in gas bills per month during the coldest months. Our air conditioner using about $150 during the summer months.

    Our windows are older and are going to be replaced.

    We are unsure what to do about the furnace/air however.

    We have had 4 people here, and the rates they are quoting are FAR higher than most others we know that have had work done in their houses. And each company doesn't seem to agree as to what needs done?????????

    Our old furnace vents through a flu that the water heater is connected to. Two of the companies told me that a 'sleeve' will need to be put up all the way to the third floor out the chimney vent because the pipe is too large for the water heater. Sounds right to me but what do I know.

    The other two told me they could put a blower in and I wouldn't have to do that??? sounds right to me also, but what do I know??

    I've had recommendations to go from SUPER effecient, to not even bothering and just using the same exhaust system instead of outside the side of the house, to push it up the way it is done now, through the shared vent with the water heater.

    We plan on being here another 5 years but I know the furnace is on it's last legs.

    Many of the companies want to replace our somewhat new air conditioner also. Their explanations sound like gobbly gook to me, but again - what do I know..??

    Any advice on this would be great. I want the best furnace I can get for the money, and I'll research that...but I need to know what efficiency to get.
    Many have advised us that we will not recoup our additional costs to go with a higher efficiency. The run from the furnace to the outside is a straight shot and I've offered to do most of the work (removing the old and drilling the holes to the outside..one for the lower ones and two for the higher ones)

    Not sure what else I can do to figure out what one to get...and the reasoning behind it.

    Thanks..
  2. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    The first question is what part of the country do you live in. What State.
  3. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    It sounds to me like they are all saying something would need to be done with the water-heater vent if you have a high-efficiency furnace installed, and I would definitely go with the sleeve or "flue liner" rather than a blower. I have one of those, and it is merely a thin, flexible aluminum duct hanging from the top of the old chimney.

    The decision about trying to keep all heat inside the house by installing a high-efficiency furnace can be a difficult one. Personally, I have an older furnace with an aftermarket heat exchanger on the exhaust to catch at least some of the nickels and dimes otherwise floating out into the sky.

    If it works fine, I would look for the installer willing to simply adapt it to fit/work with the evaporator in the new furnace.

    High-efficiency furnaces blow virtually no heat out into the sky, but they can also be comparatively high-tech, expensive-to-purchase-and-maintain-and-repair nightmares when something goes wrong.
  4. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Cass, I'm in Pennsylvania.
    Lee - so would you recommend the highest effeciency that would keep with using the old flu system keeping the initial costs down? That would eliminate the need for a flu sleeve or for them to punch out to the outside wall so from what I can tell I would save about 1.2k.

    Nobody can tell me what mine is currently. One said it is 50%, several others 70%. The one that told me 50% is this really old guy that is expensive and swears alot lol - but let me tell you, he seems to REALLY know his stuff. He rattled off a million reason why I should go with an 80%er. I pretended to comprehend but being slow witted, I really only understood about 60% of what he was saying. :)

    S
  5. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,139
    Location:
    New England
    By careful interpretation of the data spec on the old furnace, you can get a good idea of its efficiency. They usually show input BTU and output BTU...just generate the out/in ratio and you'll be close.

    To obtain the maximum efficiency with an a/c unit, it needs to be matched to a corresponding evaporator unit. The refrigerant on yours may not be compatible, and cannot be used. All new a/c systems must be at least a SEER of 12 or above (some are over 18 now).

    You don't necessarily want to replace your a/c or furnace with the same size as is there now...they often oversized them. You need a good heat loss analysis or you may end up with a new system that doesn't create the best comfort or efficiency.

    The most efficient (I assume gas?) furnaces are 2-stage with a variable speed blower that uses a closed combustion system. The comfort levels available from these are exceptional. Efficiency gets into the mid-90% range. Check out the Federal tax credits before you make a decision along with the local gas utility to see if they have any rebates (I got $1100 back from a new boiler install earlier this year from the gas company).

    The maximum comfort and efficiency occurs when the system is sized properly and can run 100% of the time. You lose energy if it is short-cycled by being too large. In the summer, you especially want it to run most of the time to remove the moisture. If it is too big, you end up with a clammy interior environment. Much better to have it dry and maybe not even as cold. The variable speed fan helps immensly in this application since it starts out slow which keeps the air in contact with the evaporator coils longer, drawing more moisture out with each pass. It only ramps up to max if it can't maintain set temps at the lower fan speeds.

    When I switched originally to a more efficient system, my gas and electric bills went down by 1/3-1/2. My condo is 1100 sq ft in NH, my budget gas bill is $63/month with a gas stove, dryer and hot water. My electric bills went down the most with a good (14 SEER vs a7.5 SEER).

    Now, will it pay for itself, especially within 5-years, probably not, but it will probably make the place easier to sell when the time comes.
  6. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    That is probably what I would do, but I am not saying that would be best for you. I try to keep things as simple as possible so I have at least half a shot at maintaining my DIY status when something goes wrong at 3am!
  7. PEW

    PEW DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    487
    My recommendation is to always go as high effeciency as can be afforded, and to even stretch if possible. Fuel costs are not going down. And, it will always be a plus should the property be sold.
  8. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    This townhouse is the freaking money pit. Great deal at first BUT it needed, .... everything. Alot of the places where we live are selling with the old stuff in it, but hopefully when we sell people will realize that we have 100% real marble floors in all the bathrooms, granite or something just as nice for the countertops - and all the vanities / cabinets are SUPER nice.

    The best part is, I got HUGE deals on every piece of supply I put into the house that one would think would be expensive. Marble tile 1.50 a sq...and it's some of the nicest tile I've ever seen. Normally $7 but someone backed out of a deal and I was in the right place. Same with the vanities and the tops.

    The problem now is this stupid furnace. Our ductwork is non functioning and blocked partially and we might have to gut a wall or two to resolve the problem. A guy told me this would cost $4k to do this. I can do it for about $100 so , I guess it's all labor. (of course I'll snake cam it first, which I strangely own now)

    Anyway thanks for the tips guys. I appreciate it. I'm going to go with the person I trust the most and create a spreadsheet and run the numbers of the cost/benefit (which I was desperately trying to avoid!) lol. That will be the be all end all for me...the $$$$ in the end.

    Next is, new driveway *sigh*
  9. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    Do you have any idea what that is about? The only thing I can imagine is a child lifting a loose louver and stuffing the cat or something ...
  10. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Well, without having knowledge of the schematics of how they ran it, I can assume based on how I see it spitting out from the main area, that there is a pretty straight run and it should be getting air. Nothing. Same for another location that probably comes off of that one.

    The people that did the HVAC in these places did it on a 'lowest bidder' basis..

    Now, I've talked to others that complain about very mediocre air coming from certain vents, but nobody complaining about NO air.

    SO yes I'm assuming something is stuck in there. Possibly a valve flipped closed or, maybe they never even connect the duct work lol. Who knows.
  11. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    You need to have who ever you decide to buy from do a good load calculation based on the homes insulation, windows, doors, etc. and be sure the up stairs is balanced right with the down stairs. Have you ever been in a house where the 1st. floor was 65 in the summer and when you went to the 2nd floor it was 75 or 80?
    Personally I like Trane products. they have some with 10 year parts and labor warranty's.
  12. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Yea I've heard good of Trane..
    Our house is as described.
    COLD downstairs in my office, which can't be adjusted during the winter enough.

    WARM upstairs or COLD depending on the season. The winter isn't really a problem upstairs as we prefer the cold to some extent over the heat of the summer.

    Not sure what they can do for us. I've gone as far as to close all the vents downstairs to see if I could cool the upstairs.

    nothing.

    The blown in garbage in our attic probably only has an R factor of 6 or something very low. It's about 5" of blown in insulation.
  13. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,139
    Location:
    New England
    Actually, blown in cellulose insulation has better characteristics than fiberglass...less convective heat loss and better at sealing drafts - about the same in insulating properties. A big discriminator in how well a forced air system works is how well the return ducts are layed out. My guess is that you may not have much of any return on the upper floor. Adding one, if not there, can make a huge difference. Also, if you get a system with a variable speed fan, (works with regular ones, too, but the costs go up) running the fan continuously helps to even the temperatures out. The last thing to look at if you do any remodeling and have things torn out is the ducts for leaks. The joints should be sealed, and only putting the conditioned air out the registers, not in the walls. That can have a huge effect. If the upstairs ducts run in the attic, adding more insulation over them can make a big difference, too. Think about adding a radiant barrier insulation (foil covered paper) stapled under the roof joists...it lowered my attic temp by about 20-degrees and keeps the ceiling temperature the same as the interior walls! Think about it...running conditioned air though a space that might be 140-degrees in the summer and below zero in the winter. The measly insulation on a duct doesn't do much - your air outlet will be messed up. I've added R19 batts over mine, and that helped.
  14. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Sounds like an idea for the roof of the attic *underside of course*. I'll have to look into that.
    None of our ductwork goes through the attic however running a return or new duct (square) wouldn't be a problem as I plan on ripping out something downstairs below the hottest bedroom anyway :)

    I know there are probably leaks because the duct the runs under our bathroom floor does not sit against the floor boards yet the new marble tile is nice and toasty warm during the winter. Many believe it's actually heated. And where it ends up in the 3rd bedroom, the air coming out is lack luster at best. When I had that bathroom gutted, I didn't fudge with it because that bedroom actually for one reason or another is the most comfortable.

    I'm going to have to get serious professional help here and at the very least, get an idea of what I need to do to ensure comfort throughout the house. One HVAC guy recommended a two stage system with electronic dampers or something like that but also came in with a rather lofty quote of 10k for furnace/air and 'limited ductwork' including a control system that monitored the upstairs and 'may help' to reduce some of the invariance (direct quote from the quote)
  15. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    If there are no plans for the attic I would strongly consider another 10" or 15" more of blown in insulation, it will make a huge difference, 5" is nothing.

    You can get the blowing machines at Low*s for free with a certain # of bags of insulation and do it your self. It would be the least $$$ and the biggest return for the buck.
  16. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    We have 2x4 rafters. It's a townhouse slapped next to two other town houses. cement block all the way to the very top. You would 'think' it would be more economical but for some reason we have the most expensive heating bill compared to the two neighbors. They admittedly keep their temps down during the day to 65 during the winter and 75 during the summer. I would think they are drawing off of us through convection.

    The attic has a partition of the center with about a 10 foot by 6 foot area that has boards for storage up there. The rest is open to the roof and does not need to be used at the moment for additional storage.

    I could remove all those items and 'float' the storage floor after blowing in more insulation but that maybe a wasted effort as it would involve removing the old and then replacing it with the new riser blocks to set it up off of the insulation.

    From what I can tell, they attempted to blow in about 6-8"s of insulation in there. You would recommend more?

    I was actually thinking of removing ALL of it and putting the rolled stuff in. The current stuff is so dirty and has just pulverized over the years to almost pure dust.

    We haven't pursued anymore quotes just yet. I've got some critical things I have to attend to first then once finished, I'm going to tackle this project either way.
  17. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,139
    Location:
    New England
    Fiberglass insulation allows much more convection than blown in stuff, so in the end run is less efficient than what you have. From a fire prevention aspect, did they build a fire wall between each unit in the attic? This would be probably a stud wall with 5/8" or more fire resistant drywall on each side.

    Are all of the units identical in size? Do you know if there is any insulation in the dividing walls?

    Look at www.insuladd.com. You may not like the texture, but it has some sound engineering support.
  18. Sincraft

    Sincraft New Member

    Messages:
    58
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Sorry for dragging this out but I figured I would respond to the previous reply in case someone else was interested in this topic:

    The units are different sizes. Ours is the largest (3 bedroom w/fireplace). The flu goes through the attic and there is a hole straight down that insulation is dropping into. I'm concerned as this obviously will drop nearest the hottest point. The fireplace is getting old and we are having a HUGE issue trying to find someone that has a clue to inspect, clean, repair fireplaces. Although, no shortage of places that want to sell you a fireplace or installation. Yet they can't refer a person to service. Good business to be in I suppose around here.

    Each unit is build with cinder block separating each unit. Very good for some proofing.
  19. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    If Your end wall is cement block it is most likely not insulated and you are losing a lot of heat through the blocks. There are company's that can insulate block walls.

    End units always will cost more to heat /cool because of the exposed end that the others don't have.

    Your fireplace can cost you a lot of $$$ during the winter if it does not have a tight damper that is kept closed. Many people insulate and cover and do not use fireplaces in the winter because if the amount of heat loss that can occur.

    When using the fireplace most times the heat loss will exceed the BTU imput from the wood being burned due to the chimney draft required unless there is a combustion air intake built into it.

    The greatest loss will occour during the time the fire is burning out and is not putting out enough heat to compensate for the chimney draft needed to keep the smoke out of the house and the heated brick inside the chimney is causing more draft than required.
  20. alternety

    alternety Like an engineer

    Messages:
    671
    Location:
    Washington
    If the fireplace chimney does not have a air seal around it you will be losing a lot of heated air through the opening. If you want to seal it you must use code approved material. That space left around it is required by code to prevent ignition of surrounding flammable surfaces. Check with someone who knows what they are doing.

    Fireplace - there are devices that consist of a sealed damper on the top of the pipe with a cable going down the pipe and into the fireplace. You close the damper when not using the fireplace an it stops direct air loss. Much better than the internal damper.

    Depending on what Type of blown in insulation you have (fiberglass or paper) you may be able to see air leaks by looking for dirty spots. Areas to look at are any penetrations (wires, plumbing, etc.). These leaks will not only cost you money they will also put warm moist air into the attic, A warm roof can cause ice dams with subsequent damage. When I snows, look at your roof. Do some spots melt right away? Faster that other roofs?

    A furnace solution from left field.Get a high efficiency low mass (little water in the boiler itself) boiler, replace the water heater with an indirect tank supplied from boiler water, use a coil to generate hot air. If you ducts are really screwed up between floors you could use multiple fan units to eliminate the connecting ducts.

    Do this and you can abandon and seal the roof vent. This configuration will use the side of the house for combustion air and exhaust. This is pricey. You also need to look at what temp you need for the heating air. When the boiler temp has to be above about 130 degrees, the efficiency drops off. Below that (used for radiant heat) efficiencies can approach 98%. You need someone skilled to examine this alternative. If the BTU requirement is within range there are hot water heaters that are condensing boilers like I have been talking about. They may be cheaper overall than a boiler + indirect DHW tank. They are not as clever as the standalone boilers.

    OK. Food for thought. Good luck in your project.
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