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Publication date: 10/12/2012

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Focus on furnace as weather gets colder


After a hot summer where the air conditioner got a good workout, the cool air now puts the focus on the furnace. This year you may want to consider buying a new one before a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) rule takes effect that could increase the cost dramatically.

The DOE last year established amended energy conservation standards for residential furnaces that will mandate the type of furnace you will be able to have installed. In essence, the rule mandates the selling and installation of only 90 percent or higher Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) gas furnaces in the Northern region after May 1, 2013.

"After this rule takes effect, we won't be able to sell and install 80 percent furnaces, which are popular for smaller homes," said George Klempert, president of Family Heating, Cooling and Electrical, (734) 422-8080, "The cost increase if a homeowner has to buy a 90 percent furnace instead of an 80 percent is around $700."

So if you have a 20-year-old furnace, and an 80 percent furnace would be sufficient for your home or budget, it would make financial sense to get that new furnace this winter rather than waiting until next winter. Of course, if you have a larger home, the furnace with a higher efficiency rating can be worth the additional $700.

"If you have a 2,000-square-foot colonial, it really makes sense to buy the 90 percent AFUE or higher furnace, and with the energy savings you get versus the 80 percent, most people can expect to get a payback on the cost difference in three to five years," Klempert said.

Besides the energy savings, Consumer Energy customers who buy a 94 percent AFUE furnace can qualify for a $400 rebate. DTE Energy and MichCon also have a $400 rebate for its customers who buy a 95 percent AFUE furnace.

Along with the cost of the furnace itself, Klempert said there could also be additional costs for homeowners who install a 90 percent furnace because these furnaces often cannot be vented into existing chimneys and will require expensive additional ventilation work to be done. In some cases, it is not even possible to put in the newer 90 percent furnace without renovations because of space concerns, especially in condominiums or homes where the furnace is installed in a crawl space, attic or garage. In those instances, the more cost-effective solution would be to install an 80 percent AFUE furnace. But if you wait, that option won't be available.

Klempert said some heating and cooling trade associations have asked the DOE to delay the implementation of the ruling another 18 months because many dealers have stocked up on 80 percent furnaces and won't be able to sell them all by the May 1, 2013, deadline. He said the industry expects to know in December whether the deadline will be extended or not, but there is no guarantee the DOE will extend the deadline.

The DOE's mission is to increase every home's energy efficiency. On the surface, that's a fine goal. But as with many government mandates, the cost to the homeowner can often be out of reach. If you even think you may want a new furnace in the next few years, especially if you want or need an 80 percent AFUE, you better call now to get an estimate from your heating and cooling contractor.

Also make sure you hire a reputable contractor that has lots of experience installing furnaces properly. In addition to Family Heating, other quality heating contractors you might consider include Flame Heating, Cooling and Electrical, (888) 234-2340,, and Thornton and Grooms, (248) 430-0919,

There are many benefits to having a more energy-efficient furnace installed in your home. It is better to break out the most important tool in your toolbox — your checkbook — and buy that new furnace now. That ensures you'll get the best price and start saving before the cold winds of winter start blowing.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail If you want to talk to Glenn Haege personally, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The “Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations nationwide. 

Note: This article was accurate at the date of publication. However, information contained in it may have changed. If you plan to use the information contained herein for any purpose, verification of its continued accuracy is your responsibility.

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