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Furnace Basics: What You Need to Know

During the winter months, it is necessary to have a fully functioning furnace in your home. Though millions rely on a furnace to keep their homes habitable, very few people know the basics of a furnace. This means if they need to buy a new one or seek help in fixing their existing one, they are at the mercy of their repairman. Understanding the basics of a furnace can make all the difference for a homeowner’s heat supply and pocketbook. Here is what you need to know about your furnace:

How Furnaces Work

A furnace works hand in hand with your thermostat.  You indicate the temperature you want your home to be and should the temperature drop below that indicated amount, the oil or gas burner comes to life and heats the house back up. Your furnace shoots heated air at a speed of 700ft per minute to your rooms. The basic components are:

  • The Burner: This is the apparatus that burns the gas that comes through it.
  • Heat Exchanger: This takes the heat that was produced by the burning gas and pushes to the distribution system.
  • Ductwork: How the heat is transferred to every room in your house
  • Vent pipe or flue: Where the exhaust and byproducts are released outdoors.


What Kinds of Furnaces Are There?

Single-Stage Furnace: These furnaces are the simplest on the market. Though the modern day single-stage furnace is much more sophisticated than the older models, they both still utilize single-speed blowers. Some newer features include an inducer and an electronic ignition system.

Two-Stage Furnace: This furnace can produce two different output levels. They generally operate at a lower capacity, which helps reduce the cost of heating your home. However, should the cold weather intensify, the second level is there to transmit some additional heat to keep you comfortable.

Modulating/Variable-Speed Furnace: This furnace type is able to respond to your heating demands by precisely matching the needs set upon it. It allows the air to circulate for longer and doesn’t allow the air to stratify much. It’s usually quiet and provides a tremendous amount of savings from its use.

How to Tell If a Furnace Is Efficient

Technicians usually calculate your furnace efficiency measuring the AFUE, or annual fuel utilization efficiency. This percentage shows just how much of the heat your furnace generates from the fuel used, and how much heat escapes outside before it has a chance to circulate through the home. Based on these numbers, you can tell whether your furnace has low, medium, or high efficiency.

The Takeaway

Understanding these basics will help you navigate what’s happening to your furnace should you start to experience issues. The next time you’re speaking with your furnace expert, you won’t have to nod along politely while you’re silently wondering what he’s talking about. You can be an actively part of the conversation about your furnace and make informed decisions about how your furnace should be repaired or what model of furnace you want to replace your last one.