Get to Know: Furnaces

Get To Know Furnaces


Arctic blasts of air are no fun, especially for those of us living in mild climates! When the winter weather gets really cold, we rely on our heating systems to keep us toasty warm. But which type of heater is the best for our unique needs in the South?

A few weeks ago we discussed heat pumps. These are one of the most popular heating solutions in our area, but they do have a drawback – they’re only efficient at temperatures down to 40°F. Any cooler than that and they become less efficient (and more expensive) to run.

Furnaces are another popular option to ensure that your home is cozy no matter what the temperature outside. What are the benefits of this type of forced air heating system?


What Is A Furnace?

Like a heat pump, a furnace is part of a forced air heating system. This type of heating system uses energy to warm air and then forces that air through ductwork into the rooms of your home. Forced air heating is one of the most popular heating systems in the U.S., although there are other options available.

Furnaces can be run entirely on electricity, gas, or oil. In electric units, electricity is used to heat a series of metal coils, which then heat the air within the furnace. This air is then forced through the ducts, into your house, creating a warm environment.

In gas & oil furnaces, the fuel is burned to create heat. The burning process heats a metal plate, which in turn heats air that is then forced through the ductwork. A flue or pipe gets rid of exhaust produced from the burning process.


Benefits of a Furnace

So why would anyone opt for a furnace over a heat pump in our area? It just depends on individual needs. Heat pumps are a common choice for heating in the South, but furnaces provide more consistent heat at lower temperatures.

When temperatures drop below 40°F, heat pumps rely on electrically heated coils – not unlike a giant space heater – to produce warmth for your indoor space. This method is not particularly efficient and can end with high energy bills. On the other hand, gas furnaces are more efficient at lower temperatures and can be less expensive to run during times when the weather gets very cold.

Some people may be concerned about the cost of gas, remembering older furnaces that guzzled fuel to produce heat. Those days are long gone! New high-efficiency furnaces consume less fuel than older models, making them more environmentally friendly than they were in the past. So new furnaces are greener and have the potential to save you some cash on winter energy bills.

However, just like air conditioning systems, it is important to get the right size furnace for your home. Incorrectly sized furnaces not only leave your home uncomfortable but also can cost serious money. If you are considering a furnace for your home, it’s best to have a professional help you determine the best size and model for your needs.


Electric vs. Gas

If you think a furnace is right for your home, the next choice is electric vs. gas or oil. The difference between these types of furnaces basically boils down to efficiency and cost.

Some people enjoy the idea of electric furnaces, due to their environmentally friendly nature, their low initial cost, and their smaller size. They are also beneficial for homes that don’t have access to gas lines or oil storage. For homes with solar panels, electric furnaces can be powered using energy from the Sun.

The main downfall to electric furnaces is cost. In many places, electricity costs more than gas or oil. While the initial cost of an electric furnace is lower, it is possible that monthly power bills will override the initial savings. But having an electrically powered system does have one major benefit – there is no risk associated with carbon monoxide.

While it is true that both gas and oil furnaces can be more expensive in the beginning, their monthly energy costs tend to be lower. Gas and oil systems tend to do a better job of heating overall and are less prone to some of the technical malfunctions that electric systems can have. The major con for gas and oil systems is the risk associated with carbon monoxide, but having a system that is properly maintained, installed, and inspected regularly by a professional can mitigate this problem.


Possible Problems

Just like any other HVAC system, furnaces have their own set of common problems. If you are considering a furnace, these are the most likely troubleshooting issues you will encounter:

Dirty Filters – Just as with any other type of forced air system, clear airflow is key to keeping everything running smoothly. Dirty filters block airflow and can cause all sorts of problems. Furnace owners should keep this important maintenance step in mind to prevent major issues.

Pilot Light Goes Out – This problem is specific to gas and oil systems. If the pilot light goes out on your system, your furnace no longer has a way to burn fuel to produce heat. This is one of the first things you should check in the event that you find your system is not heating the way it should.

Routine Wear & Tear – As mentioned earlier, electrical furnaces tend to have more wear and tear issues than gas or oil systems. In reality, though, parts wear out regardless of fuel source. Having an annual inspection of your furnace will help you identify small problems before they become large ones.

Furnace Switch Mistaken Identity – This is a common issue when a furnace suddenly seems to lose power. A lot of furnaces have a switch installed nearby as a means of quickly turning off power if necessary. That switch oftentimes looks just like a regular light switch, and it can be easy for someone to accidentally turn it off thinking it powers a light. This is another troubleshooting step if you find you have suddenly lost heat.

Carbon Monoxide – Gas and oil furnaces, unfortunately, carry the risk of carbon monoxide as a byproduct from the fuel burning process. If you have a gas or oil furnace, having an annual inspection can help ensure that everything is in good working order. Be sure to properly install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home as a preventative measure.


If you are considering a furnace for your home, give Brown Heating & Cooling a call. Our technicians can provide information on sizing, what models will provide the highest energy efficiency, and how you can keep your furnace in top condition for years to come! We’re available at (205) 871-8111 or by sending us an email.