Natural gas is the most common way to power a furnace. That’s why all major brands – from Carrier, Trane, American Standard to Lennox – are racing to create the best gas furnaces.
That race is pretty much just about one thing: Energy-efficiency. Why?
Well, the biggest selling point of gas furnaces is that they have the lowest running cost. For example, to create 1,000,000 BTU of heating, we need:
- Electricity: $38.66. Average heating season cost: $2,226.82.
- Heating oil: $27.16. Average heating season cost: $1564.42.
- Natural gas: $13.05. Average heating season cost: $751.68.
Just by using natural gas, we can save almost $1,500 per heating season compared to the electric furnace heating. The very low running cost is due to a low price of natural gas compared to heating oil and, especially, electricity.
The best way to create a superior gas furnace is to design one which can extract as much energy as possible from every single cubic inch of natural gas. The race to increased efficiency started in the 50s. Here is how we got here:
- 1950s: Old standing pilot oil furnaces have 50% – 60% energy-efficiency (top AFUE rating was 60).
- 1970s: Natural draft gas furnaces have a 65% energy-efficiency (65 AFUE rating).
- 2000s: Forced vent furnaces increase energy-efficiency to 80% (that was outstanding at the time).
- 2010s: Invention of condensing gas furnaces capable of up to 90% energy-efficiency.
- 2015 and on: Upgraded condensing unit (multi-stage burners, outside combustion air, multi-speed fans) skyrocketed the energy efficiency to at much as 97% (97 AFUE rating).
Basically, we live in the golden age of gas furnaces. The most advanced units have come extremely close to 100% efficiency. For every 1$ of gas, we get $0.97 of heating energy.
Before, people had to upgrade their gas furnaces. Now, with 97% efficiency units, you know you won’t have to upgrade your unit and it will easily serve you well for 20 years.
We will quickly go over the 3 vital things you need to know before you call an installer for estimates. In the end, you’ll find a table of the best gas furnaces, with unit prices and installation costs. We’ll also reveal how you can easily get 4 free estimates from gas furnace installers in your area.
3 Things To Know Before Calling A Gas Furnace Installer
Before you start getting estimates for furnace installation, it’s important to understand the basic principles that affect the overall heating costs.
We’ve also figured out that energy-efficiency is the most important specification. We’ll calculate how much better the 97 AFUE gas furnace is compared to 80 AFUE one.
Additionally, we’ll look at key features to look for when buying a new gas furnace. Most of them are designed to increase energy-efficiency and to stabilize the indoor temperature during the winter.
What is even more important, we’ll check which are the most reliable HVAC brands that offer gas furnaces.
Gas Furnace Energy Efficiency (AFUE Rating)
The intense race to create the most high-efficiency gas furnace might not be apparent at first. As will all furnaces, this is how we can calculate the overall cost of a gas furnace:
Total Gas Furnace Cost = Unit Cost + Installation Cost + Gas Cost
When we’re looking for a new gas furnace, we usually focus on the unit price and installation price. But what really matters in the long-turn (10-25 years) is how efficient the unit is.
The reason is simple. Here is the distribution of costs:
- Unit cost: 10%.
- Installation cost: 20%.
- Gas cost: 70%.
Those $3,000-$6,000 costs of a gas furnace and $6,000-$10,000 installation cost is nothing compared to the gas cost. If we buy a very ineffective unit, we’re looking to spend $50,000 just on gas in 20 years. How much can we save by investing in a high-efficiency furnace? Let’s look at the following example.
Example: We have two 100,000 BTU gas furnaces. The first one has 80% efficiency (80 AFUE) and the second one has 97% efficiency (97 AFUE). If we run them for 720 hours per season, with an average price of residential natural gas (source: statista.com, 2019 prices) $10.60 per 1,000 cubic feet, we get:
- 80 AFUE gas furnace: 86.79 thousand cubic feet, which costs $919.97/season.
- 97 AFUE gas furnace: 71.58 thousand cubic feet, which costs $758.75/season.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas contains 1,037,000 BTU of energy. 80 AFUE can extract 80% of that or 829,600 BTU. 97 AFUE can extract 97% of that or 1,005,890 BTU.
That results in a $161,22/season difference in natural gas cost in favor of 97 AFUE furnace. Here is how much you can save in 10 years and in 20 years just by switching from 80% to 97% efficiency gas furnace:
- 10-year savings: $1,612.20.
- 20-year savings: $3,224.40.
It’s no wonder why so many people are replacing their old gas furnaces with new ones. Plus, new ones have some extra features:
Features Of 2020 Gas Furnaces
In order to achieve +90% efficiency, the gas furnaces needed significant improvements. For 90% efficiency, the condensing unit is enough. To jump that extra 7 % (which can save you more than $1,000 in 20 years), the modern gas furnaces had to be equipped with extra features. These include:
- Variable-Speed Blower. In old furnaces, you one had 1 or, at best, 2 airflow setting. With a variable-speed blower, you can have several lower airflow settings. This adds to energy-efficiency and also reduced the noise levels.
- 2-Level Heating Capacity. In the 2000s, if you bought a 100,000 BTU gas furnace, you had to always run it on 100,000 BTU. Modern furnaces offer additional lower heat capacity settings. For example, you can run a 100,000 BTU unit on 100,000 BTU or on 60,000 BTU (for sunnier winter days).
- Secondary heat exchanger. In addition to the primary heat exchanger, modern furnaces have a stainless steel second heat exchanger that pumps out additional BTUs from burning gas.
- HEPA Filters. People with lung diseases might be sensitive to a very low concentration of air pollutants. In order to minimize pollutants that might come out of a gas furnace, a HEPA filter is attached to the exhaust.
When comparing gas furnaces, be mindful of these features. They are a true testament of quality and good engineering that went into the design of the furnace.
Best Gas Furnace Brands
These big brands primary focus is the most popular type of furnace: the gas ones. When talking with your installer about gas furnaces, you can rest assured that you’ll already know all of the big brands with the longest tradition and best reliability scores.
The best big brands that sell gas furnaces are:
- Lennox. Unit price: $5,400. They have a 99 AFUE model SLP99UH090XV60C- that is even featured on ENERGY STAR for most efficient furnaces.
- Trane. Unit price: $4,500.
- Ruud. Unit price: $4,400.
- American Standard. Unit price: $4,200.
- Carrier. Unit price: $3,900.
- Rheem. Unit price: $2,800.
It makes sense that only the big companies had enough resources to develop high-efficiency models. That why we don’t see many new and low-price gas furnace manufacturers. One lower price manufacturer worth mentioning is Bryant.
In recent years, Bryant has made some incredible leaps in designing high-efficiency gas furnaces. Their unit price can be as low a $2,500.
Gas Furnace Brand Comparison Table With Unit Prices And Installation Costs
As promised, we have summarized the best brand in a neat table. With each one, you’ll see the unit price to give you an idea of the prices you can expect.
What is more, we have called a few gas furnace installers to get free advice and quotes. The rough estimates of gas furnace installation costs are included in the table.
If you ever decide to buy a gas furnace, you can turn to these experts and ask them about a specific unit price and installation costs. They can even give you a discount if they are working with a certain brand. You can fill in a short form here and get 4 free quotes.
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If you have any questions regarding the energy-efficiency of gas furnaces, you’re welcome to use the comment section below.