What Do I Need to Know About Installing a Furnace?

Oil furnaces are usually more expensive to purchase and service, but they also tend to be less costly to operate. So if you’re on a tight budget and costs matter, go with an oil furnace (and get your chimney cleaned before you buy). If you can spend a little more upfront and want maximum heat output, go with natural gas. Also, consider that electricity is generally the most expensive way of heating your home, so stick with either oil or natural gas for the least costly heating.

Okay—so now we know what type of furnace we need. Let’s look at the options in buying a new furnace:

The ductless mini-split (with an outdoor condenser) is the most efficient type of heating you can buy. The two types of mini splits are heat pumps and air conditioners that produce heat, which may or may not be what you want in your home.

The ducted mini-split (no outdoor unit/condenser), unlike the ductless mini-split, does require a duct system to distribute conditioned air throughout your home—but no separate outdoor unit or condenser is needed. This means lower installation costs because everything happens within the confines of your house—and reduced noise pollution outside when compared to an oil furnace with an attached exterior compressor.

Most homeowners opt for the traditional central air conditioning system because it’s commonly preferred due to its reliability and ease of installation. Unfortunately, it’s also the least efficient type of heating/cooling system you can buy—and therefore the most expensive in the long run. A rule of thumb: If you live in a small space (less than 2,000 square feet) or if your home is not well insulated (R-20+), then this might be right for you.

Consider adding a heat pump to your furnace for even greater efficiency and cost savings. Heat pumps use electricity more efficiently than furnaces with electric strip heat (i.e., forced air), so they help lower your utility bills over time when used together with an existing gas furnace. Just like with a mini-split, no exterior unit is required, the noise level outside the home is reduced (because everything happens indoors), and installation costs are lower (no ductwork required). The downsides: they cost about $3,000 more than a mini-split, need an electrician to install, and inexperienced or under-qualified installers may result in poor performance.

If you’re comfortable with DIY projects, save some cash by buying your furnace and installing it yourself. This option is best for saving money—not time or convenience. You’ll need to buy all the required tools, equipment, safety gear (eye protection, masks, gloves) and hire someone to vent the gas line outside your home. But if you can’t afford any of these options right now but want to take advantage of lower prices in the spring when furnaces are on sale, DIY is a great way to go.

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