Skip to Content

Different Types of Furnaces:

Which One Should You Buy for Your Home?

Colder weather is just around the bend. While you’ve hopefully already taken care of any upgrades you might require during the off-season, you may have waited for certain incentives or rebates to kick in before acting. Then again, perhaps you’ve run into unexpected trouble that requires you to make a change.

This means that when it comes to your HVAC needs, referencing articles and media on new air conditioners aren’t going to be enough, as your furnace is also an important part of the system. Currently, you can choose from four types of furnaces: natural, oil, propane, and electric. It is important to know their differences to choose the one that is right for you, so let’s go over the options.

1.                 Electric

The electric furnace is the least expensive option in terms of purchase and installation costs. However, you are at the mercy of your utility company regarding how much they cost to operate since their sole source of fuel is electricity.

Electric furnaces pull the cooler air present in your home into an exchanger where it is heated using electric elements. Once the air is heated, it is pushed back inside your home through the ductwork that is present.

While this type of furnace is more costly to operate, there is some comfort in the fact that it doesn’t give off carbon monoxide. This makes it a safer choice for the ecosystem and for your family.

2.                 Natural Gas

Natural gas furnaces are much less expensive to operate when compared to their electric counterparts. This type of furnace functions by burning natural gas located inside your furnace. The flames will heat a heat exchanger made of metal, heating cooler air pushed through it from your heating ducts. This warm air is then sent back out through your house using a blower.

Exhaust from the furnace exits your home via a flue. This flue will require yearly inspections at a minimum to ensure that no leaks are present. Any openings in the flue can result in dangerous poisonous gasses leaking into your living space.

Natural gas furnaces are more expensive to purchase, but they are much cheaper to operate as natural gas prices are considerably lower than electricity. The heat it produces is also superior to that of any electric furnaces on the market, as the exchange chamber heats air much more quickly.

3.                 Oil

Oil furnaces operate similarly to natural gas furnaces. The furnace pulls heating oil from a tank and stores it in a burning chamber but it is not directly set alight as in a natural gas furnace. Instead, it is transformed into a fine mist that is sprayed on the burner. This mist ignites and the heated air is directed into a nearby chamber to be heated. Once this happens, it will be sent back out to warm your dwelling’s interior through your heating ducts.

Because oil burns at a much higher temperature compared to natural gas, this type of furnace heats up the home much faster. Costs to purchase and operate are similar to those of the natural gas furnace, but one downside is that it requires an oil storage tank which is sometimes buried in the ground beneath the home, meaning your family can potentially be sitting on a large amount of highly combustible material.

4.                 Propane

Propane furnaces operate similarly to natural gas furnaces. One difference is that they utilize a vent installed on an exterior dwelling wall to emit by-products created during the heating process. Unlike a flue, this vent doesn’t require regular inspections and cleaning.

One difference between natural gas furnaces and propane furnaces is their efficiency. The propane furnace requires less fuel to operate, meaning you will burn far less propane to achieve the same level of warmth provided by natural gas.

5.                 Single Stage vs Modulating Heat

There are three options when it comes to the number of heating stages you want your furnace to provide. Once you have determined your preferred fuel source, you will want to consider these options.

Single stage – If you have an older furnace, you likely have a single-state heat process. This kind of furnace provides a single size flame that is either on or off with no other settings. Thermostats for this type of furnace are never quite accurate but will get you to within a few degrees of your desired temperature.

Multi-stage – This type of furnace utilizes two flame sizes. One is for milder weather and the other is for more frigid weather. It is more accurate in controlling the temperature at a certain level but still not completely accurate.

Modulating – This furnace provides the most precise thermostat and heating. It is capable of adjusting the flame size to accomplish the temperature selected on the thermostat. This type of furnace is capable of keeping your home heated to the temperature you prefer consistently.

6.                 AFUE Ratings

Annualized Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings calculate how much heat is produced per dollar of fuel used. The higher this rating, the less money fuel will consume. You should ideally seek a furnace that possesses an AFUE rating above 90. These are the best among energy-efficient furnaces available today. However, they come with a higher price tag. As with most energy-efficient options, the added cost of purchase will usually be recouped in energy savings.

7.                 Conclusion

When looking at which is the best choice for your home, consider the following: Single-stage furnaces are more affordable to purchase. Modulating furnaces are the most costly to purchase. The multistage falls somewhere in between. Your choice depends on what you can afford and heating requirements. If you have a smaller home with only one story, you may not need as much heating output as you would in a larger, two-story house. Perhaps you have a large range or a small two-story condo and a multi-stage furnace is enough for you. This determination is best made with the input of a qualified HVAC technician that can help guide you.

Jeff Campbell