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Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) measures how efficient a furnace or boiler is over an entire heating season.
Because colder the weather puts higher demands on equipment than less extreme temperatures, AFUE tells you your furnace or boiler’s average efficiency over the course of a typical winter.
The chart below illustrates the increased energy savings with higher AFUE ratings. Whereas you get zero energy savings at 60 AFUE, 80 AFUE will save you 20% off your energy bill while 95 AFUE offers a 33% energy savings.
Heat Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is most commonly used to rate efficiency of air heat pumps.
A heat pump’s HSPF number is its total heat output in Btu (including supplementary electric heat) over the course of a normal heating season divided by the total mount of electricity used (in watt-hours) over that same period.
The higher the HSPF, the more efficient the heat pump.
SEER & EER
SEER and EER refer to how efficient a heat pump or air conditioner is at cooling or, in other words, removing heat. Because cooling is the removal of heat, SEER & EER are expressed in Btu.
The SEER number is the total cooling capacity produced over an entire cooling season measured in Btu divided by the total electric energy (in watt-hours) consumed by the heat pump or AC unit to produce it.
SEER is specific to efficiency in temperate climates in the middle of the U.S.
Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) is a measure of cooling system efficiency when operating at an outdoor temperature of at 95 degrees F.
In technical terms, EER is the steady-state rate of heat energy removal (i.e. cooling capacity) per hour divided by the steady-state rate of energy input to the product measured in watts.
So, the SEER rating more accurately reflects overall system efficiency on a seasonal basis while EER reflects the system’s energy efficiency at peak day operations.
Like with HSPF, the higher the number for SEER & EER, the more efficient the system. Both ratings are important when choosing a product.
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Typically made up of a furnace and A/C unit plus a boiler or heat pump. These are the fuel burning centers of your HVAC system.
This is the ductwork in forced air systems or pipes for water/steam systems. Their job is to carry heat/cold from the central unit and through the house.
Comprised of vents and pipes that vent spent air and the poisonous gases made in the central unit by burning fuel out of your house.
This is the brain of the centralized system, controlling the entire system.
Because furnace and boiler-based heating systems generate heat in a central location and then distribute it throughout the house through a duct system, they are often referred to as “central heating systems.”
Modern central heating systems, are typically equipped with gas powered furnaces. In the last decade, efficiency scores for these units have increased from 65% to as high as 95%!
Natural gas is the most common home heating fuel in the U.S., used in 57% of American homes.
Gas furnaces are made up of a burner, an ignition device, and one or more heat exchangers. The exchangers are where the heat generated from the burning gas transferred to the in-door air the is circulated through the unit and the exhaust gas produced by the burning fuel is transferred to the venting system. Once warmed, a circulation blower moves this heated air throughout your house.
Manufacturers have focused on designing the heat exchangers to extract as much heat as possible from the hot gases and exhaust before venting them out of the home.
Mid-efficiency furnaces can now extract between 78% to 83% heat before venting.
Ultra-high efficiency furnaces - with ratings of 90% to 97% efficiency - actually add a second heat exchanger to extract even more heat from the relatively cool exhaust after it leaves the first exchanger.
Extracting heat at these cooler temps, causes water vapour to condense out of the exhaust, which is why these furnaces are called “Condensing Furnaces.”
These are very similar to gas furnaces in operation and have similar efficiencies.
The difference lies in fuel combustion: with liquid fuel, oil furnaces have a fuel atomizer that gets mixed with hot combustible air and forced into the combustion chamber.
While not as common and condensing gas furnaces, condensing oil furnaces are available, with efficiency ratings above 90%.
Electric furnaces convert electricity into heat using an electric resistance heating coil. The coil is housed in a cabinet with a circulation blower that transfer the heat to the circulating indoor air.
Electric furnaces are very near 100% efficient - only a very small amount of heat is lost through the cabinet.
But, given that electricity is typically very expensive relative to other fuels, electric furnaces aren’t recommended for central heating.
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