New Heating Systems

Do You Need a New Heating System?

If your heating system is less than 20 years old, you can expect many years of service from it with proper maintenance.

A properly installed and well-maintained heating system should provide at least 25 years of exemplary service.

New Heating Sysytems

To help ensure this long service life, it is a good idea to have your heating system inspected and adjusted annually. Ottauquechee Plumbing & Heating strongly recommends this if your system is over ten years old.

With today’s fuel cost, a properly adjusted system will run more efficiently, saving you money on your heating fuel bill. A maintenance program will also help ensure your heating system operates safely.

Good preventive maintenance will ensure that your system runs safely and efficiently for a long time.

Eventually, however, an older system may need to be replaced. You should replace your heating system when keeping it in good working order is no longer cost-effective. Your heating system has reached this point if one of the following statements is true:

1. The heating equipment is unsafe and can’t be repaired cost-effectively.
2. Your old system is so inefficient that a replacement would pay for itself in energy savings.

An unsafe condition can sometimes develop in an older furnace. This occurs when cracks or leaks develop in the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger keeps the hot exhaust gases separate from the warm air circulating through the ductwork and house. When a heat exchanger leaks, poisonous gases, and carbon monoxide can accumulate in the house.

Although boilers are less likely to fail than furnaces, they can also develop unsafe conditions. For example, in a boiler, a low water level can result when the safety device called a low water fuel cut-off does not function properly. This safety device is designed to shut down the boiler when there is a low water condition. If the low water fuel cut-off is faulty or missing, then the boiler will overheat and can be permanently damaged.

It will not be as noticeable when your heating system has become obsolete due to its poor efficiency. The efficiency of a system today should be a significant factor as fuel costs continue to increase.

Efficiency can be measured, however, and you should have your system tested when an annual inspection is performed. If your heating system is operating below 70%, new equipment is available with substantially higher efficiency. For example, a new 90% efficient furnace will save 22% of the fuel use of a 70% efficient furnace.

If fuel oil is at $4.50 a gallon and you use 1000 per winter to heat your home, then a 22% savings will translate into almost $1,000 in savings to heat your home per year.

You may reference this heating fuel page maintained by The Department of Public Service for the State of Vermont.

The amount of money you will save depends on how much you spend on energy to heat your house. This can be estimated by one of the following methods:

1. Complete an energy analysis of your home.
2. Review your propane or oil bills.

To elaborate on method number 2, there is a simple analysis that you can do to estimate your heating energy use from your fuel bills.

If you heat with one of these fuels, then compare your usage in the winter to your usage in the summer. Your summer use, if any, is for cooking, water heating, and clothes drying. These are pretty constant uses throughout the year. If you average your summer use and then multiply by 12, you have an estimate of your annual non-heating fuel use.

Subtract this amount from your total fuel use to estimate how much fuel you buy yearly to heat your home. Multiply this amount by the fuel cost to obtain your annual heating bill.

Before You Buy

Before you buy a new heating or cooling system, you should make several decisions. If you cannot make an informed decision, someone else can help you. Ottauquechee Plumbing & Heat can lay out the options and help you decide. We always try to remain neutral, but our experience with many systems, controls, and fuels may cause us to favor one type of system, control, or fuel for a particular heating situation.

Choosing a Heating Fuel Type

The table below lists all the heating fuel types commonly used in homes in the United States. This data varies regionally; however, the order of precedence is consistent across regions with one exception. In the Northeast, fuel oil heat is more prevalent than electric heat, the primary heating fuel in about 36% of homes.

Here is a breakdown of the types of main heating fuel used by homes in the United States.

Natural Gas 53%
Electric 29%
Fuel Oil 9%
Wood 2%
LPG 5%
Kerosene 1%
None 1%

Most likely, you will want to stay with the same heating fuel that your present system uses, but there are a few cases in which you should consider switching.

If you live in a cold climate and have electric heat, you may benefit from switching to one of the other fuel types. Electric heat tends to be expensive in cold climates where air-source heat pumps do not work as efficiently.

A tendency has also been to switch from fuel oil or LPG to natural gas as pipelines are extended into new neighborhoods.

Prices for these fuels fluctuate, so predicting which would be less expensive is difficult. Some people switch to natural gas for the convenience of not having a storage tank and not having to schedule fuel deliveries. At this point, natural gas is unavailable in the Upper Valley area.

Choosing a Heating System Type

The table below shows the prevalence of all the common heating system types in the United States. Nationwide, the warm-air furnace is the most popular type of heating system. The distribution of system types varies regionally, but the overall popularity trends are constant, with a couple of exceptions. Again, the Northeast is slightly different, with steam or hot-water systems somewhat more prevalent than furnaces.

Main Heating System Types

Central Heating Systems

  • Central Warm-Air Furnace 55%
  • Steam or Hot-Water System 12%
  • Heat Pump 10%

Stand-alone Heating Systems

  • Built-In Electric Units 7%
  • Room Heater 5%
  • Floor, wall, or pipeless furnace 4%
  • Heating Stove 1%
  • Kerosene 1%
  • Other 4%
  • None 1%

You will probably want to replace your existing system with a new one of the same type. This is usually the most sensible option because fewer parts of the house-wide system must be replaced.

For example, switching from a warm-air furnace or heat pump to a hot-water system would require installing a new hot-water distribution system.

Air systems use ductwork, and water systems use piping. Some system types, such as built-in electric units and floor, wall, or pipeless furnaces, do not have any distribution. These are called unitary systems. Switching to a central furnace or hot-water system would require the installation of a duct or pipe distribution system.

Some homeowners will switch from a unitary to a central heating system. For example, suppose you are switching from electric baseboard heat to a more efficient heat pump. In that case, the new system will also benefit from providing air conditioning in the summer.

Another popular switch is from an electric baseboard to a central gas or oil furnace. This change reduces electric bills and provides an opportunity to add central air conditioning to a home. Homeowners often switch from electric baseboard heat to forced hot water in the Northeast. This is an economical choice—it is usually more accessible and less expensive to install the water distribution system than ductwork in an existing home.

The common theme in the abovementioned examples is a tendency to avoid unitary electric heating systems. These systems can be the most expensive to operate; electric furnaces are worse than unitary systems. The only benefit to this unitary system is that you have individual room control, so you heat only the rooms you occupy. In practice, this is not a realistic strategy for many homeowners.

Looking at fuels other than electricity, switching from a unitary system to a central one makes sense.

Notwithstanding the benefit of individual room control, a large central system tends to be more efficient than several small unitary systems when talking about fossil fuel-fired equipment. Going from a unitary to a central system also makes adding central air conditioning and humidity control easier, making occupants more comfortable and adding value to the home.

Heating Controls

The most straightforward control is a simple thermostat. You set the temperature that you want in the room, and the heating system provides heat until that temperature is reached.

A warm weather shutdown control is a more sophisticated and energy-efficient control. This control monitors the outside air temperature, and if it is sufficiently high relative to the desired room temperature, then the boiler does not provide any heat.

If you are considering a new heating system, contact Ottauquechee Plumbing & Heating. We can help you define the options and make a selection.

Please view our Heating System Contractor Selection Guide for advice on what to look for when selecting a contractor to install your new heating system.