The 5-step guide to buying a new gas furnace

The 5-step guide to buying a new gas furnace

When was the last time you bought a new gas furnace? We’re not surprised if your answer was “never”. Most homeowners only need to invest in a new furnace once or twice in their lifetime. It’s a purchase that can last 15-20 years if you do it right the first time. In this short guide, we’ll walk you through the five steps in the process to understand the lingo and feel comfortable about the furnace you’re buying.

Step 1: Understand the different types of furnaces

Let’s face it, you’ve either never bought a furnace before or Alfredsson was a rookie the last time you had to think about one. A lot has changed — for the better — but it’s not complicated. Start with our quick read on each of the types of furnaces.

Step 2: Find a licensed contractor

The most important factor in deciding on a contractor is to make sure they are properly licensed. We’re talking about two very critical things here: working with the natural gas pipeline into your home and a major investment that should last two decades. This is no time to get your buddy’s buddy over who says he can save you a few hundred dollars by your new gas furnace himself.

In Ontario, qualified Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) contractors must be licensed and registered with the TSSA (Technical Standards and Safety Authority). You can even find a contractor in your area on the TSSA website. You want a reliable company that will be here for the life of you furnace. Your best bet is a locally-owned and operated vendor that provides fast service and isn’t managed by some call centre overseas.

Step 3: Get three new gas furnace quotes

You wouldn’t buy the first new car you test drive so go a test drive a couple more HVAC contractors. Price shouldn’t be your only criteria. Make sure you’re getting a top-quality brand and you feel good about the relationship with the contractor. You should receive a written, complete purchase agreement that includes the type of furnace, efficiency rating, any upgrades for your new gas furnace as well as labour, taxes, and removal of old equipment

Step 4: Ask some smart questions

By this point you’ve got a solid understanding of the furnace options and even might have a shortlist of contractors. Here is a good list of questions to ask or topics potential contractors may bring up for your new gas furnace:

Are you bonded and insured?
The answer to this needs to be yes and yes. No exceptions.

What size furnace do I need?
The contractor needs to perform a Manual J load calculation to confirm the right size furnace for for your home. This evaluation takes into account factors like square footage, amount of shade, amount of insulation, building materials, how many occupants, number of windows and more.

You may be dealing with an amateur if… the contractor does not do a load calculation and seems to simply estimate the size of unit you need. All homes are different, even ones on the same block.

How efficient is the furnace?
This will be the AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating. You’ll want at least 90%. See our article on AFUE for more information and how you save money over the long term.

What rebates am I entitled to receive?
There are always rebates available depending on your specific situation and your choice of new gas furnace. New rebates are announced and old ones expire on a regular basis and your contractor should know them all.

You may be dealing with an amateur if… the contractor does not seem to know what’s available or suggests that you look them up yourself.

Does my existing ductwork support the new furnace you’re recommending?
A furnace is only as good as its ability to force air throughout the home through ducts. Together with the thermostat, these three things all need to work together.

What kind of thermostat will I get?
You should be receiving a new digital thermostat with your furnace to replace an old mechanical one.

Do you need an installation permit?
Working with your natural gas hookup requires the proper permit, something a licensed contractor will obtain. Also, some rebates require that contractors use the proper permits during installation in order for you to qualify.

You may be dealing with an amateur if… upon asking this question, the contractor suggests that you don’t need a permit; or that it’s just unnecessary bureaucratic red tape; or you the job can be done a lot cheaper without one.

What are the details of your warranty?
Make sure you read and understand what you’re entitled to under your warranty. As a rule of thumb, warranties should last a minimum of 10 years.

What emergency service do you offer?
Even the best furnaces installed by the best contractors can experience issues. You need to make sure you can contact them quickly and they will respond fast. Can you call them 24/7? How fast is their average response time? Will they come to your home at any time, day or night, or do you have to wait until business hours? Do they use a call centre somewhere other than Ottawa?

You may be dealing with an amateur if… it’s difficult to find contact information or you don’t get these details in writing. There should at least be a sticker with a phone number on your new furnace.

Step 5: Do your own inspection after installation

By now you have a decent grasp of the lingo and you’ve asked enough good questions that you’re feeling pretty good about your furnace knowledge. You’re by no means an expert furnace inspector but there are some things you should look at before you say goodbye to the installer:

  • The air filter is easily accessible
  • The shut-off for the gas is next to the furnace with no need to open an access panel
  • The new gas furnace should be sitting on rubber isolation pads to reduce noise
  • If the furnace is in the basement, the unit should be on blocks at least four inches off the ground
  • The installer should have left the area clean with no trash
  • The installer should walk you through operation and the system through a normal cycle to ensure it’s working properly
  • You should see two pipes: high-efficiency furnaces can be vented directly outside and typically need two pipes – one for venting exhaust, the other for fresh air intake
  • All joints are sealed on any exposed ducting with approved foil tape or paint-on duct sealant to prevent heat loss in the duct joints (no duct tape!)
  • The furnace is tipped to drain – high-efficiency furnaces produce acidic water that needs to be drained away from the furnace to prevent build-up

A new gas furnace is a big investment that should last you a long time. Make sure you invest the time up front to follow these steps and do your homework. It will be worth it in the long run.