High efficiency furnaces are becoming more common in homes across the country. Soon they are likely to become mandatory for all new furnaces installed here in the United States. The Department of Energy proposal to require all new furnaces installed in new homes or the replacement of existing furnaces is likely to soon take effect. The DOE is seeking to require a minimum efficiency rating (AFUE) of 92% on new furnaces. With high efficiency furnaces come high efficiency furnace problems.
The DOE had previously made this proposal to increase efficiency standards to take effect back in 2007. However, this proposal was withdrawn as a result of a lawsuit filed by HVAC industry leaders citing numerous concerns on how the proposal was written and requirements within the proposal that were challenged.
But a new proposal is back on the table, and likely to soon go into effect. Homeowners across the country will be affected by this new mandatory requirement. High efficiency furnaces not only cost more to install. But high efficiency furnace problems will result in more repairs and required maintenance to keep these furnaces running properly.
Under the new proposal, homeowners who currently have a standard efficiency furnace will not be required to replace their furnace. That is, until their existing furnace must be replaced (due to failure that cannot be repaired). At that time the replacement furnace is required to be at least 92% efficient in order to meet the new DOE standards. And along with the higher cost to upgrade to a high efficiency furnace, comes the unwanted side effects of high efficiency furnace problems.
High efficiency gas furnaces are condensing furnaces, which produce condensation moisture during the combustion process. And this is where the high efficiency furnace problems will eventually make their appearance.
Over the years of servicing all types of furnaces, I have often run across high efficiency furnace problems that I never see in standard 80% efficient furnaces. And the majority of the time these problems are directly linked to the condensation moisture produced by these condensing furnaces. But there are other issues as well.
Here are the most common high efficiency furnace problems that I have encountered:
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT THESE HIGH EFFICIENCY FURNACE PROBLEMS?
Well the simple answer is to not install one. But this will not be a choice in the near future. If your home currently has a 80% efficient model furnace that is 15 years old or more, you may want to consider replacing it now before the new efficiency standards go into effect. 80% efficient furnace models are available with 2-stage heating and high efficiency variable speed blowers (not to be confused with condensing high efficiency models). And Amana offers these models not only with a lifetime heat exchanger warranty, but certain models include a lifetime unit replacement warranty, meaning it’ll be the last furnace you ever need to purchase.
If your home currently has a high efficiency condensing gas furnace, it is important to have it properly serviced every year. This includes inspecting and cleaning of all condensate drain pipes, tubing, traps, etc as well as ensuring a proper fitted filter. And inspecting the PVC pipe terminations and insuring there are no obstructions (particularly on side wall vented units).
In the long run, I’ve found that the money you save on your heating bill with a high efficiency gas furnace will not give you a return on your investment when you consider the initial higher cost of installation of these furnaces, along with the cost of maintaining these models. Breakdowns due to plugged vents, drains and heat exchangers can not only be costly to correct, they are not covered under the manufacturer’s warranty either. The warranty provides to cover the cost of a failed part, but not for care and maintenance of the unit. Given the choice, I would much rather install a good 80% efficient model over a high efficiency model hands down.
The problem is this choice will likely not be available in the near future.