Comfort System

Midwest Contractor offers these heating FAQ for your information and convenience as you optimize your home maintenance and prepare to address possible repairs or replacements.

What is a Comfort System?

A Comfort System is typically composed of three systems (heating, air conditioning, and air quality) designed to keep the air in your home at a comfortable temperature and healthy to breathe.

What Makes Up the Heating System in my "All Electric" Home?

An Electric Furnace and a Heat Pump usually are the units that are connected to a temperature controller (thermostat) to keep you warm in the winter. The air handler (fan) in the furnace moves the air across electric heating elements similar to what you see in a toaster and then through the duct system into your home. Your Heat Pump "makes heat" more economically than the electric furnace and therefore usually cycles on first when the thermostat "calls" for heat.

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is one component in an "all electric" home to heat (and cool) the home. The outdoor unit resembles an air conditioning unit but is designed to extract "heat" from the outdoor air and transfer it to an indoor coil. The heated indoor coil then warms the air forced through the coil by the air handler (fan) in the furnace to heat your home.

When the winter air drops below a specific preset temperature (20° F-30° F), the thermostat shuts down the heat pump, and the furnace takes over to keep your home cozy. The process reverses in summer, and the heat pump acts like an air conditioner to cool your home.

How Does my Gas or Oil Heating System Work?

Most heating systems in Central Ohio rely on burning fossil fuels (natural gas, propane gas or oil) as the heat source. As the unit heats air, the furnace air handler (fan) moves it past burners generating gas (or oil) flames and then into the home through the duct system. Setting the temperature controller (thermostat) at 70° F, it starts the furnace when the indoor air drops below the setpoint and shuts down the furnace when the air temperature reaches 70° F.

Heating System Service FAQ

How Often Should I Replace my Furnace Filter?

The standard one-inch thick fiberglass filter should be replaced every three (3) months and more often if children or pets are present in the home. Higher efficiency (Merv 8-11) 4-5 inch thick filters should be replaced every 12 months and more often (semi-annually) if children or pets are present to generate more airborne particles. For more information on filter types, filter efficiency ratings, and the optimal air filter system for your home, see "What Makes Up My Indoor Air Quality System?" or call Midwest Contractor (614-252-5241).

How Do I Know if my Furnace is Working Properly?

The primary function of your furnace is to maintain indoor temperature at the temperature setpoint on your thermostat. If you have selected 70° F as the set point, and the thermometer reading varies 3° F or more above or below the set point your heating system may be malfunctioning. Listen for abnormal sounds (grinding, squeaking, popping, banging, clicking, etc.) that are likely indicators of furnace problems. Even if the heating system is maintaining temperature, a plugged air filter or dirty blower (fan) wheel often cause low air flow, extra long cycle times, and ultimately, a shut down of the entire system.

How Do I Know if my Heat Pump is Working Properly?

If your backup heat source (gas, oil, or electric furnace) is running rather than your heat pump during mild (above 40° F) winter days, the heat pump and /or control system may be malfunctioning. If your outside (heat pump) unit is running and the temperature is 3° F or more below the temperatures set point you have selected on your thermostat, you may have a system malfunction.

Listen for abnormal sounds (grinding, squeaking, popping, banging, clicking, etc.) from the outdoor unit or indoor air handler unit that are signs of problems. In the event of such sounds, shut down the system before further damage occurs.

Switch to emergency backup heat settings if the heat pump system runs but does not produce warm air. The furnace can then run and maintain a warm temperature in your home while the heat pump is disabled before repairs can get scheduled.

What Should I Check Before Calling for Furnace Repair?

Set the thermostat at an acceptable temperature (68° F-75° F), and ensure that it is in "Heat" mode with the air handler (fan) is in "Manual" or "Auto" mode. Check the filter and change it if clogged and restricting air flow. Be sure that the furnace breaker in the main electric service panel is in the "On" position. The toggle switch connected to the wire from the furnace must also be in the "On" position. If your gas furnace is 90% efficient or higher, check where the plastic (PVC) intake and exhaust pipes terminate outdoors to be sure that there are no obstructions (snow, spider webs, leaves, etc.) blocking the openings. Securely fasten the furnace front door (panel ) in place, so the fan safety switch is depressed in the "On position."

What Should I Check Before Calling for Heat Pump Service?

Set the thermostat at an acceptable temperature (68° F-75° F) and verify the "Heat Pump" mode is enabled rather than the "Emergency Heat" mode.

Check the filter and change it if clogged and restricting air flow.

Be sure that the heat pump circuit breaker in the main electric service panel is in the "On" position.

Clear any obstructions (snow, leaves, grass clippings, cottonwood, etc.) from around the outside heat pump unit that may be limiting air circulation.

If the heat pump is still not working correctly, shut it down to avoid damage to the outdoor unit and switch to Emergency Heat until repaired.

How Do I Know if my Heat Pump Should be Repaired or Replaced?

Age and condition of the existing heat pump, repair cost estimate, whether this home will be your long-term residence, and whether you replace your furnace or air conditioner are some of the critical indicators in choosing to repair or replace your existing heating system. As a general rule, if your current heat pump is over 13-years old and requires costly repairs ($500 or more), opting for a new heating system should be considered. A new heat pump offers more reliable, comfortable, and efficient heat. New systems average a savings of 30% or so from lower utility bills as well as the elimination of immediate repair costs for systems covered under warranty. The purchase pays itself over time (approximately 7 years).

Delaying heat pump replacement may backfire if you plan to reside in your home long-term, You will discover that breakdowns always occur at inconvenient times and ultimately at a higher cost.

An essential consideration in the decision, too, is that that the new indoor heat pump coils are taller to meet government-mandated efficiency standards. The taller coils typically do not fit where the original coil installed. Installing a new furnace made to accommodate the taller coils resolves this issue.

What Maintenance is Required for Peak Performance and a Valid Warranty?

Most quality heating and air conditioning contractors offer an annual Service Agreement. The PCSA (Preferred Customer Service Agreement) offered by Midwest heating & air conditioning provides for an equipment tune-up for the heating season (furnace and heat pump) and the air conditioning Season (air conditioner or heat pump). A Customer Service Representative calls to schedule each tune-up at your convenience during regular business hours (8 am-5pm, M-F). A qualified service technician performs the tune-up to keep your heating and air conditioning equipment operating at peak efficiency and to preserve your equipment warranty. As with your vehicle warranty that requires certain service routines (oil change, air filter replacement, transmission service, etc.). Heating and air conditioning equipment manufacturers also, require periodic maintenance to be performed to keep your furnace, heat pump, and air conditioner warranty valid. Check the warranty document that came with the equipment for further detail. Here is another car comparison that may be helpful. Just as an auto tune-up results in better gas mileage a heating system that is "in tune" saves on your gas and electric bills.

Heating System Replacement FAQ

How Do I Select the Right Gas Furnace?

Today's furnaces offer a wide range of features, including multi-speed and variable speed air handlers, single stage and multi-stage heat outputs, various levels of efficiency (80%-97%), and microprocessors that improve heating system control for more comfort at a lower operating cost. Some personal research at the Library, in Consumer Reports, or On-line will help you be more familiar with the feature and benefit options available. Heating and air conditioning contractors are another good sources of information. As with many major purchases, you need to trust and feel comfortable with your Installing Contractor.

How Do I Select the Right Heating & Air Conditioning Contractor?

Your heating and air conditioning contractor selection is as important as your furnace choice. The Contractors you consider should have factory trained installers, a service department offering emergency service, and be in business at least five (5) years (preferably 10 + years). Check with the Better Business Bureau to confirm a rating of A-A+. Ask for the Contractor's HVAC License Number to be sure that your installation will comply with City and State Codes. You will likely rely on your heating and air conditioning Contractor for advice, service and warranty coverage long after your installation completes.

What Does my Warranty Cover?

A heating and air conditioning system warranty typically has two parts (equipment & labor). The key part covered for the furnace is the Heat Exchanger (20 years or lifetime), and the key part for the AC or heat pump is the compressor (5-10 years). Manufacturer warranties for other parts provide coverage typically for 5-10 years. All other parts and labor (workmanship) have 1-year warranties. Extended labor warranties (5-10 years) are normally available at an additional cost.

Remember to have your annual equipment maintenance performed, to keep your warranties valid and your system operating at peak efficiency. Look for specific details about warranties for your new furnace on the installation agreement received from your heating and air conditioning contractor. Details are further spelled out in the warranty document that accompanies your new heating system.

How Much Will my Furnace Cost?

Cost can vary markedly and is a function of the furnace selected and the labor intensity of the installation. A basic 80% efficient furnace may be in the $1,500 range. More efficient (90%-97%) furnaces with many energy savings and extra comfort benefits will be two to three times the cost of a basic furnace. Some installations are more time (labor) and material intensive which also impacts the installed furnace cost. A quality installation that complies with City Codes and the Manufacture Installation Manual entails significant effort by factory trained technicians. Accordingly, a major purchase such as acquiring a new furnace should not be strictly price driven. Oil furnaces tend to cost more for a unit of similar size. Consult Midwest Heating and Cooling (614-252-5241) for more details.

How is Efficiency of a Gas or Oil Furnace Measured?

Annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), input, and output are the terms used in furnace specifications to describe efficiency. The expression of Input and output is in increments of heat called British Thermal Units (BTU's). For example, a furnace with an 80% AFUE (80% efficient) and an input (total heat made by the furnace) of 100,000 BTU's per hour would have an output (heat used to warm the home) of 80,000 BTU's per hour. The 20,000 BTU difference between total heat generated by the furnace (input) and usable heat coming into the home is the unused or "wasted" heat that goes up the chimney. With the advent of secondary heat exchangers and other improvements, some furnaces are now 97% efficient, limiting wasted heat to only 3%. Furnaces with such high AFUEs "squeeze" more heat from each cubic foot of gas and gallon of fuel oil. Like a high fuel efficient vehicle, furnaces with high AFUE ratings deliver utility savings of 30% or more. For more information see the Energy Savings Calculator below or call Midwest (614-252-5241).


Are Heating System Rebates, Tax Credits or Discounts Available?

Offers that reduce your new heating system price are available are time sensitive and change periodically. For example, a Federal Tax Credit with up to $500 for high-efficiency equipment (furnace $200 + heat pump or AC $300) available through the end of 2014. The Utility Companies AEP and Columbia Gas) and the equipment manufacturers offer mail-in rebates and instant discounts that can also significantly reduce the cost of new heating (and air conditioning) system.

Check with Government and Utility Websites or call Midwest (614-252-5241) for more details.

How Long Will it Take to Replace my Gas or Oil Furnace?

Midwest Contractor can complete most furnace replacements in one work day. A more involved installation may take longer to perform. However, during cold temperature periods, Midwest Contractor Heating Installers remain the first day until the restore heat and return the second day to complete the job.

Should I Replace the Furnace and Air Conditioner/Heat Pump at the Same Time?

If both the furnace and air conditioner (or heat pump) are over 13 years old or if the units(s) in question has a history of repairs, replacing the entire heating and air conditioning system would be advisable. Simultaneous replacement of both systems is more efficient for the contractor, and therefore less costly to the homeowner than replacing one system now and the other system later.

Since the new, more efficient air conditioner and heat pump indoor coils are taller; the new furnaces are shorter to provide for fewer installation problems and lower labor costs. All air conditioners and heat pumps now contain the new "earth-friendly" refrigerant (R-410A). If your existing unit contains the old refrigerant (R-22) that is being phased out, you will find refrigerant leak repairs for your existing air conditioner or heat pump system to be increasingly more expensive. Finally, the new, higher efficiency furnaces, air conditioners, and heat pump only work optimally when the heating and cooling systems come as a matched set. Microprocessors in the heating unit, the air conditioning unit and the thermostat "communicate" with each other to provide more comfort and to save on your utility bills.

How Do I Select the Right Thermostat?

Some thermostats have large letters on backlit digital screens for the sight-impaired. Programmable thermostats provide more precise temperature control. Code now requires them with all new installations. State-of-the-art thermostats (Controllers) go beyond programming temperature levels for certain times of the day and days of the week. These devices also cycle the heating and cooling equipment to control air flow, air quality, and humidity. They can provide remote access to change temperature setpoints, switch heating and air conditioning modes and diagnose system malfunctions from a landline phone or cell phone. Matching technically advanced temperature control devices to the system selected is recommended. Consult with Midwest Contractor regarding the best choice.

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