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For Reliability and Efficiency, Buy Carrier Heat Pumps and Furnaces

Most homes in the U.S. heat with either furnaces or boilers. There's an important difference between the two. Furnaces heat the air, air ducts distribute the heated air through the house. Boilers, on the other hand, heat with either steam or hot water. Pipes carry the steam to steam radiators, while hot water is distributed through baseboard radiators or radiant floors. Steam boilers are less efficient that hot water boilers, but newer models of all furnaces and boilers are more energy efficient than older ones.

Older furnaces and boilers were typically 56 to 70 percent efficient; energy efficient modern heating systems, such as those manufactured by Carrier or Lennox, can be as high as 95 percent efficient. A heating system that is 95 percent efficient converts almost all the fuel to heat, significantly reducing both fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions. The Department of Energy estimates a homeowner will save $37.80 for every $100.00 of fuel costs by increasing the efficiency of his or her heating system from 60 percent to 95 percent.

Annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) is the measure of the efficiency of a central boiler or furnace. New furnaces and boilers must show the AFUE on the equipment to allow consumers to compare the efficiency of various makes and models. Heat pumps can help increase efficiency.

While some old furnaces or boilers can be retrofitted for greater efficiency, replacement of an inefficient or worn out furnace or boiler is often the simplest and most cost-effective solution. Furnaces and boilers with the EnergyStar label are the most efficient. In a cold climate buying a heating system with 95 percent efficiency is worth the extra initial cost. In a warmer climate, however, efficiencies in the 80 percent range are sufficient.

Another way to increase heating efficiency is by improving the overall energy efficiency of the home, which can be done with weather stripping, insulation, window treatments, and other relatively simple modifications. Programmable thermostats and improved ductwork (through sealing and insulating) can also reduce heat loss dramatically. A house that is more energy efficient loses less heat so it needs a smaller heating system. By "tightening" their homes, homeowners will save money because the home needs a smaller system and because the system will burn less fuel.

When buying major home appliances, whether it's a heating system, an air conditioner, or a heat pump, it's important to buy quality equipment. In addition to comparing energy efficiency, homeowners should look for a manufacturer with a strong reputation and good warrantee, such as Carrier or Lennox. Correct installation and maintenance of equipment is also important. Homeowners should ask friends and neighbors for names of dependable, local contractors. They should only use licensed and insured contractors, and check references. The Department of Energy recommends that homeowners get at least three detailed written bids. The quality of the equipment and the quality of the installation will determine how efficiently and how reliably the system will operate. Whether the system is for heating or cooling, there is nothing more frustrating and potentially dangerous than a system that does not work properly.

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