Which Heating System is Right for Living in the Northwest | Washington Energy

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Which heating system is right for me?

Washington Energy | 10/06/2011 | Posted in Heating, Ductless heat pump, Heat pump

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about energy-efficient heating choices for Seattle and Tacoma homes.

Why are natural gas furnaces so popular in the Northwest?

  • Natural gas is a safe and plentiful resource, so the cost to heat your home tends to be significantly lower than propane or oil heat.
  • Gas furnaces can be very energy efficient.
  • Our 95%+ energy efficient Bryant furnaces qualify for a rebate from PSE.

Should I care what the AFUE is?

Yes. Furnaces come in several levels of efficiency, for example 80% 90%, 95% and up to 98% AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency). This refers to the amount of heat you get compared to the amount of fuel that you supply to the furnace. So 80% AFUE means 80% of the fuel becomes heat and 20% is wasted. With gas bills going up, it can pay to have a 95-98% furnace – you could lower your heating costs by 15% or more.

Which kind of gas furnace heats best?

If you are considering a new furnace, consider the benefits of the modulating furnace. Modulating furnaces stabilize the heat you feel throughout your house, eliminating cold spots. The furnace makes tiny continuous adjustments to keep at temperature. This reduces the fluctuations caused by a traditional furnace which shuts off once it hits your preset thermostat level.

Don’t I have to replace my furnace with the same kind that was there?

Not necessarily. The type and size that was there may not have been optimal. For example, here are three common scenarios:

  • If you have done remodeling or put in new windows, you may need a different size furnace to comfortably heat your home. By size we mean, BTU heat output. And surprise, it could be a smaller, lower cost furnace if you added insulation and windows recently.
  • If you have a home that was built 15+ years ago, you may have a single stage 80% AFUE furnace which could be upgraded to an energy efficient, and comfortable modulating furnace.
  • If you want a gas furnace and don’t have one, don’t rule out that natural gas may now be available on your street. If you are a Puget Sound Energy customer you may be entitled to large rebates for natural gas hookup when used as a heating source. We can help you navigate this process with Puget Sound Energy.

If I have electric heat, what’s my best option?

Whether you have ducts or no ducts there are some excellent energy efficient options for electrically heated homes that could save you 25%-40% vs your current heating costs.

Most electrically heated homes in the Seattle area have baseboard or wall heat and no ducts. If you have forced air heat through ducts, you likely have an electric furnace aka, electric air handler. For a truly energy-efficient and cost saving solution, a heat pump or ductless heat pump provides excellent heating and cooling with lower utility costs.

Heat pumps – an electric alternative when you have air ducts:

A heat pump takes heat from the surrounding air and ground and transfers it into your home. It also contains refrigerant that allows it to cool your home in summer. A typical heat pump connects to your ducted system, and can work with or without a furnace as a backup. A heat pump can save up to 40% of energy when compared to a traditional electric furnace. Using it as the sole heating source works best when the temperature rarely dips below 40° outside. If the temperature is colder, as it is here in Western Washington, you will need a backup heat source. Consider a hybrid system; a heat pump paired with an electric air handler or furnace to ensure you always have heat. The combined system can be more energy efficient than other electric heat options.

Ductless heat pumps – Super efficient

A ductless heat pump also heats and cools your home similarly to an air source heat pump, but without ducts. The outdoor unit of a ductless heat pump system also transfers heat from the outside into your home. Inside a register on the wall silently and efficiently warms or cools the room. Larger areas may require separate registers. A ductless heat pump also provides air conditioning. Ductless heat pumps can save you 25 to 40% of your heating costs.

Rebates from Puget Sound Energy are Available

In selecting any heat pump keep in mind that energy efficient models qualify for local utility rebates. Excellent rebates are available for homeowners who currently have baseboard or wall electric heat. Some rebates are up to $1200. For a list of utility rebates click here.

Maintenance and filters

Already have an energy efficient heating system? Like a car, you could lose some of that benefit if you go without annual maintenance to ensure your furnace is operating at its peak efficiency, and don’t forget to change the filter.

Washington Energy Services sells and installs energy efficient heating systems including furnaces, electric air handlers, hybrid systems, heat pumps and ductless heat pumps in Western Washington. Air filters, too. For more information or a free estimate, call 800-398-HOME.

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24 Responses to “Which heating system is right for me?”

  • lois silver

    could you give us a recommendation of a company that could put in a new furnace for my mom,,we’re in west seattle thank you

    Reply
  • Washington Energy

    Hi Lois, I just sent you an email privately and yes, we are a heating installation company ourselves. We would be happy to provide you an estimate for a furnace for your mom in West Seattle. Please look for my email and/or give us a call at 800-398-4663. Thank you

    Reply
  • Pamela

    I would greatly appreciate a recommendation for a company that could put in a new furnace for our home in North Tacoma.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hi Pamela, we would be happy to put in a new furnace for you. We are the largest HVAC contractor in the Puget Sound and recently won the top HVAC spot in PSE’s Energy Leader Awards. Give us a call at your convenience.

      Regards,
      Washington Energy

      Reply
  • cathy koyama

    My current home is a 1300 sqft rambler and we have a gas furnace, I’ve been hearing that heat pumps are the way to go. Is there a way to determine what would be more efficient for me.

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hello and thanks for asking,
      We would be happy to help you determine what could make your home more efficient. Heat pumps are very efficient, but a high efficiency gas furnace is also an efficient choice. In your particular situation, we would look at the condition and age of your gas furnace, ducting, the home layout, and insulation. We also do a heat loss calculation to determine proper equipment sizing. This way, you can look at both the relative efficiency and the cost difference and make an informed choice. We recommend having someone come out and look at it (which is free and no obligation). We would want to tailor an answer to you and your house and once you decide we can install it for you. If you would like us to do this, just call 800-398-4663 or click on the free estimate button on the website, and we’ll give you a call.
      Regards,
      Washington Energy

      Reply
  • Anja

    Hello!
    Im interested in finding out the costs of gettng heat pump. I live in the Graham area.
    I have a electric furnace currently that started having issues this morning.

    Thank you!
    A

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hello and thanks for asking. We have knowledgeable experts in your area, and would be happy to provide you with a free estimate for your heat pump. Heat pumps are not one size fits all. To give you the proper fit, we would come out and conduct a heat loss measurement so we are quoting you for the right size to fit your home. We will explain choices of features and efficiency, so you can find the option that will best meet your needs and budget. If you would like to set up that appointment, please sign up using the free estimate form on the website or for fastest service, call us directly at 800-398-4663. Thanks, we look forward to meeting you.

      Reply
  • Randy L. Pullen

    I recently purchased a new home 3 years ago in Puyallup and I am thinking of putting in a heat pump for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. I currently have forced air and no cooling for the summer months. I am in the Army and deployed till winter and need ideas for a house with 2231 square feet. Randy

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hi Randy, we’d love to help you. It is getting hotter here, that’s for sure! I’ll forward your email address and information to our support center. They’ll be able to help.

      Reply
  • Robert

    My current home is a 1360 sqft rambler and we have a gas furnace. We live in Tacoma. Interested in an analysis to help determine what our best options are. Our current furnace is in need of repair and we are considering adding AC.
    Thanks!
    R

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hi Robert, thanks for the comment. Our call center will be able to walk you through scheduling a free estimate. I have shared your email address with them and they should reach out to you soon. For faster service, just give us a call at 800-398-4663.

      Reply
  • Monte Ewald

    Hi,
    Ours is a 1950’s house in Puyallup with utan above-ground oil tank in the yard and an old (undetermined age) oil furnace that stopped working last winter. We are looking to replace our heating with a more energy efficient and cost effective system. We have considered gas but it has to be brought in from the street. The other options are an electric furnace or a hybrid heat pump. The insulation in our home is not the greatest in keeping with a rambler its age. Would you be able come and take a look at our home and give expert opinion as well as estimates on the different options?
    Monte

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hi Monte, your story is a very common one. A homeowner with aging systems hoping to get more efficient and more comfortable. We would be happy to come and do a free estimate in your home. Give us a call at 800-398-4336. We’ll also send you an email. Thanks, Washington Energy.

      Reply
  • Giorgia

    I have an old downdraft furnace in a rambler where intakes and heating vents are both on the floor level. would it be better to put a new horizontal furnace?

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to go with either up or downdraft. It really comes down to your preferences and desires. What is the goal of the furnace replacement? To gain efficiency? To add a component your current furnace is missing? Are you losing efficiency in your ducts? These questions would have to be explored with you in order to create your upgrade plan. If you’re located in our service area, give us a call. If not, I would suggest discussing it with a well-reviewed local provider that offers free estimates. Thanks!

      Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hi Leo, the heat pump is more efficient to run than the furnace in moderate temperature zones such as ours. When the temps get really cold, a heat pump is less effective and your gas furnace would provide additional heat to make up for it. But most of the time in our area the heat pump will do the heavy lifting and will be more efficient.

      Reply
  • Teresa

    We have a 108 year old 2 story house with only in-the wall electric heaters. We have natural gas for cooking and hot water. I don’t know if a gas furnace is even an option for us with no ducts? Is our only option the ductless heat pump? I’m concerned that the heat pump isn’t a good option for us with the upstairs/downstairs and then needing to keep the house warm and bedroom 60 degrees or less for sleeping? I feel like we’d need to install 3 or 4 zones(?) and that gets super expensive!

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Ducts could still be an option, but most people these days seem to be going with the ductless option. Ductless is more expensive, but there are often rebates attached to their installation especially if electric is your only heat source. Also, ductless is the most efficient option available. If you’re staying in your home for a long time, you will save on your energy bills. If you’re in our area we’d be happy to provide a free estimate.

      Reply
  • Allen

    Is there a tool or formula for determining relative costs of a heat pump vs a gas furnace to achieve the same room temperature? I would assume that it would let me enter the rated efficiency of each device as well as the current price of each energy source.

    I know there are many other variables like days of <40° temps, etc., but I can account for those if I can just get an idea how much heat is produced by each appliance per unit of energy consumed. I've been surprised that this is so hard to find!

    Reply
    • Washington Energy

      Hi Allen, if you’re in our service area we would suggest a Home Energy Audit or even a Free Estimate if you’re thinking of an upgrade. The Home Energy Audit is very comprehensive. For obvious reasons we don’t guide a do-it-yourselfer into doing it because it takes training and skill to get a true read on your home’s energy loss and potential savings from any upgrades. Because of it’s long-term value it is a popular option for homeowners. Let us know if you’re interested, otherwise best of luck to you!

      Reply
  • Carol Radek

    Hi, I’m a realtor and I often get questions that pertain to many of the issues you are discussing above. I’ve toured hundreds of homes on the east side and have seen lots of interesting heat sources. I am curious about if you were able to help Teresa in her 108 yr old home? What solution did she select?

    I tour with many clients who automatically rule out electric baseboard heaters because they associate them with fires; however it seems to be one of the most common and ‘comfortable’ ways to heat a drafty home (keeping the walls warm). Also, why don’t homes use radiator heaters in the north west? And do you have an opinion on in-floor radiant heating? (Also do you have an idea what the additional thickness of your floor would be after adding it to an existing home?) Just in case you can’t remember Teresa’s letter, I’ve included it below.

    Thanks for your advice!!

    Teresa – February 2, 2016
    We have a 108 year old 2 story house with only in-the wall electric heaters. We have natural gas for cooking and hot water. I don’t know if a gas furnace is even an option for us with no ducts? Is our only option the ductless heat pump? I’m concerned that the heat pump isn’t a good option for us with the upstairs/downstairs and then needing to keep the house warm and bedroom 60 degrees or less for sleeping? I feel like we’d need to install 3 or 4 zones(?) and that gets super expensive!

    Reply
    • Jonathan Rundle

      I can’t speak to what Teresa chose, but I can answer your other questions. Electric baseboard heat is just really inefficient. We recommend keeping them as emergency heat should the temperature dip past the threshold for heat pump heat (which is not very often in this climate). Electric baseboard heat is common because it is cheap and easy to install, but ends up being more expensive to use regularly. We love in-floor radiant heating. The thickness it will add to your floors is not noticeable, less than an inch. Radiators have fallen out of favor probably because of how hot they get to the touch, and there is no way to propel the heat to different areas. It will be quite toasty near the radiator, but other parts of the room will stay cool.

      Reply

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