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Should you replace your heating system, and if so, with what?

We’re fast approaching heating season. If you have an older heating system, chances are pretty good that it’s inefficient. Depending upon how old your heating system is, it may not be more than 30%-40% efficient. For these systems, that means 60% or 70% of the fuel input gets “lost ” on its way to heating your home.

Another way to put it is that for every $100 you spend on operating these systems, $60-$70 is wasted. That’s hard to accept, isn’t it? If this is your system, it means one of two things: either you could be a whole lot warmer during the winter, or you are burning a lot of cash to stay warm.

You wouldn’t pay $100 at the gas station for $30 worth of gas. It doesn’t make sense to spend $100 on heating for $30 worth of heat, either. High efficiency heating equipment can shift your efficiency rating from less than 40% to 80%, 90% or even 95%. That means that up to 95% of what you’re spending gets returned to your house in the form of heat. You’ll spend much less to stay warm this winter if you install a new, high-efficiency heating system.

If you’re planning to replace your old heating system, a high-efficiency system should be a must-have on your list. While the cost of a high-efficiency system may be greater than a less efficient model, it will also cost less to operate year after year. The small margin you pay up front can produce thousands of dollars in savings over the lifetime of the equipment.

You should also think carefully about the fuel that operates your heating system. Today, most homes in Massachusetts use either natural gas, fuel oil or electricity. About 6% of Massachusetts homes use propane, wood, solar or some other fuel type. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages.

Electricity is the least popular way to heat a home because traditional electric heat systems can be expensive. One excellent way to save money on electric heat is to consider adding an air-source heat pump. An air-source heat pump can provide standalone heat efficiently. You can also use an air-source heat pump to provide supplemental heat (and cooling) to your home without switching away from your primary heating system.

Today, nearly 30% of Massachusetts homes use heating oil as a primary fuel source. Heating oil can pose environmental challenges that other fuel systems don’t. Heating oil is a commodity, so consumers are subject to the “spot price” of heating oil at the time of purchase. Buying heating oil off season is one way to save money, but if you run out of heating oil mid-winter and need to refill, you can end up paying a significant premium for heat. Many people who use heating oil are considering converting from heating oil to natural gas. The price stability of natural gas is the primary reason. Efficiency and environmental concerns are other primary motivators for making the switch.

Just over half of the homes in Massachusetts use natural gas to heat their homes. Natural gas is delivered to the home “on-demand” from a utility company. The price of natural gas has been relatively stable over time, and burning natural gas for heat reduces the impact of heating on the environment.

However you choose to heat your home, switching to the most efficient equipment on the market today will help recover the cost of your investment, and reduce your energy consumption for years to come.

If you’d like more information about high efficiency options for heating your home, please gives us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911 to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: Alex Gorzen, via Flickr

Early Heating Replacement Programs Still Available

MassSave offers rebates of up to $3,250 on early heating system replacements . To qualify, you must replace a working but inefficient natural gas, propane or oil heat system that is (in most cases) at least 30 years old. The rebate applies to replacement systems that use the same fuel type as the system you’re replacing. The rebate varies, depending upon the type of system you’re replacing.

$750 Rebate

Customers who replace an oil-fueled furnace with a unit that has an ECM motor can claim a rebate of $750. To claim this rebate, the replaced furnace must be at least 12 years old.

$1,000 Rebate

Customers who replace a propane- or natural gas-fueled furnace with a unit that has an ECM motor can claim a rebate of $1,000. To claim this rebate, the replaced furnace must be at least 12 years old.

$1,700 Rebate

Customers who replace an oil-fueled hot water boiler with a unit that is at least 86% efficient, can claim a rebate of $1,700. To claim this rebate, the replaced boiler must be at least 30 years old.

$1,900 Rebate

Customers who replace an oil-fueled steam boiler with a unit that is at least 84% efficient, can claim a rebate of $1,900. To claim this rebate, the replaced boiler must be at least 30 years old.

Customers who replace a propane- or natural gas-fueled steam boiler with a unit that is at least 82% efficient, can claim a rebate of $1,900. To claim this rebate, the replaced boiler must be at least 30 years old.

$3,250 Rebate

Customers who replace a propane- or natural gas-fueled forced hot water boiler with a unit that is at least 90% efficient, can claim a rebate of $3,250. To claim this rebate, the replaced boiler must be at least 30 years old.

This is a great opportunity to reduce the cost of a new, highly efficient heating system for your home and reduce your overall energy costs. To participate in the plan, you’ll need to schedule a no-cost energy assessment/site visit through MassSave.

Even if your system doesn’t qualify for early replacement rebates, you may still qualify for other rebate programs through MassSave. In addition, MassSave offers 0% financing on qualifying replacement systems. This is also a great way to replace an old, inefficient heating system and begin to save on your annual operating costs.

If you’re interested in replacing an old, inefficient but-still-working cooling system, MassSave has rebate incentives for that, too!

If you’d like more information about incentives available to you for early heating or cooling replacement, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911.

Photo Credit: 401(k) 2012, via Flickr

DOE Rule Regarding 80%- Efficient Furnaces Set To Take Effect May 1

DOE Rule Regarding 80%- Efficient Furnaces Set To Take Effect May 1

DOE Rule Regarding 80%- Efficient Furnaces Set To Take Effect May 1

The US Department of Energy has issued Regional Efficiency Standards in the Northern Region (including Boston) that effectively prohibit the sale or installation of gas forced-air furnaces that are 80% efficient beginning May 1, 2013. This rule, if allowed to take effect, may have some undesirable consequences for consumers who purchase a new furnace in Boston after May 1. In some extreme cases, the regulations may actually prevent homeowners in Boston from installing the high efficiency furnaces the rule was intended to promote!

Essentially, the rule permits the installation of only high-efficiency furnaces – those above 90%. High efficiency furnaces operate somewhat differently than lower-efficiency models, and may have different installation requirements that will force consumers to spend more for heating equipment and installations.

The furnaces allowed under the rule must be vented to the outside of the home, using separate fresh air intakes and exhaust ports. An existing chimney may be used to vent exhaust gases from the furnace only if it has been lined with a special liner that reduces heat transfer to the surrounding home and prevents the corrosive byproducts of combustion from damaging the masonry.

High efficiency furnaces can also be vented to the outside of the home via PVC piping. PVC piping is less expensive than lining an existing chimney, but PVC is not without its own concerns. Heated PVC can release toxic fumes in a process known as “outgassing.” Stainless steel piping can be substituted for PVC piping, but the use of a stainless steel exhaust port requires a special adapter on the furnace, and adds to the cost of the installation.

In some historic homes, the high efficiency ventilation requirements may prove to be either cost-prohibitive or technically impossible. Historic homes, especially those with multiple tenants in a single structure, may not provide enough options for venting to the back of the building, out through the roof, or through an existing chimney. This may be especially true where other buildings stand immediately adjacent to a structure, and eliminate the possibility of venting out a sidewall.

The ventilation problem may be compounded over time if multiple tenants want or need to install new furnaces. As more tenants install new furnaces, fewer ventilation options remain for future installations. Without outside ventilation options, future installations may require the complete conversion of a home’s heating system to a technology such as electric heat, which does not require outside ventilation.

Several trade groups in the heating and cooling industry have offered an alternative solution, which has not yet been considered or accepted by the Department of Energy. The groups filed suit in a federal Appeals Court seeking an injunction to block the Regional Efficiency Standards in the Northern Region from taking effect on May 1. As of this writing, the Appeals Court has not considered arguments in the case. If the court does not act prior to May 1, the rule will be implemented as written.

If you are considering the installation of a high-efficiency furnace, your window of opportunity to purchase a lower-efficiency (less costly) option is set to close on May 1st 2013. According to the DOE rules, no 80% efficiency furnaces may be sold, purchased or installed after that time. While higher-efficiency units will save money on operational costs, they also cost more to purchase and install. The increased cost of these units may reduce or eliminate a more affordable option for heating your home and saving money at the same time.
If you are considering furnace replacement but want to buy and install an 80% efficient model, you may have only a limited opportunity to do that. Please call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 immediately to schedule a consultation. We can explain purchase and installation options, and provide you with financing options that can help you determine the best heating choices for your home.

Photo Credit: m.gifford, via Flickr