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Central Heating: Buyer’s Guide

Buyer’s Guide

Purchasing Power: Shopping for Central Heating

After decreasing your heating load through passive cooling strategies and by insulating and weatherizing your home, you will want to follow these steps to choose the right heating system.

Look for the Label: EnergyGuide

Most major appliances, electronics, and lighting must meet specific energy standards outlined by the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy use and efficiency are displayed on the yellow EnergyGuide label, which compares the estimated annual operating cost with similar models. It also states how much energy the appliance is expected to use on an annual basis. The EnergyGuide label will also display the ENERGY STAR® logo, if the particular model qualifies.

EnergyGuide label compares the estimated annual operating cost with similar models

Look for the Logo: ENERGY STAR®

ENERGY STAR® is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The program sets minimum efficiency standards for appliances and building products and  identifies and labels the models that are the most energy efficient and available on the market. The standards are more rigorous than federal standards, and vary by product category.1 A list of qualified products, and more information on energy efficient cooling options can be found online at energystar.gov.

Hot Spots: Heater Efficiency

Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) is used to measure a boiler or furnace's heating efficiency.2 It measures the amount of heat delivered to your house compared to the amount of fuel supplied to the furnace. Conventional furnaces and boilers (15 years or older) have AFUEs of between 68% and 72%. ENERGY STAR®-rated boilers have an AFUE of 85% or higher, but the most efficient new furnaces rated by ENERGY STAR® have an AFUE of 90% or higher.3,4


High-Efficiency Furnace & Boiler Features
Feature Description

Second Heat Exchanger

An additional heat exchanger through which hot flue gases pass after leaving the conventional heat exchanger, capturing more combustion energy from source fuel.

Automatic Vent Damper

A device installed at the end of the draft hood of an appliance to automatically close the vent when the furnace or boiler is off and restrict heated air from escaping through the vent.

Forced Draft System

A mechanical system that moves flue gases through an appliance and creates more efficient heat transfer in the heat exchanger.

Intermittent Ignition Device

A device to replace constantly-burning pilot lights in older models. When the thermostat calls for heat, the device produces a spark to light the pilot, which in turn lights the heating system’s main burner. Newer gas furnaces and boilers are equipped with electronic ignitions, which save $30 to $40 annually in gas bills.

Electronically-Commutated Furnace Motors (ECMs)

ECMs are more efficient than standard fan blower motors for pushing heated air through ductwork. If you like to run your furnace fan year-round for comfort or air cleaning, you’ll save about $250 a year with an ECM motor.

Because an improperly-sized heating system may cost you more to operate, ask a qualified contractor to follow ASHRAE and Air Conditioning Contractors of America guidelines when sizing and quoting a system for your home. This will help ensure factors like your climate, the size and orientation of your home, any heat loss from your building shell, and your lifestyle are considered in sizing calculations. It also helps to do your homework using credible third-party reviewers to compare systems for safety, and for installation, maintenance, and operating costs.

HVAC Guide

A heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit that’s too large for your home costs more to run and uses more electricity. Plus, incorrect sizing or installation puts undue stress on components and shortens equipment life. When it's time for a new HVAC system, Our Quality Installation Program will help your sure your new system is sized properly for your home, and  installed following guidelines set by ENERGY STAR®—saving you energy and money. And you may be eligible to receive a rebate of up to $2,500!
Content in part adapted with permission from Rocky Mountain Institute’s Home Energy Briefs.

Use & Care

Proper maintenance and installation of your home’s central heater will maximize efficiency measures. Learn more about Central Heating Use & Care, where to start, and how to keep warm, efficient, and see the most savings.


If you’re thinking about making efficiency improvements, the Central Heating Overview is a great place to get acquainted with the basics and your options, before you buy or install a heating system in your home. Return to Heating and Cooling.

1 ENERGY STAR®. How A Product Earns the ENERGY STAR Label. Retrieved October 4, 2012, from energystar.gov
2Yardi, Ramola, Wang, K., Smith, A. (2004). Home Energy Briefs: #4 Space Heating. Snowmass: Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved September 28, 2012, from rmi.org.
4U.S. Department of Energy. (2012). Energy Saver: Furnaces and Boilers. Retrieved September 28, 2012, from energy.gov

This program is funded by California utility customers and administered by Southern California Edison under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.

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