4 Things to Consider Before Upgrading to a High Efficiency Propane Furnace

Recently I had to decide whether to replace my entire furnace or just the cracked heat exchanger. Due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning[1], a decision had to be made quickly. I was only able to get three quotes and do minimal research on the internet before making a decision. After having the new furnace installed, I have some perspective on whether I made correct decisions and with some hindsight, on which factors were the most important.

After looking through the information on which models to buy and which to avoid, I found there was really no difference between any of the models on the relative number of complaints[2]. Installation by a highly competent Heating and Air Conditioning local dealer was the biggest determination of success or failure of the unit.

  • It came down to two decisions: price (and whether installing HE vs. just a 80% efficiency furnace was worth the extra cost) and who was going to install and service the unit.
  • The difference between the 80% units in all three quotes and the 95% units was less than I expected. The range in quotes from one company to another, though, was nearly $1000. and I was not quoting the most expensive units, so getting 3 quotes was well worth the effort.
  • The other item to decide is the 80/95 decision. At first, what I did not realize is that there are 90, 93,95, 97% HE Propane furnaces. When looking through the internet, I found that the HE rebates from the Federal Government are, at this time, no longer in effect. But there is some belief that it may be reinstated, especially in an election year, and a 95%HE would be the minimum needed to qualify. Additionally in the State of Illinois, the Illinois Propane Gas Association[3] will rebate $350 for a newly installed 95% HE propane furnace. You have to have your supplier come out and check to verify that it is a HE furnace and you will have a form to send in along with proof of paid receipt. Other states may have a similar rebate. The most important consideration is that it must be at least a 95% HE furnace and other rebate programs may have such requirements, so be very careful.
  • When you install a HE furnace, which I went with, the furnace no longer uses the existing chimney. A bonus for me as there were problems with my old chimney. The dealer measures your present area and figures out if they can fit the new exhaust system into your present space. There are good videos on You Tube that show how this set up is put in and looks. When mine was put in, the salesman did not check carefully and since I have an old farmhouse that looks new due to updates, they found there was not enough clearance to put the new vent pipe without drilling concrete. This added considerable time and trouble to the installation. Ask the salesperson where exactly the vent tubing is to go and exactly where it will escape from your home so you can discuss any problems that might occur. This may obligate you to go with an 80% which uses the existing chimney.

Do an extensive search to find any and all rebates available to offset the cost of installation. More rebates may be available with an HE furnace, especially 95% or better. For me, the rebate on the HE furnace brought the cost of the more energy efficient furnace down to nearly the cost of the 80% less efficient furnace.

Although the adventure of purchasing this furnace has not been without it’s trials, and I would caution anyone to put the reputation of the installer as one of the more important considerations when deciding which way to go, having a new furnace has been a real bonus, compared to just fixing the old heat exchanger.

[1] usepropane.com/carbon-monoxide-safety-information, 2012 Propane Education & Research Council

[2] Consumer Reports.org Brand Repair History -Gas furnaces 2009-2011

[3] IPGA.org, (click on consumer icon for details)

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