After 17 years, our furnace is wearing out. Earlier this week, the blower finally seized up, so we decided to bite the bullet and shop for a new furnace. Our house requires an 80-90,000 BTU furnace.

After listening to three salespeople extol the virtues of their brands and services, I thought I'd summarize the choices and price points. Consumer Reports contends that brands mean not so much, as they are so much alike and models change so frequently. Instead, I focused on quality and price.

Types of gas furnace. These come in three levels-

  • a single-stage one like we currently have, that is either full-on or off;
  • a two-stage model, allowing the furnace to use less gas in moderate temperatures;
  • a multi-stage model that combines a two or three stage burner with a variable-speed blower that blows all the time, sometimes hard, sometimes soft, again based on need.

Furnaces also vary in the degree of efficiency, from 80% to 95%. Expect to pay more for greater efficiency, and expect your salesperson to push the value of fuel savings to offset the higher cost.

So, we have to choose among-

  • 80% efficient single-stage
  • 80% efficient two-stage
  • 80% efficient multistage
  • 90%+ efficient single-stage
  • 90%+ efficient two-stage
  • 90%+ efficient multistage (or modulating)

Are you with me so far?

Type of filtration
Air quality is another question we wanted to address, and the answers ranged from a simple furnace filter to an air cleaner.
Air cleaners come in two styles; a media filter (essentially a very thick (4-10") paper-like filter), or an electronic filter. The cost of the media filter is around 60-70% of the electronic filter. However, the electronic cleaner needs only be rinsed occasionally, while the media filter must be replaced a couple of times a year, at $40 or so a pop.

We have a humidifier we plan to keep, but if we were to upgrade, it would cost us several hundred dollars. The advantage of a new one would be that we could get one with its own thermostat, rather than having to remember to tweak the setting on the furnace-mounted control..

So what about quotes?
As you might expect, the quotes are not completely apples to apples. However, to give you a sense of the range of similar quotes:

For a 95% efficient, variable-speed modulating gas furnace and a media air cleaner-
Company A- $4,917
Company B- $3,709
Company C- $5,309

All three are well-established companies, Better Business Bureau Members, and top-rated by Angie's List.
The message to take from this? The harder a purchase is to comparison shop, the more likely it is that you can overpay. Comparison shopping for home repairs can save you a ton of money.

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