6 Must-Have Features For Your New Furnace

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated December 27, 2021
A woman covered in a blanket lying on the sofa
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  • Look for modern, energy-efficient features that save you money long term

  • An energy-efficient furnace should have an AFUE rating of 85% or greater

  • New furnace technology can optimize temperature control

  • A zoning system-enabled furnace can make a big difference in a big house

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If you’re looking to buy a brand new furnace, they don’t make them like they used to—and that’s a good thing. The clunky, inefficient furnaces of yesteryear are long gone, thanks to modern energy-efficient features. Newer furnace technology can save you money, offer greater temperature control, and even make the air you breathe a little bit cleaner. So, what features should you look for? These six must-have features won’t ever leave you out in the cold.

1. Energy Star Certification

All furnaces have an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating to measure their energy consumption. The minimum legal rating for new furnaces is 78%, but furnaces that receive Energy Star certification from the Environmental Protection Agency have AFUE ratings of 85% or greater

On average, Energy Star furnaces are up to 15% more energy efficient than standard furnaces—which equates to $30 to $85 worth of annual energy savings. Over time, the savings add up. If your furnace lasts 20 years, it could translate to $1,700 saved throughout your furnace’s lifespan. Plus, you’re reducing your environmental impact. Planet Earth certainly won’t mind.

2. Variable-Speed Blower

Depending on the HVAC system, your furnace (or air handler) has a blower that moves heated and cooled air through your ductwork. Traditional blowers are always running at full blast unless they’re off, which is how you get a burst of heated or cooled air in a room. A variable-speed blower will run almost continuously at a low speed and then ramp up when your HVAC system needs extra power.

Variable speed blowers increase your HVAC system’s energy efficiency, which decreases your energy bill because it doesn’t have to start and stop as often. They also have better temperature control—so say goodbye to hot and cold zones.

3. Electronically Commutated Motor (ECM)

Electronically commutated motors (ECMs) take the same benefits of a variable-speed blower one step further. Furnaces with ECMs don’t just optimize temperature control. They also:

ECMs don’t use brushes like a traditional motor to communicate an electrical signal, which wear down over time as it helps the blower push air through your HVAC system. Since ECM’s don’t use brushes, they aren’t prone to malfunction. Instead, ECMs come with the option to constantly run the fan, which pushes air through your HVAC system’s air filter (preferably, a HEPA filter). 

If the fan is always running, you’ll enjoy continuous filtered air at a higher quality. 

ECMs do cost a premium, but furnaces with this type of motor may come with a tax credit and have fewer costly repairs. 

4. Zoning System Capability

A professional repairing a furnace
Photo: GregorBister / E+ / Getty Images

Heating isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, especially if you have a larger home. You may find that one of your rooms is always a little too cold, but another has you peeling off your layers. If you’re used to this oh-so-familiar hot and cold dance, you may want to replace your furnace with a zoned HVAC. With this upgraded furnace, you can set different rooms to different temperatures.

5. Modulating Gas Valve

Craving a consistent home temperature? Say hello to the modulating gas valve, another feature fine-tuned to optimize temperature control. This must-have furnace feature meticulously adjusts the incoming gas supply, so your furnace’s flame gets bigger or smaller as needed. It’s a nuanced approach to heating that ensures you’re always comfortable while also increasing your home’s energy efficiency. 

6. Ignition System

Pesky pilot lights are a thing of the past. Pilot lights, which are a continuous flame used to ignite the gas that heats your furnace, expend a lot of energy. Newer ignition systems light gas up with a spark or hot surface. This leads to increased AFUE ratings since there’s no need to waste fuel on a constant flame.

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