The Homeowner's Furnace Guide

Table of Contents

We are proud to call Calgary home. But when the temperature drops, “home” certainly isn’t a place you want to be without a good furnace. Our winters are cold, dry, unpredictable – and yes, long too. This makes it all the more important to have a well-maintained furnace you can count on.

 

Unfortunately, like any appliance, furnaces often require repairs – or even replacement.

 

We’d like to share a few simple maintenance and repair procedures that most homeowners can do themselves. At the same time, we will explain common repair and servicing work that may require the expertise of a trained professional. Is your furnace on its last legs? If so, an HVAC specialist will be required to install a new unit – and can even recommend the right model.

 

If there is one piece of wisdom we can leave you with, it is to find a trusted HVAC specialist, keep their phone number handy and set up appointments regularly. It’s the easiest way to ensure your furnace is well-maintained, and your family is always toasty warm.

1. How your furnace works

Most furnaces found in Calgary operate using natural gas. The gas is ignited to produce a flame, which produces heat within a heat exchanger. The furnace fan blows air from your home over the furnace’s heat exchanger and the heat generated from the combustion of the natural gas is transferred to the air in your home. This is then circulated throughout your home via a network of ducts. Warm air enters each room through the heating registers. The air is circulated all day long and provides clean, healthy air for your family to breathe.

2. Why get a furnace tune-up

A professional furnace tune-up and inspection is part of the recommended maintenance schedule for a furnace. It helps detect and prevent furnace problems before they cause significant damage or cost you money. A regular tune-up will also provide peace of mind, knowing your family will be safe and warm.

 

Advanpro’s comprehensive furnace tune-up includes inspecting, testing, and cleaning all sensors, burners, exhaust, wiring, and motor functionality. We also test the switches and circuits and check the filters, gas pressure, and other mechanical components. We want to make sure all the moving parts and electrical connections are working well, and won’t cause issues in the future. When in doubt, book your furnace tune-up. 

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3. Common furnace problems

Regardless of where you live, or how cold and dry it gets, your furnace can break down – and the middle of winter is not a good time to be without heat. Here are the most common furnace problems.  
Dirty filters
If your filters get dirty or, even worse, completely clogged, your heater will struggle to push air through to heat your living space. Check your filter frequently, and replace it to keep your furnace working optimally. 
Wear and tear on parts
Over time, some furnace parts may begin to break down. Belts, bearings, filters, motors, limit, and pressure switches, control boards, gas valves, thermocouples, ignitors, and flame sensors—they should all be checked as part of an annual Furnace Tune-Up to ensure they are in good working order. You’ll want to call the pros in for this one!
Clogged condensate trap
Through the course of normal operation, high-efficiency furnaces produce condensate (water) which drains through the furnace condensate trap and into your furnace floor drain. Over time, these condensate traps can become clogged with dirt and impurities from combustion. If the trap becomes clogged, condensate will build up inside the furnace heat exchanger and eventually cause the furnace will stop running. The good news is a furnace tune up can address this!
Thermostat errors
When your thermostat malfunctions, your furnace itself may still be in good working order, but it may not be receiving the right instructions. (It’s the brain remember!) Check the batteries first, and if that’s not the problem, get someone in to diagnose and service it. 
Ignition issues
Your furnace may be getting instructions from your Thermostat to turn on but it fails to turn on, short cycles, or just circulates cold air. Regardless of your system, an HVAC pro should tackle this one.
Strange noises or rumbles
Some noise is normal, but if you start to hear clangs, bangs, rumbles, rattles, or squeaks, you may have furnace problems. New noises from your furnace are generally the result of issues with your blower motor or inducer motor. Sometimes these noises will temporarily go away but like most issues with motors, they will come back at an inopportune time. When you notice unfamiliar noises from your furnace, it’s best to call us to diagnose the issue. Identifying issues early can prevent further damage and possibly reduce the cost of a repair. 
On and off, on and off
Your furnace should run for a certain amount of time, then stay off. If your furnace is cycling on and off frequently and struggling to maintain your set temperature, this is a sign of trouble. Check your filter and replace if it is dirty, if the problem persists, get an expert in.
Low heat output
If temperatures outside are within a typical range and your home never seems to get warm enough, you could be dealing with a clogged filter, thermostat malfunction, or other mechanical issues. Troubleshoot the simple stuff, and make a call if you’re still not getting heat. 
Huge bills
Skyrocketing utility bills are a sign of problems. Increased energy use means your furnace is underpowered, dirty, or damaged in some way. Start with cleaning and a tune-up. 
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4. Buying or replacing a furnace

Choosing a furnace

The vast majority of homes in Calgary are heated by natural gas furnaces. There are a few things to consider when selecting the right furnace for your home, including the size of your home, number of floors, the number of furnaces you have, the age of your home, and the layout of your home. These factors taken together will help determine the type of furnace best suited to meet your needs. Larger homes need bigger furnaces. Furnaces are sized by their BTU Input rating, and the higher the BTU Input the larger the furnace, which usually costs more to install. It may be tempting to purchase a smaller furnace to save money, but if a furnace is too small, it’ll have to work harder and won’t be able to keep the house warm.

 

Furnaces generally range from 45,000 BTU up to 135,000 BTU. A 135,000 BTU furnace will typically be about 25% higher in cost than a 45,000 BTU model from the same manufacturer.

 

High-efficiency furnaces

Today, nearly all furnaces are high-efficiency models, which are popular because they reduce energy consumption. Designed to maximize every last tiny bit of heat from natural gas combustion, they have AFUE ratings from 90 percent to as high as 99 percent and transfer anywhere from 14 to 50% percent more heat to your home than a standard furnace with the same volume of natural gas consumed. In Alberta, it is now mandated that all new furnaces must have an AFUE rating of 96%. Long story short, new high-efficiency furnaces use less energy to heat your home more evenly, leading to a more comfortable living environment and less energy consumed means cost savings.

 

Furnaces typically fall into three categories:

 

Single-stage furnace: Furnaces that blow for a period and shut-off when the target temperature is achieved. In Calgary, these can cost between $4,300-$5,500 (installed).

 

Two-stage furnace: A two-stage furnace runs at a lower speed and heat output when the weather is mild, and at higher speed and output when it starts getting colder. Benefits include: more consistent warm air distribution, quieter operation, less stopping and starting (for less wear and tear), and increased energy savings. Prices range from $5,000-$6,500 installed).

 

Modulating furnaces: These premium furnaces are designed to keep your home at a steady temperature at all times. The furnace quietly runs for longer stretches and consistently circulates warm air throughout the home—for more even temperature distribution and a more comfortable environment. While the warm air runs more or less continually, these furnaces are actually more efficient than single- or two-stage furnaces, using less energy overall. These can cost anywhere from $6,000-$7,500 (installed).

 

Like anything, you’re better off to choose a reputable and reliable name brand furnace backed by warranty. (Advanpro is proud to represent Lennox). The more energy-efficient your furnace, the more money you’ll keep in your pocket when the utility bills come due.

 

Getting a quote

It’s always advisable to get more than one quote. Make sure quotes include all services and fees upfront, including disposal of the old unit, permitting, CO detectors, etc. If you want additional options (such as a humidifier, UV Light, or upgraded Air Quality Filtration System), get that priced at the same time. It is less expensive to have these systems installed at the same time as your furnace installation instead of having them done after the fact. 

 

If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is value in engaging a reputable and experienced company like Advanpro. A fly-by-night, one-man operation will likely not be there to stand behind a labour warranty or service your furnace down the road. 

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5. Furnace installation

Installing a furnace is a job that must be done by (or an Apprentice at least overseen by) a Journeyman Gas Fitter, Plumber, or Sheet Metal Worker. It requires a municipal permit, inspection, and approval. As you’re are dealing with Natural Gas and Electricity it’s not recommended to mess around with expensive and potentially dangerous mechanical systems in your home. As with any major purchase it is recommended to do your homework. You should buy your furnace from a trusted and established HVAC Company, who will also do the installation, and provide a solid warranty on their work.

The cost of furnace installation can vary depending on the time of year you need the installation done, and what you’re having installed. Late spring and winter are considered peak times. You may find that companies will offer specials or discounts in non-peak times of the year when there is less demand for furnace replacements. The type of furnace you purchase as well as the size and construction of your home will affect the cost too. On average, expect to pay between $4,000-$7,000 for turn-key installation of the new furnace.

6. Humidifiers and optional equipment

Humidifiers for good health

Alberta’s mountains provide plenty of outdoor fun, but they also leave us with some of the deepest and coldest winters in North America. Calgary is also incredibly dry, which can affect our skin, health, and the health of our home. 

 

One thing that can make life in Calgary more comfortable is a humidifier. Whole-house humidifiers are attached to your furnace, which introduces moisture into the air circulating through the furnace, and in turn, moist air is distributed through your ductwork and into your home. This invisible moisture helps with everything from dry skin and nose bleeds to sinus issues and respiratory irritation. By investing in a humidifier, you can raise the humidity to an ideal level and keep everyone healthy and happy. Additionally, keeping your homes’ humidity consistent year-round helps prevent warping and splitting of wood furniture and hardwood floors.

UV lights
Mold and bacteria being circulating through ductwork is a scary thought and a serious threat to anyone with breathing issues like asthma and C.O.P.D. UV lights can be installed to help keep your HVAC system and ducts clean and help reduce fungus and bacteria. There are two different light styles: coil sanitizing and air sanitizing which range from $300 to $600. If you’re interested in UV Lights, you can talk to a professional about your needs, budget, and system.

7. Simple do-it-yourself maintenance

While you’re likely not a furnace expert, there are some simple things you can do on your own to help care for your furnace. 
Replacing the furnace filter
Furnace filters help keep your HVAC system’s parts clean and running efficiently while removing remove dust, dirt, pollen, allergens, bacteria, and other air pollutants from your home’s air. When it comes to selecting the right furnace filter for your heating and cooling system, there are a few things to consider. 
Filter size and thickness

The typical sizes for a furnace filter are 16″ x 20″, 20″ x 25″, and 16″ x 25″. The size of your filter will be stamped on your existing furnace filter. It may be located on the filter rack you slide your furnace filter into on the side of your filter cabinet. The filter must fit snuggly in your furnace, as a good fit prevents unfiltered air from seeping around the edges of the filter. A filter’s thickness can range from 1″ to 5″, depending on the furnace make and model. As a general rule of thumb, a thicker furnace filter will last longer and do a better job of filtering the air in your home. 

 

Replacement filters can be purchased at most hardware stores or online through Amazon and other retailers. If you are not sure which size you need, check the filter currently in your furnace. 

Filter efficiency
The MERV rating system evaluates and compares mechanical air filters for overall effectiveness. The higher the rating, the better the filter is. If anyone in your home has allergies, asthma, or any other respiratory conditions, pets, or if you live in a dusty environment, you should aim for a MERV 12 or higher rating. Furnace filter cost varies based on MERV rating, filter material, thickness, retailer, and other factors. Providing it is changed monthly, a basic filter will remove the worst dust and debris and can be easier on your furnace (and wallet).
When to replace

Filters typically need to be replaced every 1-3 months depending on the type of filter you’re using. If you notice the furnace filter’s surface is gray and covered in buildup, you should go ahead and change it. Other signs you may need to change your filter are more dust in the home or longer heating and cooling cycles.

Changing your humidifier vapor pad 
Like furnace filters, humidifier filters need to be checked every 6 months and changed every 12 – 24 months.
Thermostat updates

If your thermostat is battery operated and is not working, the batteries may be dead. Many programmable thermostats feature a flashing “low battery” icon on their control screen. If you see a “low battery” warning, put in fresh batteries.

 

The thermostat is one household electronic that has seen many upgrades over the years. Today there are many options, including manual, programmable and smart ones.

 

Here are some things to consider if you’re replacing your thermostat:

 

Manual Thermostats
These traditional models getting replaced with all the smart thermostat technology available. Manual thermostats may be old school, but they work and are still recommended by most heating and cooling professionals. One consideration is that manual thermostats are not as precise when it comes to temperature accuracy, which means it may be difficult to keep the temperature consistent and exactly where you want it. They also won’t have humidity control or the ability to run your circulation fan.

 

Programmable Thermostats
A second option is programmable thermostats, which offer customization and energy savings. You can schedule and set your temperature and no longer have to adjust the temperature manually as the day heats up and cools down. With these added features, programmable thermostats will cost more than manual ones. You’ll also need to speak with a professional about which programmable thermostat is compatible with your system.

 

Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats are the top choice for tech-savvy homeowners who like to schedule and control the temperature settings throughout the day. Beyond the temperature controls, these toys can provide energy reports, run times, and notify you if your air filter needs replacing. They can also control humidity and run your furnace blower motor when the furnace is not running to ensure the air in your home is fresh and constantly being filtered. They also allow you to control your home’s temperature remotely when not at home and can notify you if your home’s temperature is dropping below its set point.

 

If you plan on replacing your thermostat, it’s always good to talk to a professional who can advise you based on your home, and your current system. There’s no sense spending money on something that isn’t going to help you.

8. Finding a furnace professional

Choosing professionals is like choosing any other experts—you want to do your research, ask the right questions, and feel like you’ve got the best person for the job. Here are tips on how to find the right duct cleaning company in Calgary.

 

Do your research and check credentials
Start with an online search. Look at their website to see how long they’ve been in business for, how long they’ve been doing furnace or HVAC services, and what other services they offer. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to call and ask.

 

Google Reviews are a good place to look. Ask friends for referrals too. Finally, be sure to check that the provider is a member in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

 

Also, ensure they have the required insurance coverage, WCB coverage, and are licensed to pull permits. If not, hang up the phone.

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Calgary trusts Advanpro.

Founded in 2007, Advanpro has established itself as a leading provider of Commercial and Residential Duct Cleaning, Heating, and Cooling services. Our company is committed to excellence and uses the industry’s best practices to protect and care for your home. 

 

We offer highly professional furnace cleaning and maintenance services and complete furnace repair and furnace replacement services. And if you’re looking for a brand-new furnace in your home, we also provide new furnace installations and plumbing repairs.