New Heating Systems

Do You Need a New Heating System?

If your heating system is less than 20 years old, unless there has been major neglect, you can expect many years of service from it. A properly installed and well maintained heating system should provide you with at least 25 years of good service.

To help make this long service life a reality, it is a good idea to have your heating system inspected and adjusted on an annual basis. Ottauquechee Plumbing & Heating recommends this strongly if your system is over 10 years old.

With the cost of fuel today, a properly adjusted system will run more efficiently and this will save you money on your heating fuel bill. A maintenance program will also help to ensure that you heating system is operating safely.

Good preventive maintenance will ensure that your system runs safely and efficiently for a long time.

Eventually, however, an older system may need to be replaced. You should replace your heating system when it is no longer cost effective to keep it in good working order. Your heating system has reached this point if one of the following statements is true:

1. The heating equipment has an unsafe condition which can’t be repaired in a cost effective manner.
2. Your old system is so inefficient that a replacement would pay for itself in energy savings.

An unsafe condition can sometimes develop in an older furnace. This occurs when cracks or leaks develop in the heat exchanger. The purpose of the heat exchanger is to keep the hot exhaust gases separate from the warm air which circulates through the ductwork and house. When there is a leak in the heat exchanger, poisonous gases and carbon monoxide can accumulate in the house.

Although boilers are less likely to fail than furnaces, they can also develop unsafe conditions. For example, in a boiler a low water level can result when the safety device called a low water fuel cut-off does not function properly. This safety device is designed to shut down the boiler when there is a low water condition. If the low water fuel cut-off is faulty or missing, then the boiler will overheat and can be permanently damaged.

It will not be as obvious when your heating system has become obsolete due to its poor efficiency. The efficiency of a system, today, should be a major factor as fuel cost continue to increase.


Efficiency can be measured, however, and you should have your system tested when an annual inspection is performed. If your heating system is operating below 70% then new equipment is available with substantially higher efficiency. For example, a new 90% efficient furnace will save 22% of the fuel use of a 70% efficient furnace.

If fuel oil is at $4.50 a gallon and you use 1000 per winter to heat your home then a 22% savings will translate into almost $1,000 in savings to heat your home per year.

The amount of money you will save depends on how much you presently spend on energy for heating your house. This can be estimated by one of the following methods:

1. Complete an energy analysis of your home.
2. Review your propane or oil bills.

To elaborate on method number 2, there is a simple analysis that you can do to estimate your heating energy use from your fuel bills.

If you heat with one of these fuels then compare your usage in the winter to your usage in the summer. Your summer use, if any, is for cooking, water heating, and clothes drying. These are pretty constant uses throughout the year. If you average your summer use and then multiply by 12, you have an estimate of your annual non-heating fuel use.

Subtract this amount from your total fuel use to estimate how much fuel you buy per year to heat your home. Multiply this amount by the cost of fuel to obtain your annual heating bill.

Before You Buy

Before you buy a new heating or cooling system there are several decisions you should make. If you are not able to make an informed decision then someone else can help you to decide. Ottauquechee Plumbing & Heat can lay out the options and help you with the decision making process. We always try to remain neutral but we have experience with many types of systems, controls and fuels which may cause us to favor one type of system, control or fuel for a particular heating situation.

Choosing a Heating Fuel Type

The table below lists all of the heating fuel types commonly used in homes in the United States. This data varies regionally; however, the order of precedence is consistent across regions with one exception. In the Northeast, fuel oil heat is more prevalent than electric heat; it is the main heating fuel in about 36% of homes.

Here is a breakdown of the types of main heating fuel used by homes in the United States.

Natural Gas 53%
Electric 29%
Fuel Oil 9%
Wood 2%
LPG 5%
Kerosene 1%
None 1%

Most likely, you will want to stay with the same heating fuel that your present system uses, but there are a few cases in which you should consider switching.

If you live in a cold climate and have electric heat, you may benefit from switching to one of the other fuel types. Electric heat tends to be expensive in cold climates where air source heat pumps do not work as efficiently.

There has also been a tendency to switch from fuel oil or LPG to natural gas as pipelines are extended into new neighborhoods.

Prices for these fuels fluctuate, so it is difficult to predict which would be less expensive. Some people switch to natural gas for the convenience of not having a storage tank and not having to schedule fuel deliveries. At this point in time natural gas is not available in the Upper Valley area.

Choosing a Heating System Type

The table below shows the prevalence of all of the common types of heating systems found in the United States. Nationwide, the warm-air furnace is by far the most popular type of heating system. The distribution of system types varies regionally, but the overall popularity trends are constant with a couple of exceptions. Again the Northeast is a bit different with steam or hot-water systems are slightly more prevalent than furnaces.
Main Heating System Type

Central Heating Systems

  • Central Warm-Air Furnace 55%
  • Steam or Hot-Water System 12%
  • Heat Pump 10%

Stand-alone Heating Systems

  • Built-In Electric Units 7%
  • Room Heater 5%
  • Floor, wall, or pipeless furnace 4%
  • Heating Stove 1%
  • Kerosene 1%
  • Other 4%
  • None 1%

You will probably want to replace your existing system with a new one of the same type. This is usually the most sensible option, because fewer parts for the entire house-wide system have to be replaced.

For example, switching from a warm-air furnace or heat pump to a hot-water system would require installation of a new hot-water distribution system.

Air systems use ductwork and water systems use piping. Some of the system types, such as built-in electric units and floor, wall, or pipeless furnaces; do not have any form of distribution. These are called unitary systems. Switching to a central furnace or hot-water system would require installation of a duct or pipe distribution system.

Some homeowners will choose to switch from a unitary to a central heating system. For example, if you are switching from electric baseboard heat to a more efficient heat pump; the new system will also have the added benefit of providing air conditioning in the summer.

Another popular switch is from electric baseboard to a central gas or oil furnace. This change is made to reduce electric bills and provides and opportunity to add central air conditioning to a home. In the Northeast, homeowners often switch from electric baseboard heat to forced hot water. This is an economic choice—it is usually easier and less expensive to install the water distribution system than ductwork in an existing home.

The common theme in the examples mentioned above is a tendency to get away from unitary electric heating systems. These systems can be the most expensive to operate; electric furnaces are actually worse than unitary systems. The only benefit to this type of unitary system is that you have individual room control so that you heat only the rooms that you occupy. In practice, this is not a realistic strategy for many homeowners.

Looking at fuels other than electricity, it makes sense to switch from a unitary system to a central system.

Notwithstanding the benefit of individual room control, when talking about fossil fuel fired equipment, a large central system tends to be more efficient than several small unitary systems. Going from a unitary to a central system also makes it easier to add central air conditioning and humidity control, both of which make occupants more comfortable and add value to the home.

Heating Controls

The most straight-forward control is a simple thermostat. You set the temperature that you want in the room and the heating system provides heat until that temperature is reached.

A more sophisticated and energy efficient control is what is known as a warm weather shut down control. This control monitors the outside air temperature and if the outside air temperature is sufficiently high relative to the desired room temperature then the boiler does not provide any heat.

If you are considering a new heating system contact Ottauquechee Plumbing & Heating and we can work with you to define the options and help you make a selection.

Please view our Heating System Contractor Selection Guide for some advice on what to look for when selecting a contractor to install your new heating system