Financial benefits to buying high-efficiency HVAC equipment

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Tune up: Robert Nowakowski, a technician with Mert’s Heating & Air Conditioning in Steger, looks over a high-efficiency furnace that the Steger-based business installed in Crete. | Photos by Michael Roberts

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In the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) world, high efficiency is translating into high returns.

Various government, manufacturer, and utility company rebates targeting high-efficiency furnace and air conditioning units have produced significant savings for homeowners.

Nicor and ComEd have teamed up to offer system rebates up to $1,750 for homeowners who add a 97-percent efficient furnace, 14.5 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) air conditioner, energy-efficient hot water heater, pipe insulation, and programmable thermostat to their home. In addition, current federal tax credits include $150 on a 95-percent efficient furnace and $300 on a minimum 16 SEER air conditioner, while some manufacturers have unveiled rebates up to $1,100 on high-efficiency equipment.

“It’s a great time for homeowners to make the investment in this equipment because of the rebates and credits that are available as well as the timing in between the winter heating and summer cooling season,” said Scott Burdette, co-owner of Mert’s Heating & Air Conditioning, a 61-year-old Steger-based company that is among the Southland’s largest HVAC contractors.

Mert’s, which carries and installs all major manufacturers, such as Lennox, Bryant, and American Standard, also offers a rebate up to $500 on a high-efficiency systems purchase.

While furnaces in the 1980s topped out at about 60 percent efficiency, today’s top-of-the-line furnaces have inched toward 100 percent efficiency.

“When you buy this upgraded equipment, there’s a payback with lower gas and electric bills,” Burdette said, noting that federal standards require manufacturers to meet minimum efficiency guidelines of 80 percent for furnaces and 13 SEER for air conditioners.

Smarter equipment

Developments such as variable-speed technology and modulating gas valves, which act much like cruise control on a car, have added to the energy savings and home comfort.

“Furnaces in the old days only knew one thing and that was firing away at full power, but today’s furnaces are so intelligent that they will intuitively know how much energy to push out,” Burdette said.

With the variable-speed technology and modulating gas valves present in today’s high-efficiency furnaces, homeowners can also set up specific zones in the house. For instance, a homeowner can set a first-floor home office at 72 degrees during the daytime while the second-story bedrooms can sit at 68 degrees.

“There are certainly times during the day when some parts of the house need to be heated or cooled more than others and that’s where zoning becomes advantageous,” Burdette said. He added that zoning produces increased comfort alongside more stable, consistent temperatures throughout the home.

Burdette says that manufacturers have also upped their warranty levels as well. Most of the equipment comes with 10-year parts warranties, while many manufacturers are now offering 10-year labor warranties at substantial discounts.

“This gives homeowners strong peace of mind when they make such a sizable investment,” Burdette said.

When investigating the purchase of a new furnace and air conditioning unit, Burdette urges homeowners to understand their particular home’s needs and to perform basic research on efficiency and sizing, including gaining a basic understanding of load calculations that factor in everything from a home’s square footage to its insulation and the R-value of its windows.

“The idea that bigger is better with furnaces isn’t true today,” Burdette said. “Sizing is important from an efficiency, comfort, and performance level.”

More information about Mert’s Heating and Air Conditioning is at www.mertsheating.com.