To make the process of replacing your home’s HVAC easier, the ModHVAC Calculator offers system recommendations and a quick estimate of your replacement costs to save you the guesswork. To use the tool, just slide the bar in the green box to match your home’s square footage. Then enter your city and state below and click Calculate Cost. Seconds later, you’ll be provided with a set of options for your new HVAC unit.
HVAC Installation in California
Thinking about updating your home’s heating and cooling system? Whether it has become a necessity because your current system is broken or you’re just looking for a more cost-effective and eco-friendly system, Modernize has the resources to help you select the system that works best for your home and lifestyle.
California has a reputation for having ideal weather, but depending on where you are located within the state, average temperatures can vary significantly. While much of California has a Mediterranean-like climate with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters, further inland, summers are hot and dry and winters are cool and wet. At higher altitudes, the weather reflects more of a four-season cycle, with beautiful summers, striking fall color, and cold, snowy winters.
Selecting the right heating system depends on a multitude of factors including your home’s size and location, your budget, and what is most important to you in terms of cost and overall energy efficiency.
Find the Most Energy Efficient System for California by Looking for its AFUE Rating
Most U.S. homes are heated with either furnaces or boilers. A furnace or boiler’s efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The Federal Trade Commission requires new furnaces or boilers to display their AFUE rating so that consumers can compare the heating efficiencies of various models. AFUE is a measure of how efficient an appliance is in converting fuel energy to heat energy over the course of a typical year.
AFUE is the ratio of annual heat output of the furnace or boiler compared to the total annual fossil fuel energy consumed by a furnace or boiler. An AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for the home and the other 10% escapes through the chimney or elsewhere. It’s important to note though that the AFUE rating doesn’t account for heat lost through the duct system or piping, which can be as much as 35% of the energy for output of the furnace when ducts are located in the attic, garage, or other partially heated or unheated spaces.
An all-electric furnace or boiler has no flue loss through a chimney, so its AFUE rating is between 95% and 100%. The lower values are for units installed outdoors because they have greater jacket heat loss. However, despite their high efficiency, the higher cost of electricity in most parts of the country makes all-electric furnaces or boilers a poor choice from a budget perspective. If you are interested in electric heating, consider installing a heat pump system.
Furnace Replacement in California
If you live in Northern California, you probably heat your home with a furnace. Furnaces are usually located in the garage or attic and work by heating air and then blowing it through your home using the ducts in the walls, ceilings, crawl space and/or attic. If you have a furnace, you likely have one of two types, natural gas or electric.
Natural Gas Furnace
Gas furnaces are one of the most cost-efficient home heating systems available. While not as energy efficient as other options, because the cost of natural gas is lower than electricity, they can be less expensive to run. The efficiency of your gas furnace is determined by AFUE. The higher the AFUE, the more energy efficient your furnace. For example, a gas furnace with an 80% AFUE rating means that 80 cents of every $1.00 of heating energy expense warms your home, while a gas furnace with a 95% AFUE rating means that 95 cents of every $1.00 of heating energy expense warms the home. There are higher efficiency models than 95% and different motor/stages types. The different motor types also increase efficiency and can communicate with the AC unit to improve efficiency even further.
Electric furnaces are usually much more energy efficient than their natural gas counterparts. However, because electricity costs more, they can be more expensive to use. If you have an electric furnace currently, consider upgrading to a heat pump.
Heat Pumps for California Homes
If you’re looking for an energy efficient heating system that won’t require a lot of retrofitting, a heat pump can be a perfect option. A heat pump is essentially an air conditioner that can also function in reverse to heat your home. That means in the summer you have an air conditioner that can cool your whole home and in the winter you get energy-efficient heat. The one caveat is that the most common type of heat pump (an air-source heat pump) may require a furnace back-up for the really cold nights that are common in Northern California during the winter.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
For a heat pump that is efficient and works well in colder weather, consider a geothermal heat pump (GHP). While expensive to install, GHPs use the constant temperature of the earth as the exchange medium instead of the outside air temperature. This allows the system to reach fairly high efficiencies on the coldest winter nights, compared to 175% to 250% for air-source heat pumps on cool days.
Although many parts of the country experience seasonal temperature extremes — from scorching heat in the summer to sub-zero cold in the winter—a few feet below the earth’s surface the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Depending on latitude, ground temperatures range from 45°F (7°C) to 75°F (21°C). Ground temperature is warmer than the air above it during the winter and cooler than the air in the summer.
The GHP takes advantage of this by exchanging heat with the earth through a ground heat exchanger. Geothermal and water-source heat pumps are able to heat, cool, and, when properly equipped, supply the house with hot water. Some models of geothermal systems are available with two-speed compressors and variable fans for more comfort and energy savings. Relative to air-source heat pumps, GHPs are quieter, last longer, need little maintenance, and do not depend on the temperature of the outside air.
Even though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in 5 to 10 years. You can expect the internal components of your GHP system to last 25 years, while the ground loop should last 50+ years.
Dual-source Heat Pump
A more affordable alternative to a GHP is a dual-source heat pump. These systems combines an air-source heat pump with a GHP to get you the best of both systems in terms of efficiency and affordability.
Ductless Mini-split Systems
Another efficient home heating option is the ductless mini-split system. These types of heating systems are gaining popularity in California and the U.S. as a whole, but have been used in homes and apartments in Europe for decades. They work much like the traditional furnace and air conditioning combo, but the system requires no ductwork. This makes a ductless mini-split a perfect option for heating additional rooms to which it would be difficult to run ducts. The absence of ductwork also means there’s no heat loss from leaking ducts.
Boiler Replacement in California
A boiler is water containing vessel which transfers heat from a fuel source (oil, gas, coal) into steam which is piped to a point where it can be used to provide either hot water or steam for heating. Steam is distributed through pipes to steam radiators, and hot water can be distributed through baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems, or can heat air via a coil.
Steam boilers operate at a higher temperature than hot water boilers, and are inherently less efficient, but high-efficiency versions of all types of furnaces and boilers are currently available. Energy Star certified boilers have AFUE ratings of 87% or greater for oil boilers and 90% or greater for gas boilers. You can improve the efficiency of your boiler by looking for the following features:
- electronic ignition, which eliminates the need to have the pilot light burning continuously;
- new combustion technologies that extract more heat from the same amount of fuel;
- and sealed combustion that uses outside air to fuel the burner, reducing drafts and improving safety.
Retrofitting the Furnace or Boiler in Your California Home
Furnaces and boilers can be retrofitted to increase their efficiency. These upgrades improve the safety and efficiency of otherwise sound, but older systems. The costs of retrofitting should be carefully weighed against the cost of a new boiler or furnace, especially if replacement is likely within a few years or if you wish to switch to a different system for other reasons, such as adding air conditioning. If you choose to replace your heating system, you’ll have the opportunity to install equipment that incorporates the most energy-efficient heating technologies available.