New home heating systems: Choosing type and mastering the work order

Choosing new home heating systems can be a daunting task if you're not up on the lingo and details of...

Choosing new home heating systems can be a daunting task if you're not up on the lingo and details of the various systems. So what's your first step? Determine what systems are out there and get advice on which is best for your home.

Central or stand-alone

There are two main types of heating systems: central and stand-alone. Of each type of system, there are various sub-types with different levels of prevalence in the home market.

Central heating systems are available with warm-air furnaces--which make up about half the central systems--steam or hot-water systems and heat pumps.

Of the stand-alone systems, built-in electric units, room heaters, floor heaters, wall heaters, pipeless furnaces, heating stove and kerosene units are available.

If your home has a heating system currently in place, your best choice may be to replace it with a system of the same type and that uses the same fuel. This allows fewer parts to be replaced and eliminates the need to run new fuel lines in most cases, reducing costs. However, if your home has a stand-alone system, you may choose to replace it with a central system.

Particularly with a system that utilizes fossil fuels of some type (heat systems can use various fuels, including natural gas, electric, fuel oil, wood, LPG and kerosene), a large central system is more efficient. It can also increase the value of the home by allowing easy installation of a central air conditioning system using the same duct work.

Choosing a contractor

Once you make decisions on fuel and system type, it's time to contact a contractor. Home heating systems are not usually in the realm of possibility for do-it-yourselfers. Get advice from friends and neighbors and check licensing and years in the field for recommended contractors. You can also check for a contractor listing service in Atlanta that pre-screens contractors. Also, check out these HVAC professionals on Kudzu. Once you choose a few contractors to contact, ask questions:

  • Will a licensed technician perform the work?
  • Is there a contractor's warranty?

Choosing a model

Maybe the most difficult decision you'll have to make is the specific model of your heating system.

Here's what to look for in the model that's right for your home:

  • Efficiency: Energy Star ratings and related expected yearly operations costs are extremely important in choosing a home heating system.
  • Price: Often this is a factor related to efficiency; if it's efficient but expensive, it may not be right for you. However, investing more at the beginning could save your family more in the long run.
  • Reliability: Will the unit last long enough to avoid going through this selection process again in just a few years? Does it have a warranty that will cover the first few years of service and does that warranty require an expensive maintenance program through the contractor?
  • Features and specifications: Features and specifications is probably the category that has the most variables. Blower noise, vent requirements, motor type and speeds, as well as various control options, are all factors in choosing the right system for your home.

What to include in your contract

If you've never had any major work done on your home, you may be unaware of the various intricacies involved in creating a work order or work contract. The biggest potential for costs can happen through mistaken wording or lack of specificity in the contract.

You should require your contractor to provide the following in your work order/contract:

  • A detailed work completion schedule, preferably with penalties for going over the agreed upon completion date.
  • Equipment and material specifications, with details such as model and brand.
  • Warranties on heating system and workmanship.
  • A guarantee that all city, county and state codes will be abided by in the work process and completed work will be code compliant.
  • Removal of existing system included, if applicable.
  • Removal of debris in line with regulations (recycled or properly disposed of, if applicable).
  • Detailed list of work to be performed and expected end results of work: e.g., contractor will remove existing unit and install specified heating system in working order.
  • Information on any subcontractors (check these references as well as the primary contractor's).
  • Permits to be the responsibility of the contractor, not the homeowner.

Once the contract is agreed upon and the warranties decided, you can get started on the process of overseeing the installation of your new home heating system. Once it's installed, the contractor should start up, test and balance the HVAC system prior to you signing off on the project's completion. Once the installation and testing are complete, you'll simply need to keep the warranty and any related maintenance in compliance (in some cases this means check-ups by the installation company every six to 12 months) and enjoy your new home heating system.

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