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Central Heating Cost Guide

A central heating system generates heat at a single location, such as a furnace room in a home, and then distributes the heat to the rest of the building, most commonly by use of forced-air through ductwork. Alternatively, the heat generated may be carried throughout the structure by water or steam that is fed through pipes. Often, central heating is part of a combined heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, or HVAC.

The Costs

  • Minimum cost: $4,000
  • Maximum cost: $20,000

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Central Heating?

Central heating provides many benefits to homeowners who choose to have this type of system installed. Heating the entire house or building from one unit makes things easier logistically, and the isolation of the heating unit from the living space is a bonus for some homeowners. The system can be used to provide hot water as well as climate control. Additionally, residents can adjust temperatures in different parts of the building by closing vents in ductwork or by using room- or area-specific temperature controls. Overall, central heating provides a reduced environmental impact.

One of the drawbacks of central heating is that it is potentially expensive to install, especially in an older home. Depending on the type of unit installed, it can be noisy and cause problems with asthma sufferers because of dust agitation. Additionally, certain fuels and equipment may require special permits, and there is limited flexibility in the event of changed heating requirements. During use, there is a time delay while heat is being transported from the heating unit to the living space.

Cost of Installation

As with most construction and home improvement projects, the cost of installing a central heating system can vary widely based on the type, size and condition of the building into which it is installed. Major factors that could impact cost include the quality and condition of existing ductwork, the quality and type of heating unit purchased, and labor costs. If new ductwork must be installed or if extensive renovation is required, project costs may increase by as much as $5,000 on a typical job. Heating unit options include gas-powered furnaces, which begin around $2,500, and electric furnaces, which cost between $1,000 and $1,500. As for labor, HVAC installers charge between $50 and $100 per hour. Electricians may charge upwards of $200 per hour depending on the area.

Most furnaces will last between 15 and 20 years. In choosing a furnace, property owners should consider heat output and efficiency. Heat output is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs, and the size of the furnace should be matched to the size of the building. A small home, for example, may not be well served by a high-BTU furnace. The furnace may heat the home too quickly and shut off for too long, resulting in inconsistent temperature levels.

Today's furnaces are rated 90 percent efficiency or better; it is not uncommon for a modern furnace to be rated 94 or 95 percent efficient. Compared to older models, which may be rated as low as 80 percent efficiency, this can mean significant savings in annual heating costs. Modern two- and three-stage furnaces increase efficiency even further by running at lower or higher capacity depending on the heating requirements of the area.

Tips for Central Heating System Installation

It's usually best to turn to the professionals for a job like this one. In order to get the best price, property owners should secure several estimates from different contractors before hiring someone to perform the work. It is important to get all warranties in writing. A new furnace installation will usually involve two warranties: a manufacturer's warranty covering the operation of the furnace itself and a contractor's warranty to cover the labor. Extended warranties may be available at an increased cost.

The best times of the year to install a central heating system are in the spring and summer months when homeowners are not heating their homes. Because of decreased demand in the warmer months, contractors may be available to perform work sooner and perhaps at lower prices. The installation of some energy-efficient heating systems may qualify the property owner for a tax break, and most contractors can answer at least a few questions about the potential tax benefits associated with their systems.

Last updated on May 19, 2016

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