80% vs. 96% AFUE Furnace: Which Is Better For My Portland Home?

Watch the President of Four Seasons, Chris Hahn, explain the difference between an 80% and 96% furnace in this video.

In the market for a new furnace? If so, you may be wondering whether it’s better to invest in a high-efficiency furnace (96%) or a standard furnace (80%).

In terms of upfront cost, you’ll pay more for a 96% furnace. However, a 96% furnace is much more efficient than an 80% furnace, which means it can save you more money over time. In fact, in the Portland metro area, a 96% AFUE furnace can save anywhere from $100 to $210 per year in energy costs.

When it comes to choosing between the two types of furnaces, this is what we recommend to Portland residents:

  • If you want higher long-term savings and can afford the higher upfront cost, go with a 96% furnace.
  • If you’re on a tight budget and want the lowest upfront cost, go with an 80% furnace. It will still adequately heat your home, but you’ll have higher energy costs in the winter.

To give you more context for our recommendations, we’ll explain the following:

  • What the different percentages mean
  • Why a 96% furnace is more expensive upfront
  • How to reduce upfront costs
  • Why you should consult with a professional before making a final decision

Let’s start by taking a look at how each type of furnace operates.


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What the Different Percentages Mean

You can find your current furnace’s AFUE rating on its Energy Guide sticker.

Furnace percentages refer to a particular system’s Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating, which indicates how much energy the furnace uses to heat your home without waste. The higher the AFUE percentage, the more energy efficient the furnace will be.

For example, an 80% AFUE furnace uses 80% of its fuel to heat your home directly. We consider the remaining 20% of the fuel “wasted” energy because it’s vented outside and does not directly contribute to the heating process.

On the other hand, a 96% AFUE furnace only wastes 4% of its fuel, making it much more efficient than an 80% furnace. Because of its greater efficiency, you’ll save money over time if you choose a 96% furnace over an 80% unit.

Estimated annual savings for every $100 of fuel costs by increasing the furnace AFUE / Source: Department of Energy

Now that you know what the different percentages mean, we’ll explain what makes a 96% furnace more expensive to install upfront and how you could reduce the cost.

Why a 96% Furnace Is More Expensive Upfront

On average, a 96% furnace costs around a thousand dollars more than an 80% furnace. Two main reasons explain why a high-efficiency furnace is more expensive:

  • A high-efficiency furnace has a second heat exchanger
  • A high-efficiency furnace requires extra labor to install

A second heat exchanger

The heat exchanger in a conventional furnace

Both 96% and 80% furnaces have a primary heat exchanger. The primary heat exchanger is a series of metal tubes that transfers heat to cold air.

However, a high-efficiency furnace has a second heat exchanger. The second heat exchanger absorbs heat from exhaust gases and reuses that heat to warm your home’s air.

Because the second heat exchanger essentially recycles heat, making the 96% furnace much more energy efficient. That said, the extra heat exchanger increases the cost of the equipment, which makes a 96% furnace more expensive upfront.

Increased installation labor

The components of a high-efficiency furnace / Source: Department of Energy

A high-efficiency furnace requires special venting to get rid of exhaust gases and condensate produced by the secondary heat exchanger. Instead of the metal flue used by standard 80% furnaces, a 96% furnace uses two plastic exhaust pipes to empty condensate into a drain and vent exhaust gas outside.

If you’re installing a high-efficiency furnace for the first time, the installer will need to remove the old metal flue and install the plastic pipes, which increases labor costs and adds to the project’s overall cost.

How To Reduce Upfront Costs

Nobody wants to pay more for a furnace than they have to. If you’re interested in a high-efficiency furnace, you may be able to reduce the upfront cost by applying for rebates or tax credits.

For example, the federal government offers a $150 tax credit for furnaces with 95% or higher AFUE. Additionally, local utility companies such as NW Natural offer high-efficiency furnace rebates for new and existing customers.

Why You Should Consult With a Pro Before Making a Final Decision

Before you make a final decision, you’ll want to contact a professional. A professional can consider several factors that influence how much money you’ll potentially save with one furnace over another. Knowing this information will help you make an informed decision as to which furnace is best for your family’s needs and budget.

Factors that will determine the energy savings of your new furnace include:

Your home’s insulation levels:

If your home is poorly insulated, your furnace will have to work overtime trying to heat your home, which will cancel out the savings a high-efficiency system provides.

The condition of your home’s ductwork:

If your ductwork has severe leaks, then you won’t notice the savings of a high-efficiency furnace until a professional technician repairs the leaks.

The technology of the furnace:

When you compare two different furnaces, you’ll also need to consider if they come with advanced technology, such as variable-speed blowers or multi-stage burners. For example, an 80% furnace with these advanced features may offer more energy savings than a 96% furnace without them.

After considering these factors, you’ll have a better idea of whether it makes sense financially to invest in a 96% furnace or if you should choose an 80% system instead.

Four Seasons heating technicians are ready to help you install a high-efficiency furnace today.

Want a Furnace Recommendation From a Portland Pro? Contact Four Seasons.

Our comfort specialists will consider all of the factors listed above to help you choose the right furnace for your home. When you hire Four Seasons, you can count on honest recommendations and fair, upfront prices for all of our furnace installations.

For more information about what to expect when you hire us, visit our furnace installation service page.

Request appointment today

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