Furnace and Furnace Replacement

If you need a new furnace, you might already have information overload. All this stuff on the internet — is any of it right? I can tell you that some is just plain wrong… because Wisconsin HVAC is SO different than California HVAC.

Trane gas furnace

I sat down with one of our HVAC technicians to get some of the basics for Wisconsin HVAC.

As someone who is building her own home soon (yippee!), I want to be informed. What are the new furnace basics, so I can understand what’s going on for my house?

The first thing to consider is…

1. Type of Fuel

Natural Gas / Propane Furnace

gas stove burners

The most common fuel type in our area, natural gas is more efficient and less expensive to run than electric. It also can be hooked up to a gas range, hot water heater, and even your fireplace or outdoor grill. (Yes! I’m making a list already)

In town, you’ll have natural gas. In the country, you’ll have propane with the big outdoor tank.

  • Most common
  • Less expensive than electric
  • More efficient
  • Can be hooked up to gas range, hot water heater, and fireplace (or grill!)


Oil furnaces are rarely installed anymore. If this is your existing fuel source, you’ll have a tank in your home that must be filled. If you decide to keep your fuel source, it will affect what furnaces you can have installed.


Electric is more expensive to run, but it has some advantages, so hang on.

If you have a heat pump, it may have electric backup. Also, if you have a cabin, you may have electric heat because you don’t have to heat it in the winter if you’re not there. (You also don’t have to worry about getting propane delivered when you’re miles from town.)

Do you have a basement bedroom that always seems cold? You might consider installing an electric baseboard, so that bedroom would have its own thermostat. Never again will it be chilly!

2. Type of Furnace

The most common types of new furnaces – for you, fast.

Single Stage Furnace

Single stage is on or off. This means that your furnace will turn on and go at 100% until it reaches the right temp. Then it turns off. Your house cools to a lower temp, and the furnace kicks on again.

A single-stage furnace is the least expensive to install. It’s also less expensive to repair. Be careful, though, because it won’t heat your home as well (may feel a bit chilly before it kicks on).

cat wrapped in blanket

Also, you may find that when it comes to repairs that you’re waiting weeks to get that part in.

  • Inexpensive to install
  • More cost to heat
  • Less even heat
  • Lower cost (probably) to maintain, but ensure that you can get parts quickly.

2-Stage Furnace

2-Stage furnaces have a high and low setting. If you need a lot of heat, it will kick on at 100%. If you only need a little heat, it will kick on at 60% or so. This is a solid, middle-of-the-line furnace, and a little more expensive than single-stage. That said, it will heat your home more evenly because it will kick on ‘low’ when your home starts to cool off.

The advantages of a 2-stage furnace are several. Firstly, it will have a lower cost to run because in our strange and wonderful Wisconsin weather – when it’s 70 degrees, then 40 below, then 60 degrees – your furnace will turn on low when it only is a little chilly and on high if the temps really drop.

You will also have a more even heat with a 2-stage furnace because the house temp won’t have to drop so much before it kicks in.

  • A little more expensive to install
  • Even heat
  • Lower cost to run than single stage

Modulating Furnace

Modulating gives you only what you need. If your home needs only 40%, it kicks on just that much. This type of system is still new, so ensure before you install one that parts are stocked in your area.

Modulating furnaces can also be the most expensive to install because they are new. The technology is all the latest, and if you love the idea of your home being perfectly toasty 100% of the time, then this furnace is for you.

3. Efficiency

Furnaces are measured by their AFUE rating (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). Whew! What that means is that if your furnace has an AFUE of 80, then it uses 80% of the fuel to heat your home and the rest is exhaust. Higher numbers (like 90) are better in this case, but it can come at a higher furnace cost, too.

Finally, remember…

The #1 most important part of choosing a furnace isn’t the furnace.

It’s the installer.

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