Is a 96% AFUE Gas Furnace Worth the Money?

So you're thinking about getting a 96% AFUE gas furnace.

And why not? A 96% AFUE gas furnace is top of the line, powerful, and efficient. In fact, a 96% AFUE gas furnace is one of the most efficient gas furnaces available. Not to mention that it is a highly effective tool to heat your home in even the coldest conditions.

But is it worth it? A typical gas furnace is around 80% efficient. Is that bonus 16% worth the extra money? After all, the difference in price between an 80% AFUE gas furnace and a 96% AFUE gas furnace is not nothing. The average is usually somewhere around $1000.

Don't just take my word for it though. Check out these listings. The price difference is pretty obvious:

What Is A 96% AFUE Gas Furnace?

First, let's start of by defining what it is exactly that we're talking about.

AFUE stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency. Basically, we rate furnaces according to how efficiently they "utilize their fuel". The more efficiently the furnace burns, the higher the AFUE. The higher the AFUE, the less money you have to spend to keep your house cozy all winter long.

Which is definitely a good thing. And, FYI, a 96% AFUE gas furnace is about the best you can find.

Learn More: What Is A Good AFUE Rating?

How Low Can A Gas Furnace AFUE Go?

Today, any gas furnace that you buy will have at least an 80% AFUE. Mainly because that's the current government minimum. You can't legally install a gas furnace with a lower AFUE.

Not that you would actually want to do that. 80% AFUE gas furnaces are really reasonably priced. It would probably cost you more money to track down a lower AFUE gas furnace. That unit would inevitably be really old, and wouldn't last very long.

Point is, an 80% AFUE gas furnace is as low as you can reasonably go. Which means you will still be getting a gas furnace that is more efficient than many previous generation models. Heating with oil used to be very, very cheap in the United States. And gas furnaces used to be very inefficient. Fortunately, technological efficiency like we see in a 96% AFUE gas furnace has kept pace with energy costs.

Is 16% Higher Efficiency Worth an Extra $1000?

As usual, the answer is: it depends.

Let's talk about gas furnace lifespan. A typical gas furnace, 96% AFUE or otherwise, will last about 15 years. Some folks might have one that gives out a few years before that. Some will have a gas furnace that last 20 years or more. All things being equal, the more diligent you are about proper furnace maintenance and changing your air filters, the longer it will last.

In this case, let's assume you are Joe Average and your new 96% AFUE gas furnace will last 15 years. How much do you need to save each year to make that 96% AFUE gas furnace purchase worth the extra cash?

Assuming you paid an extra $1000, you would need to save about $70 per year to make up the higher price tag.

How Much Do You Spend Every Year on Gas Furnace Heating?

The US Department of Energy calculates that the average American household spends about $600 on heating. Now, if you're thinking that is crazy high or crazy low, you might not be wrong. Heating costs depend very much on where you live.

But, we have to start somewhere for our 96% AFUE gas furnace math, so $600 will have to do.

Let's assume that you're using an 80% AFUE gas furnace, and you pay $600 every year for gas heating. When you upgrade to a 96% AFUE gas furnace, you could cut that down by about $96 (i.e. - 16%). So, you would need to do that for about 11 years to make up the extra upfront cost of a new 96% AFUE gas furnace.

That's nice and all, but I suspect an 11 year payback isn't exactly blowing anybody's socks off.

Still, if you are flush with cash, it absolutely does make sense to invest in the more energy efficient option. For folks who live in a region that is colder than average with a much higher than average annual gas bill, it makes even more sense. Cold climates are really where a 96% AFUE gas furnace starts to pay off fast.

Don't Forget About 96% AFUE Gas Furnace Rebates

All that being said, there still could be a very good reason for someone with a lower than average gas bill to invest in a 96% AFUE gas furnace. And that reason is called an energy rebate.

Many utility companies receive government dollars to incentivize home efficiency upgrades. One of the ways they do this is by providing rebates to their customers who invest in high efficiency appliances. Before you buy any new appliance or HVAC system, you should always check your utility company website to see if they're offering any kind of rebate or promotion. Some can get very generous indeed, and not only for a 96% AFUE gas furnace.

But coming back to that, a 96% AFUE gas furnace is one of the most efficient furnaces on the market. If your utility is offering an efficiency rebate on gas technology, a 96% AFUE gas furnace will almost certainly qualify.

So always, always check with your utility company before you buy. They might be offering a rebate program that will significantly reduce your costs. Rebates can get as high as $250 or $500 or more per qualified system. That combined with the annual savings you'll get really make a 96% AFUE gas furnace make sense. Instead of an 11 year payback, you're looking at a 5-6 year payback. You could potentially be racking up real dollar savings for an additional 10-15 years.

Learn More: Rebate Center

When Shouldn't You invest in a 96% AFUE Gas Furnace?

You just put your house on the market and the gas furnace goes out. Nobody is going to buy a house without heat. Not to mention that you are probably going to live there until the house sells, and freezing to death is unattractive.

In this case, you would definitely not have the years needed to earn back your investment dollars on a 96% AFUE gas furnace. Plus, the average home buyer isn't going to jump at your house just because it has a new high efficiency system in it. They might really like the idea of a 96% AFUE gas furnace, but most people in the market are far more interested in making sure a home has a functional HVAC system than a particularly efficient one.

So, in this case, you're much better off getting a new economic gas furnace than a particularly high efficiency one. Besides, you can save the money you spent on a cheaper option for an awesome 96% AFUE gas furnace in your new house!

Let Us Know What You Think

Do you have questions or thoughts about a 96% AFUE gas furnace or other HVAC product? We would love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.

13 comments (view/add)
  • Bob
    Bob
    Posted on 6/15/2021

    Nowhere in any of these discussions about one-stage vs two- or variable-stage 80 vs 90 (or 95 or 96) do I see these considerations:

    1) the extra run time for the fans in multi-stage systems. Depending on the efficiency of the fan motors and the design of the ducts, this is additional energy used (in the form of electricity). (For that matter, I wonder if the energy cost of the fan is ever taken into account in AFUE ratings.)

    2) Environment. While scientists and non-scientists argue about the effect (or lack thereof) of carbon dioxide on global warming, one fact remains undeniable: plants NEED CO2 to live and thrive. Elevated CO2 levels over the past few decades have led to bumper crops never before seen -- at a time when population growth has made those crops very much needed. Take that for what it's worth.

    Also, as a former manufacturing engineer, I take into consideration the likely repair expenses of a simpler furnace design compared to a more complicated one. The more parts there are, the more there is to go wrong -- and the more advanced the part design, the more expensive it is to make. This means that not only is a more advanced design inherently more likely to require repairs, but those repairs are almost guaranteed to cost more money.

    I'm not trying to convince anyone of what is the right choice for him. I'm just sharing thoughts that seem no to come up in most of these conversations. As for what I've decided is best for me and my view of my impact on humanity (and the rest of the Earth -- I am an old lover of hers) I live in northern Illinois and will soon be replacing my 96% "efficient" furnace (which ran almost constantly on really cold days) with an 80% one.

  • Dan Danowski
    Dan Danowski from Ingrams
    Posted on 6/15/2021

    Thanks for commenting, Bob! There is definitely something to be said for simple design when it comes to HVAC.

  • Joe Moreno
    Joe Moreno
    Posted on 2/20/2021

    Hello, I purchased a high efficient a few years ago to replace my 80% furnace and I absolutely hate it!! First I hated that it requires two 4-5 inch PVC pipe to be routed from the furnace to the outside. Which requires the installer to cut two large holes in the exterior walls. Second, I live in Illinois which anyone knows that our winters can be horrible. These furnaces are NOT reliable in frigid temperatures!! Why??? Well because when the temperature falls into single digits or below zero the air intake for the furnace becomes clogged with ice which then shuts the furnace down!! We are now in February and my furnace has shut down 3 times this winter!!! For me it’s not a big deal to clear the intake pipe and reset the furnace, but for some people it may cost them a service call to fix this, which will cost you your savings! Can you imagine if I had to call a service technician for each time this happens??? I would say it would cost at least $100 bucks each time. $300 bucks!!! How are you saving any money??? You might not be paying the utility company more but now your paying the HVAC guys!! I’m not saying not to buy it, but if you live in the south it will work just fine. However, those that live in the north, DO NOT BUY IT!! Stick with a 80% furnace, it may not be as efficient, but it’s more reliable!!

  • J Weber
    J Weber
    Posted on 2/16/2021

    I don't see any mention of the benefits to the environment. I'm also thinking of selling my house and my furnace is 25 years old - still at 80% efficiency.

    I've always tried to live lightly on our planet. Even when I'm gone, it makes sense to me that the next owner saves both $$ and does not contribute to our global demise.

  • Charles Allen Thompson
    Charles Allen Thompson
    Posted on 12/26/2020

    Does the newer systems yellow walls ,

  • Dan Danowski
    Dan Danowski from Ingrams
    Posted on 12/28/2020

    Charles, I'm sorry, but I don't understand the question. Have you had a problem with a furnace turning your walls yellow?

  • Boborino
    Boborino
    Posted on 10/4/2020

    I've debated over the last several months on this subject. Your article answered, unbiasedly, my questions.

    I am leaving my home in less that 2 years. I need to upgrade my furnace of 25 years (Moncrief - which to this day operates perfectly) as a suggestion of insurance carriers. After reading this article, I know I will install the 80% AFUE furnace.

    Thanks

  • Megan S.
    Megan S.
    Posted on 9/28/2020

    This is helpful, thank you!

  • Quincy
    Quincy
    Posted on 9/27/2020

    I’m replacing a 25 yr furnace. The price of a 96% vs 80% is practically the same b/c of the rebates on the 96%.
    But here’s why I’m thinking of staying w the 80%...(1)my gas bill is only $86/month. A newer furnace has to be more efficient than my 25 yr old one. (2) My furnace is in my garage and my garage stays nice and warm. Will I lose that with the 96%? (3) It seems like there’s so much more that can go wrong w the 96%. Please help me decide.

  • Dan Danowski
    Dan Danowski from Ingrams
    Posted on 10/5/2020

    You're probably right in that any new furnace would likely be more efficient than your 25-year old furnace. If you're happy with your current gas bill and don't want to bother with a 96% unit, then don't. A brand new 80% AFUE furnace will still work fine.

  • Stephen Allred
    Stephen Allred
    Posted on 9/16/2020

    I'm in the market to replace both the furnace and A/C in my home. I've gotten 5 quotes and I'm deciding between an 80% AFUE furnace with a 2-stage burner & 4-speed blower vs. a 96% AFUE furnace with a 2-stage burner & variable speed blower. This article is very helpful. Thank you!

  • Charles Davis
    Charles Davis
    Posted on 6/27/2020

    Dose it make a difference in the 96% AFUE savings if you are using Propane and not Natural Gas? After of course installing a Propane inverter....

  • Kyle
    Kyle from Ingrams
    Posted on 6/29/2020

    No, it should not make a significant difference.


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