Programs help take heat the off buying an new, better furnace

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How old is your furnace?

The Clean Energy Resources Team of Minnesota says after 15 to 20 years — or 20 to 30 years for a boiler in a commercial space — those things we rely upon to stay warm in the winter are reaching the end of their useful lifespans.

If your furnace is old and your gas bills seem to be creeping up each year regardless of the severity of the season, CERT suggests it might be time to start thinking of a replacement strategy for your furnace.

"The best thing people can do is get an energy audit," said Rory Lenton, of Minnesota Energy Resources. "Otherwise, they're shooting in the dark. You could put 2 feet of insulation in your attic and it won't do any good if you don't seal up around your fixtures."

A standard energy audit will include an analysis of your energy use, a blower door diagnostic check, draft test and a performance audit on your furnace's efficiency and combustion safety. You also will get information on how to save energy, with potential costs and savings estimates.


According to CERT, there are several options that help with the costs of both residential and commercial units. For example, the Lending Center at the Center for Energy and Environment offers Minnesota homeowners the Home Energy Loan Program for energy improvements. Qualified loans up to $20,000 can help turn your energy-wasting domicile into a BTU-hoarding home. The Fix Up Program through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency offers similar loans.

There also is a residential energy efficiency tax credit for EnergyStar-certified furnaces and hot water heaters. CERT also advises checking with your local energy provider for any available programs.

Xcel Energy currently provides a $300 rebate for a new furnace with an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating of 96 percent. Minnesota Energy offers rebates ranging from $250 to $500 depending on the AFUE rating of the system. And a new electronic programmable thermostat comes with a $40 rebate. "We do have our ongoing energy efficiency programs, where they replace a furnace or a water heater," Lenton said. "It depends on which model they buy. A 94 percent efficient furnace would be a $250 rebate. It's very specific."

Commercial customers can do a custom rebate, he said. "If they can show they're saving natural gas energy, we'll give a rebate," he said.

Tony Benson, with Rochester Public Utilities, says people in Rochester interested in taking that first step toward energy savings should sign up for the Neighborhood Energy Challenge. They start with a free Energy Workshop, the next of which is scheduled for Nov. 19 at the RPU Service Center. Benson said the Neighborhood Energy Challenge is a partnership with Minnesota Energy and the Center for Energy and Environment.

Folks outside of the RPU service area can still get an energy audit from Minnesota Energy, Lenton said. But the workshops come with some added bonuses, such as a goodie bag that includes LED bulbs and items to help seal your home.

"If they attend a workshop and have the expert come out, CEE has financial help that they can provide for things like getting a roof redone, insulation or a furnace," Lenton said.

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