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      Consumer Confidential: Upgrading Your Furnace

      The average family spends at least $2,000 a year on energy bills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. More than half of that goes to heating and cooling your home.

      If you need to replace your furnace, now may be a good time â?? tax credits for qualifying products expire at the end of the year.

      Keep in mind the warning signs that your furnace may need replacing: Are your utility bills going up? Furnaces often lose their efficiency as they get older. Is your furnace breaking down more often, resulting in costly repairs? Are you always adjusting the thermostat to make your home more comfortable? Can the system keep up? Remember: the average life of a heating and cooling system is somewhere between 12 to 18 years.

      If itâ??s time to replace your furnace, there are some other things you should consider before buying. Remember, bigger is not always better. Your unit should be correctly sized to operate properly and efficiently. And how much do you want to spend? As the efficiency rating goes up, so does the cost.

      Ask prospective companies what specific manufacturers or equipment brands they carry. Contractors should hold training certifications with the manufacturers of the equipment they carry.

      If your air conditioner is showing its age, it may be a good idea to replace both your furnace and AC at the same time. You could see some savings because the installation crew is already on site. Some manufacturers may also offer total system rebates when you replace both your air and furnace.