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Page after page of material has been written about how a homeowner can determine if their furnace is beginning to fail, but the problem is, most of those pages are written by people that sell furnaces. Sure, at Air Plus, we sell them too, but we know of many, many older units that are still functioning flawlessly decades after they were first put in service.
What’s the key to furnace longevity? Well, in a combined total of over 50 years of experience, the truth is, two critical items are usually “in play” for long-lasting furnaces. The good news is that you can control one of them, the bad news is you can’t control the other one.
First? Maintenance is critical. Furnaces – even here – need annual checkups. In fact, here in San Diego, it is even more critical to check your heating system annually, since many folks may only use their furnace a few times each year. Think about it like a car – if you don’t drive it very often, you may not notice an odd vibration or noise until too late. The same is true for a heating system – a small leak or blockage could have deadly results, so having Air Plus inspect your furnace each year is critical.
The second? Well, honestly, it’s luck. Some systems just seem to have been assembled when stars and planets had all lined up. There’s no way to predict it and there’s no way to guarantee it, so aside from hope, there’s not much you can do. We’ve seen the “best” systems fail in a decade while so-called “cheap” furnaces soldier on for a quarter century.
Since you can’t fix luck but you can maintain your furnace, what other things should you considering when it comes to determining if it is time for a new furnace?
- Age – More than anything else, age is a good indication of the useful life of a furnace. In theory, if a furnace is more than 15 years old, it may be time to consider replacement for two reasons: efficiency and replacement parts. “Efficiency” is easy to understand – energy costs have risen considerably over the years and new units are much less expensive to run and, honestly, have far fewer problems. On the other hand, older units, in many cases, may not be supported by the manufacturer anymore and some parts simply may not be available. Certainly, most of the commonly replaced parts can be found, but in any system, there are hundreds of pieces needed to run safely and properly and they can be hard even for professionals like us to find.
- Your power bills keep going up – Fact is, old furnaces aren’t efficient. They were never designed to be and, as little as we usually have to run heating systems here in San Diego, you shouldn’t be paying a premium in the winter due to heat. If you’ve seen a rise in your power bills these last few years, it could be time to consider a new furnace.
- You find hot spots – A critical part of diagnosing a failing furnace is when each room of the house has a different temperature. Older systems did not place a lot of emphasis on equalization, only moving hot air. Today’s systems, due to their more efficient designs, can keep the entire house within a very narrow range of temperature, so if you notice a “cold” room, then it might be time to look at what your furnace isn’t doing and see how best to solve it.
- Can you hear me now? As in our car illustration earlier, a strange noise usually means something is afoot with your furnace. Poorly installed ductwork may account for some noise, but strange pops, hums, and rattles mean it’s time to get a professional listening and finding out the cause. It could always be something simple – and that could save you substantially if you catch it early on.
- Soot and dust around the vents – it’s important to realize that furnaces are hot. If you are seeing something that looks like soot around the registers, chances are, it is! Obviously, this isn’t a good sign – it’s time to figure out what the issue is and correct it before it becomes a bigger problem. This is also a safety issue – it could mean your furnace is creating too much carbon dioxide and continuing to ignore it could create even worse problems.
So, once you’ve had our team check out your furnace, how do you decide to replace it? One rule of thumb we always have suggested to our clients is if the costs of repair are greater than 50% of the cost to replace, the benefits of replacement outweigh repair. You’d have a more efficient system, lower energy costs, a factory warranty, and the potential to create a tax deduction or write-off. More importantly, you would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the maintenance has been done properly and you would have added substantially to the value of your home.
For safety’s sake, call us and schedule an inspection now, before the cool weather really gets rolling, and know – for sure – that your furnace is ready for the winter and many more years of trouble-free service.