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HVAC Furnaces: What You Need to Know
Dated: March 18 2021
Your furnace is the probably the last thing you'd ever think about, that is, until it fails.
I'm going to share with you what you need to know about keeping your existing furnace running like new and how to tackle purchasing a new one should yours fail.
Your furnace, if maintained properly, will last for years. The average life expectancy is 13-15 years, but I've seen furnaces that are over 25+ years old still going strong. The key to getting the longest life possible out of your furnace lies in the following:
- Be diligent about replacing your furnace filter. Remember, the filter's primary function is to keep your furnace and ductwork clean. The latent effect of course is that you also have clean air to breathe but that’s a secondary benefit, not a primary function. If you have a 1" filter, it will needs to be replaced more frequently, every 1-3 months depending on the number of kids, pets, etc. in your home. If you have a 4-5” filter, it will last for 6 months. Key takeaway: a restricted filter will decrease furnace efficiency, increase your utility bill, and shorten product life by make your furnace work harder.
- Have you furnace inspected annually by a professionally trained service technician. Don’t attempt this yourself as you won’t have the knowledge, training, or diagnostic tools to service your furnace properly. Service plans are quite reasonable and will ensure your furnace runs like new and fulfill the warranty requirement by the manufacturer. Key takeaway: get your furnace serviced annually to keep it running like new and to keep your warranty valid.
If you need to repair or replace your furnace because it’s failing, what’s the first step? Have a reputable HVAC service technician out to determine what’s wrong with it. A cracked heat exchanger is the worst-case scenario and you’re far better off replacing the furnace than fixing it. Heat exchangers are the most expensive component of a furnace will cost around $3500 to repair. Other less expensive repairs like blower motors, boards, etc. can be repaired but if your furnace is over 13-15 years old, you’re better off putting that money into a new furnace. As the saying goes, never through good money after bad money.
Buying a new furnace can be tricky because the vast majority of homeowners go about the process the wrong way. For example, homeowners are focused on brand when brand is not important. Lennox, Carrier, American Standard, Rheem are all good at building furnaces. The furnace is not what’s important though. What is the absolute most critical factor (and most overlooked) in buying a furnace is which HVAC contractor you choose to install it. In other words, the box doesn’t matter much but the installation does. I’d say that within the installation equation, the furnace is 10% and the installation is 90%. A contractor grade furnace that’s been professionally installed will run for years and years but a top of the line model that’s been installed by Jim Bob’s Garage HVAC won’t last long at all. Installation is everything and is the most important and most overlooked part of the furnace buying process.
Another factor to consider is that nearly 50% of furnaces nationwide were never properly installed or sized to the home to begin with. On the sales side, you’ll want to make sure your salesperson has confirmed that your existing furnace is sized properly, meaning that the btu output and tonnage of air flow is calibrated to your home. To do this they will need to perform a Manual J heat load calculation. Keep in mind, most salespeople will simply replace the furnace with the same size unit that was there previously to save time and hassle so make sure they do the job right and don’t skip steps.
Last, you can get a couple of bids but don’t expect to learn much from them. Everyone seems to think there is something to be gained by getting 3 bids or more, not true. If you’re trying to get an accurate sample size of HVAC contractors in your area, you’d need to get dozens of bids because there are literally hundreds of contractors to choose from. Instead, just go to Google reviews. Choose the top two, the ones that have 5-star reviews and provide the best guarantees. You want the company that guarantee’s it’s product and installation the best.
So there you have it. Follow the advice above and you’ll save money, get years out of your furnace, and make the smart choice should you need to replace it. If you have any questions reach out to me, I’d be happy to answer them for you!
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