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  • Writer's pictureJustin Leach

When to Replace a Furnace

Today I was called to a home owned by a couple of first time homeowners to give them a quote on a new furnace. By the time I left, I’m pretty sure I convinced them to not buy a new furnace for several years—some salesman I am!

That said, their story is one I hear at least a couple times a week. Some other furnace repairman told them their furnace was junk and it needs to be replaced. These folks—guided by their parents’ wisdom—had the sense to get multiple quotes on their home HVAC system. It makes me wonder how many homeowners just listen to the first guy and replace their furnace.

When it comes to furnace replacement, I tend to take the “not so fast approach”. If a furnace is older, but still in operational condition, I generally say run it til it dies. Replacing furnaces is one of the more lucrative projects in the HVAC industry, and I think new furnaces are over sold to a certain extent. That said, I’d say there are 3 factors that perhaps merit a replacement:

A Broken Heat Exchanger:

The heat exchanger in a furnace is the tubing that separates hot furnace exhaust from the air we breathe. If a heat exchanger cracks, it can release harmful exhaust fumes into the breathing air, with potentially life threatening consequences. Heat exchangers are actually replaceable, but between the cost of the actual heat exchanger itself, and the labor involved, the repair can get close to the cost of a furnace replacement. Furnace manufacturers have now began offering significant heat exchanger warranties (20+ years), but they typically don’t cover the labor. A broken heat exchanger is probably the most common reason we replace furnaces at our shop.

Efficiency Improvements:

Some folks who are either energy conscious or looking for long term savings make the jump to a new furnace to reduce their gas bill. Some gas providers also provide enticing rebate incentives for moving in this direction, and I applaud them for their proactive approach. However, the cost of a new furnace is a big commitment, and we don’t often see folks move to a newer furnace unit without the necessity of doing so.

Reliability and Availability of Parts:

Some Furnaces reach a point in their lives where they’re more of a burden than an asset, and it’s simply time to go. Certain furnace brands have excessively expensive parts, and just a few repairs can make a person question just finding a more sustainable solution. Occasionally we’ll also see a furnace that’s so old that parts are hard to find. Once you get beyond the 30 year mark, parts can be trickier to source and often require extended shipping times because the part is getting purchased in a different part of the country. When you’re waiting for a week for a part to arrive in the dead of winter, a new furnace starts looking a little more appealing!

We don’t actually track the ages of every furnace we replace, but if I had to guess, I’d say the average age is somewhere between 25-30 years old. If you’re worried about a situation where your heat goes out though, besides considering the installation of a new furnace, I’d also look into purchasing alternative heat sources. In the climate we live in, I think it’s critical that households have back up heat options in the event of an emergency furnace failure. I see many drastic decisions made by homeowners who are panicked because their furnace doesn’t work, their family is cold, and a salesman is pressuring them to commit to a furnace replacement. Put yourself in a position that allows you to do your research, get multiple quotes, and choose the right option for you.

On my next blog, I’ll get into alternative heat sources. In the meantime however, if you have any questions related to furnace replacements and repairs, don’t hesitate to call us!

Justin Leach

(715) 716-0700

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