Should I Repair or Replace My Furnace?

With the fall season well underway, homeowners across Millbrook, Alabama, and beyond are starting to make much-needed preparations for the winter season. One of the best ways a homeowner can prepare themselves for the cold months ahead is to check their furnace for signs of wear and damage.

Experts recommend scheduling annual furnace maintenance visits with professionals, and that’s the best way to make sure the whole heating system is in order. Professional HVAC contractors know just what to look for, and they’ll offer full reports to homeowners after their inspections are done.

Take Action Before Winter Hits

There are few things worse than waking up on the coldest morning of the year to a malfunctioning heater. If homeowners receive reports that anything is wrong with their HVAC systems during their annual inspections, they should view that as a warning sign it’s time to take action now, before the temperatures start to drop. There are many advantages of scheduling HVAC system repairs or replacements for the fall, or even the summer, including:

  • Providing additional time to research options
  • The ability to compare units and request multiple estimates
  • The potential for saving money on parts or labor in the off-season

Additional time for budget planning

The same HVAC contractors that perform heater inspections can also make recommendations about whether homeowners are better off scheduling a furnace repair or upgrading their units. As long as homeowners work with reputable companies that care more about their clients than their bottom lines, they can trust these professionals’ advice. However, many people prefer to do some research on their own before deciding whether to repair or replace their unit, and that’s also fine.

Learn the Warning Signs of Failing Furnaces

Both natural gas and oil units usually give homeowners some warning signs that they’re ready to be replaced before they fail. It pays to pay attention to them because it can help homeowners avoid losing heat in the middle of the winter. Learn the following signs and think about replacing the unit when they appear.

  1. Advanced Age

Furnaces can be expected to last an average of 16 to 20 years. Once they start approaching this expected lifespan, they tend to lose efficiency and require more frequent repairs. Since most homeowners prefer to plan for home improvements like heater replacements instead of waiting until they turn into emergencies, it’s wise to think about the unit’s age.

Keep in mind that a unit’s lifespan varies based on its operating environment and how well homeowners maintain the units. It’s important to schedule annual service visits with a qualified HVAC technician who can properly assess the system’s condition. As a general rule of thumb, though, homeowners should start looking into replacement options when a unit approaches 16 years of age.

  1. Increasing Energy Bills

Energy costs have been on the rise for years, but the higher cost of oil and natural gas isn’t the only factor that influences monthly bills. As this equipment ages, it starts to lose efficiency, especially if homeowners haven’t been very conscientious about maintaining them. As a result of those efficiency losses, they need to run for longer to supply the home with consistent heat, leading to higher energy bills.

The best way to tackle energy efficiency issues is to schedule a comprehensive inspection. An HVAC technician can evaluate the entire system to identify reasons for reduced efficiency. In some cases, efficiency issues can be addressed via repairs, but more often than not, it’s more cost-effective to replace older equipment that is no longer operating at maximum efficiency.

  1. Repeated Repair Visits

When it comes to maintenance and repairs, furnaces are a lot like cars. As they get up there in age, they tend to require more frequent repairs. Over time, homeowners who continue to make repairs to older units will see their bills add up.

Every homeowner has to decide when to make the call and replace a heater instead of repairing it. However, most furnaces start experiencing frequent breakdowns only once they’re approaching the last year or two of their useful lifespans. These units will need to be replaced soon anyway, so it typically makes more sense to pay for a new installation than it does to continue making expensive repairs.

There’s also a second problem that homeowners with older ones face when it comes to repairs. As furnaces age, it gets harder for HVAC contractors to source replacement parts, which can leave clients waiting on the coldest nights of the year. The only effective way to avoid this problem is to have the unit replaced when parts start getting scarce.

  1. Inability to Maintain Consistent Temperatures

Are some rooms in the house too hot, while others are too cold? Does it seem like residents need to adjust the thermostat constantly just to maintain reasonably comfortable temperatures? If so, the heater is no longer properly distributing air throughout the home, and it will likely need to be replaced.

  1. Carbon Monoxide Emissions

All heaters, whether they use natural gas, propane, or oil, can produce carbon monoxide emissions. Given that carbon monoxide poisoning can be very damaging, or even fatal, it’s never worth the risk to hold onto a heater that’s emitting this dangerous gas.

There are a few reasons that furnaces start emitting carbon monoxide into homes, but all of them fall under the category of problems that require an immediate heater replacement. Common signs that it is emitting carbon monoxide can include:

  • Changes in pilot light color from blue to yellow
  • Excessive condensation on windows
  • Rust on the unit’s pipes
  • Streaks of soot near the heater
  • Lack of upward draft in the chimney

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as nausea, headaches, and disorientation in residents or guests

It’s never worth risking the family’s safety, so don’t wait to call for help. If residents are already experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, they should evacuate immediately. The homeowner should then call the utility company to have the gas turned off and contact an HVAC contractor to have the unit replaced before turning it back on.

  1. Unusual Noises

Older equipment sometimes starts to make unusual noises when they near the end of their useful lifespans. Homeowners should pay attention to popping, rattling, banging, and squealing noises coming from their furnaces. If they notice these or other noises, there’s a good chance the unit is on the verge of failure.

  1. Stuffy, Stale Air

Older furnaces don’t usually clean the air or control the home’s moisture levels properly. If the air in the house feels stuffy and stale, there’s an excessive buildup of dust, or residents are noticing dry throats, noses, and skin, there’s a good chance the unit is too old to include modern amenities.

Homeowners should take excessively dry air seriously. Dry air doesn’t just exacerbate respiratory symptoms, although that can be a problem for residents or guests with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergies, asthma, or respiratory infections. In homes that are excessively dry in the winter, cracked furniture, static shocks, drooping plants, and issues with keeping musical instruments in tune are all frequent occurrences.

Even if the issues described above seem like trivial problems, homeowners should take them seriously. They indicate poor indoor air quality, which can be a serious problem.

What Other Factors Should Homeowners Consider?

Most experts recommend replacing appliances when the cost of any given repair is more than half the price of purchasing a new unit, and that rule of thumb can be applied to furnaces, as well. However, homeowners shouldn’t interpret that sage advice as meaning they should continue to repair aging units indefinitely as long as each individual bill is relatively low. They should also consider additional factors, such as the following.

Plans to Retire

Homeowners who are nearing retirement may find that it’s worth spending the extra money to have their heater replaced now instead of putting it off. These homeowners can view this as a beneficial investment since the new, more energy-efficient units will continue to provide them with comfort and cost savings throughout their retirement years. Given that older adults are more likely to suffer from hypothermia, even just from being in a cold house, it’s a good idea to install a new heater now.

Plans to Sell the Home

Homebuyers are looking to make smart investments, so they pay attention to things like how recently the property’s most essential appliances and systems have been replaced. Functional, efficient furnaces can be indispensable assets for sellers. While replacing these units won’t necessarily increase home values, it can still reduce hassles associated with home inspections, attract quality buyers, and make it easier to push through the sale.

Replacing aging equipment isn’t always smart. If the system is outdated and needs to be replaced to satisfy buyers or pass inspection, it’s always wise to replace the heater. If any current problems can be addressed via simple repairs and real estate values are low in the region, it may not be worth replacing the unit before listing the home.

Available Rebates and Tax Credits

In some cases, switching to more energy-efficient home support systems can get homeowners substantial federal, state, or local tax credits. Many local utility companies also offer customers incentives to purchase high-efficiency furnaces, which can also help to offset the initial installation cost. Some of these credits and rebates are time-sensitive, so if they’ll be expiring soon, it may be wiser to replace the heater now than to wait until it fails.

Budget Concerns

Most homeowners have to crunch some numbers before they decide whether they can afford to invest in large upgrades like a new furnace. If this is the case, it’s best to balance repair costs against the cost of replacement. While repairs tend to have lower upfront price tags, rebates, tax credits, and special offers can combine with future fuel bill savings to make replacing the heater more cost-efficient in the long run.

Of course, sometimes, there’s just no way to make a new heater work with the family’s current budget. Some homeowners will be eligible for financing, but others may not have good enough credit, or they may not want to spend money they don’t have. In these limited cases, it may make more sense to make minor repairs as needed until the family can save up to purchase a new heater.

Desire to Change Fuel Sources

The prices of heating oil, natural gas, and electricity all fluctuate. However, there are plenty of good reasons to believe that the cost of oil and gas will continue to go up in years to come. Right now, it’s cheaper to run a natural gas heater than an oil burner. In the future, electric heat may win out when it comes to cost-efficiency.

Homeowners need to keep in mind that switching to a new type of heater also requires changing their properties’ infrastructure. Switching from an oil burner to a gas burner requires installing an underground pipeline from either the street or an outdoor, above-ground gas storage tank into the house. It may also require lining the chimney.

If cost is the family’s only concern, it makes little sense to switch from an oil burner to a gas heater right now, given that the price of natural gas has been on the rise. It does make sense to keep an eye on oil, gas, and electricity prices and advances in the HVAC field that could create additional cost savings, though. 

For families that are more concerned about their carbon footprints than their monthly bills, now is also a good time to switch to electric heat. Every year, more electricity is produced using sustainable means, while fossil fuels will only continue to be depleted. Just keep in mind that electric heat is currently far more expensive.

Ask a Professional

Still not sure whether it’s worth repairing an aging heater or if it should be replaced? Call AirNow Cooling & Heating or fill out a contact form online. These expert HVAC contractors have been in business for over three decades, so they’ve seen it all and can offer valuable, expert advice.