Is It Time to Replace Your Furnace?

by Lee Doppelt
Time to Replace Your Furnace photo

A furnace is likely to go bad during the worst possible time, like in freezing temperatures. So is it time to replace yours? Here are some things to consider before deciding to by a new one.

Replacing a furnace may be the biggest expense in home repair. You don’t think much about your furnace – that is, until it fails. If it’s 18 to 20 years old or getting noisy, it may be time to replace. Other signs that your furnace needs replacing are a notable increase in utility bills, more dust in the house, changes in humidity indoors, or uneven heating throughout the house.

Older is Usually Better

And as you’ve probably noticed about household appliances in general, the ones installed a long time ago are more likely to outlast the newer ones. One woman moved to a 14 year old townhouse from a much older home with a furnace installed in 1984. She had both furnaces inspected the same day. The much older one in the older home was fine, but the 14 year old furnace needed a new heat exchanger due to three cracks. Thankfully, it was still under warranty.

Repair vs. Replace

You’ve probably been prudent about taking care of your furnace, which essentially means having a yearly inspection by a HVAC professional. According to homeadvisor.com, this should include checking the heat exchanger for cracks, a common problem with furnaces, checking blowers and fans, cleaning or replacing the filters and checking the thermostat. A proper furnace inspection takes about an hour and costs approximately $100-$150 depending on the going rate in your area.

But still, even with proper maintenance, all appliances run their course, and furnaces are no different. If a heat exchanger needs to be replaced and isn’t under warranty (usually 20 years), it may be time to get a new furnace. A heat exchanger, essentially the main working part of a furnace, is one of the most expensive furnace parts. It can cost over $1200 for materials and labor to replace it. That’s close enough in price to a low-end furnace that it probably isn’t worth just replacing that part.

Clearly it’s time to consider how long your repaired furnace will last and compare that to the cost of a new unit.

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Replace the Central A/C and the Furnace?

Before you venture out to get a new furnace, you want to check a couple more things. Is your central air conditioner unit in good repair? The same professional who inspects your furnace can do a routine check on your air conditioner. If your unit isn’t cooling your home properly, has moisture build-up, is noisy or smelly or your energy bills have increased, you may need to replace your air conditioner. Expect to pay $500 to several thousand dollars depending on size and other features. 

It may seem silly to replace a properly functioning air conditioner unit, but since that unit may only last 12 to 15 years, you may save several hundred dollars in labor to replace your furnace and air conditioner simultaneously.

If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), you also want to check with them to see if there are any restrictions on a new furnace installation. Specifically, some of the more energy-efficient furnaces require a hole to be cut in your roof for a pipe to go through. Your HOA may have some rules about that.

Who Should You Hire to Replace Your Furnace?

The big box stores in your town typically sell furnaces, and at a good price. They often use independent contractors for installation. That’s great, unless you have a problem with the installation.

Using heating specialists (HVAC) might cost a bit more, but a specialist may be more responsible with any service issues.

And don’t forget to call your power company to see if any rebates are being offered on new furnaces before you go shopping. Many locales offer rebates or other savings for installing more energy efficient HVAC systems.

Then get a few estimates on the cost of purchasing a new furnace. A professional should come to your home to look at your current furnace, measure your house, look at the ducts, check the thermostat and ask about the air conditioner.

Like cars and many other appliances, those that save money in energy consumption will cost more initially. You’ll need to calculate how long it’ll take lower utility bills to pay for the higher initial cost. Also, be sure to ask about the warranty. Many have a lifetime warranty, but some offer 20 years or less. Find out what’s covered – labor or parts or both.

A furnace is likely to go bad during the worst possible time, such as during sub-zero temperatures. Being proactive and replacing an aging furnace while it still works may be prudent. Not only will you start saving on your utility bills, but you’ll be able to get a better deal when your teeth aren’t chattering in the cold!

Reviewed September 2020

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