How do you know whether you should repair your furnace or replace it?
Nobody wants to spend money if they don’t have to. This article will help you decide whether is is smarter to replace or repair your home furnace.
First, you need to figure out what the actual issue is with your furnace. Here are some of the questions we ask ourselves when assessing a furnace to decide which course of action is wisest.
Symptom 1: Your furnace has a tough time maintaining the temperature in your house or certain rooms.
One of the most common causes of this is a faulty thermostat. It may have some faulty wiring or just need to be re-calibrated or leveled. This is best to call a professional but some handy do-it-yourselfers can get the job done as well.
If your furnace uses coils to provide heat then it also could be a bad coil. It is not recommended to do this yourself. These systems may not be overly complex but small mistakes cost big money.
Clogged ducts are also common. They prevent airflow to all areas of your heating and ventilation system. This is usually a symptom of a poorly maintained furnace system. It is advisable to have your ducts cleaned at least every three to five years so if you haven’t done it in a while it might be time.
Symptom 2: Different rooms in the house are completely different temperatures
This answer depends a lot on if you have air conditioning attached to your thermostat. Our answer will assume you do not have AC attached to your thermostat. There are a variety of things that could be happening so read through these scenarios and see if one fits your situation.
The first thing to know is that your thermostat location is very important. It records the temperature specifically of the area in which it is placed and turns the furnace on and off depending on its reading. So if it is poorly placed then it will be affecting the temperatures of all your other rooms. Read this article for advice on how to properly place your thermostat and/or consider a multi zone system. This is more likely an issue for homes 1800 sqft or more.
Your vents could be closed or open in the wrong proportions and leaving some rooms cold and some too hot. So check your vents and adjust them to see if you can get your rooms the desired temperature.
You could also set your furnace to a continuous circulation mode to reduce the variance in room temperatures. This is likely to cause a larger utilities bill but could offset the temperature differences in the long run. Set the fan to a lower speed and leave it on if you have the option and see if that makes a difference.
Make sure you are not closing doors in rooms that have air return vents. This will affect the temperature of the air circulating back through your system and throw things out of whack as well.
Another good trick is if you are not using your basement. Then you can close or open the registers as much or as little as needed to balance out the system in the rest of the house.
In the end, if none of this works, you could be facing the possibility that your furnace is just not able to keep up to your home any more. Like any machine, as they age, they lose efficiency.
Symptom 3: Your furnace is frequently breaking down but is not that old.
If your furnace is older than 10 years but younger than 15 years, the likely culprit is poor maintenance or defective parts. Even older furnaces are meant to last 15 years or more. Take a look at your furnace and see if you can find the maintenance stickers left by contractors throughout the years. A well maintained furnace will have the maintenance records listed. If this is missing, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was poorly maintained for sure, but it makes it more likely. A tip to help in the resale of your home is to maintain good records of furnace maintenance.
Steps to take in this situation:
- Check the air filter and make sure it is not clogged
- Check the vents in the house and ensure they are open / closed according to the symptoms you are experiencing
- Ensure there is proper air flow coming to furnace. Make sure air exchange vents throughout the house are not blocked and the area surrounding the furnace is free of objects. This can cause strain on the furnace as it tries to draw in air
- Write down the issues you are having as they occur. They will be useful to share with the HVAC company if you are unable to fix the problem on your own
- Call an HVAC professional to diagnose the issues and eliminate the guesswork
Symptom 4: Your energy bills are going up.
There are a lot of things that can happen to make your bills go up, so we just want to eliminate some of the variables first before we blame it on your furnace.
The first thing to check is the rate plan you have with your energy provider. See our energy provider and rate plan guide for more information.
If your rate plan has changed very little but your bills are still escalating, the next place to look is if you are using more energy for other reasons.
- Are you leaving doors open?
- Are your windows and doors poor insulators?
- Is it an exceptionally cold year? Do you have more people living or visiting you that could account for additional energy usage?
- Did you check your thermostat to make sure it is not set too high?
- Are your vents optimized to heat the areas you spend the most time in? Eg. heat the upstairs but not the basement that you never spend time in.
- How old is your furnace? If it is older than 15 years then it is simply not as efficient as it should be or once was.
Symptom 5: My furnace makes loud noises.
This is a big one because it could be making noises for a plethora of reasons. So we have isolated a few of them and identified some quick fixes where possible. If they don’t work it’s best to call a professional.
Issue 1: The fan that circulates hot air into the vents is noisy.
Solution: Either the bearings need to be replaced or the fan needs to be tightened.
Issue 2:The furnace makes a loud noise just as it starts.
Solution: This is likely delayed ignition. It is caused by oil that has built up in the fire chamber and ignites all at once when the furnace starts. This is a potentially dangerous problem. Call an HVAC specialist as soon as possible.
Issue 3: Your furnace is making whistling noises.
Solution: (1) There may be some gaps in the ducts. You need to isolate where it is coming from and put some duct tape on the vent to prevent air from escaping. (2) You may also have a clogged filter which is making the fan suck air from the surroundings. Pull the filter out and see if the whistling stops. (3) Your ducts may be too small as well. You could just need new duct work.
Issue 4: Rattling and vibrating ducts or furnace.
Solution: You can add more screws to the loose ducts, duct tape the loose ducts together, use duct tape to brace the duct to sturdy objects or put rubber pads under the furnace if the furnace itself is rattling.
Issue 5: The motor is making noises.
Solution: Place styrofoam or rubber underneath the squirrel cage. If it still rattles after that then the motor is probably worn out and you will need to replace it.
Issue 6: The furnace bangs when it turns on.
Solution: Your ductwork could be flexing when the pressure changes. If this sound is coming from somewhere inside the ducts you may be able to fix this by screwing a slightly thicker piece of metal over the weak spot. It could also be a small explosion happening when it ignites called “ignition roll-out”. This is not very common but is cause for concern. Call an HVAC professional as soon as possible if it is.
Symptom 6: Your furnace is older than 15 years
Ok, ok, we know this is not a symptom, but nonetheless it is an important number to keep in mind. Furnaces typically last 15-20 years with good maintenance. If your furnace has been properly maintained but is creeping into the 15-20 year mark it becomes less of a good idea to keep repairing it and typically better to start thinking about a replacement.
Even if your furnace is in good condition, the amount of money it costs to operate the older, less efficient furnace is generally not worth it. Check the furnace’s efficiency rating. Anything greater than 90% is ok, but it likely is not if it is older than 15 years. A furnace with an 82 efficiency rating compared to one with a 92 efficiency rating can easily be $500 a year.
That said, an inefficient furnace is not generally a safety hazard. Just be sure to keep the additional money you will spend on your heating bill in mind when determining the value of a new furnace.
Symptom 7: The heat exchanger is cracked
This is can be a safety hazard because of the risk of Carbon Monoxide. It is generally an all or nothing scenario. If you have a cracked heat exchanger, it is industry best practice to replace it. No questions. Relying on a Carbon Monoxide detector to alert you when levels are dangerous is not advisable. We know this is not good news and there is really no repair options either. If a new furnace will cause you financial hardship, we have attractive financing packages available to keep your up-front costs down to a minimum.
Symptom 8: The burner flame is yellow instead of blue
A yellow flame means that your furnace is not completely combusting the natural gas. Your furnace is likely producing some carbon monoxide if your flame is yellow. Other symptoms of incomplete combustion could be soot accumulating on your furnace, excessive rusting of pipes, small amounts of water leaking from the vents, and moisture buildup on cold surfaces like walls or windows. Not much you can do here either. It is time to get a new furnace.
At 1st Choice Heating & Plumbing we pride ourselves on integrity, and that means doing what’s right for the customer. So, we promise to always try and keep your costs as low as possible, give you all the facts and allow you to make an informed decision. We hope we’ve helped you to understand a little more of what HVAC professionals consider when evaluating a furnace that isn’t working properly.