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Here's How to Know Whether You Should Replace Your Furnace

The natural gas furnaces, electric furnaces, and oil furnaces that heat our homes will all one day reach a point where these heating systems just aren’t the most energy efficient or dependable option. These older units will become unable to provide the same amount of heating across the entire home and keep the family comfortable. Depending on the root issue, it may be possible for furnace repairs to correct rooms heated unevenly, strange noises from the furnace, or higher energy bills. In some situations, it isn’t a wise choice to keep furnaces in use any longer, and it will be time to replace furnace heating system equipment.

The right time to replace furnace heating systems isn’t always clear. In fact, many homeowners throughout the Louisville area struggle to find that sweet spot where they’ve achieved maximum value from the current furnace, and investing in a new furnace will save money versus completing furnace repairs to the old HVAC system. Furnace replacement costs are substantial, so it makes sense that homeowners want to get everything they can out of the old furnace before paying to replace a furnace.

No oil furnace, natural gas furnace, electric furnace, or even air conditioner equipment comes with a definitive expiration date that tells homeowners when it is time to replace your furnace. When an old furnace reaches the point of reduced energy efficiency and performance malfunctions, it isn’t always possible even for an HVAC professional to say for sure that repair is hopeless and that the only way to gain an efficient furnace for heating is through a replacement furnace.

Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling recognizes the challenges that exist when deciding between furnace repairs for any furnace or air conditioning AC unit. While the average life expectancy for oil furnaces, electric furnaces, and natural gas furnaces isn’t set in stone, as a trusted Louisville HVAC contractor, we can help you understand how to use furnace ages and typical lifespan for furnaces, as well as the many factors that can impact the longevity of older units to determine if you should repair your HVAC system or if it’s time to replace your failing furnace.

Furnace Average Lifespan and Factors Affecting System Longevity

In the HVAC industry, there are no hard and fast numbers for the average life expectancy of most furnaces or air conditioning equipment either, for that matter. Planning for furnace replacement would be much easier if heating system units came with expiration dates, like many other household items.

While we cannot say for sure how long an old furnace will run, we do have a pretty good idea of the typical lifespan of different heating unit types.

  • Furnaces that burn natural gas to generate heat last 15 to 20 years on average.
  • Oil furnaces have an average lifespan of 15 to 25 years.
  • Electric furnaces run 20 to 30 years on average.

As stated, the average lifespan for any type of furnace system is not definitive – it’s just an educated estimation based on the experience of HVAC contractor technicians and teams. Nor is every furnace unit in the same system category going to last the same amount of time. This is because there are a number of other factors that weigh in on a furnace’s typical lifespan, either lengthening it or decreasing it. These include:

  • Climate Zone
  • Outdoor Temperatures
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Furnace Maintenance Tune-Up Service
  • Indoor Temperature Settings
  • Energy Efficiency of the Structure
  • Proper Matching With Split System Unit
  • Duct System Efficiency

If you want to know how long your old furnace is likely to last before you need to buy a new furnace, consider the average service life for the furnace, whether it is a natural gas furnace, oil furnace, or electric furnace. Then, determine your answers to the additional factors impacting furnace service, like to see if they are likely to increase or reduce the life of your heating system.

It’s often considered time to replace your furnace if the old furnace is within the range for its estimated lifespan. However, just because your gas furnace is 15 to 20 years old doesn’t mean it’s automatically a failing furnace due to its age. This is where those additional factors come into play as you work to determine the right time to move forward with furnace replacement.

  • Furnaces sustain wear and tear even when operating normally – when wear and tear isn’t addressed each year and left to worsen damage to system components, you’re likely to have a failing furnace sooner than you may expect. Regular maintenance habits will make or break your furnace – if you skip professional tune up service, your furnace may not even last to the lower end of the average service life range for its system type.

  • Furnace maintenance is the key to eliminating wear and tear damage while keeping the furnace in use for a longer period of time. If you schedule a licensed technician to perform maintenance for your furnace on a yearly basis, chances are your heating system will last years beyond the average service life.

  • System usage and operating time impact furnace service life. Using energy-efficient temperature settings for occupied hours and long setback periods when the house is empty or occupants are sleeping allow the furnace to take more breaks and run less. Not only does this reduce energy consumption and energy bills, but also less operating time for the furnace and fewer opportunities for the unit to experience wear and stress, both of which chip away at energy efficiency but also damage the furnace components.

General Comfort

Is your entire home and family comfortable inside throughout the winter season? If not, this general discomfort should be viewed as one of the big warning signs that it is probably time to replace your furnace. As furnaces age and decline in efficiency and performance, they lose their ability to effectively manage temperatures and climate conditions throughout the house. Unfortunately, there’s no simple repair once the furnace reaches this state – furnace replacement is the best choice.

Any furnace will suffer a loss of energy efficiency as time passes, largely due to wear and stress to components. While regular basis can counteract the wear to make your furnace more energy efficient, your heating system will never be the efficient furnace it started out as after many years of use.

As your older furnace runs with far less efficiency than the AFUE rating it claims, you’ll notice the consequences of reduced efficiency, such as increased consumption of fossil fuels through gas lines, causing your utility company to increase your heating bills in turn. You’ll probably notice hot and cold spots throughout the house as it is heated unevenly.

When you replace a furnace that has these problems, you’ll instantly save money as soon as the new system is installed – the new furnace has a much higher AFUE than the low level your old furnace operated at, which keeps your energy costs and heating bills low.

Furnace Repair Specifics

Should you encounter a situation where your furnace isn’t operating correctly this winter season, calling for heating repairs is usually the first step. Situations involving a need for repairs to the heat system often bring up the question of repairs versus installing a new furnace, especially when a few things are true – you have an old furnace, the necessary repairs are substantial, or the total cost of furnace repair is high.

Simple Repairs

It’s everyone’s hope that any furnace malfunction can be quickly erased by a simple fix. Servicing and/or replacement of minor system components is often a quick and relatively easy job, and the total cost of repair is minimal. Replacing the ignition system’s hot surface ignitor or cleaning the furnace’s burner assembly to resolve yellow flames are two such repairs that are fairly quick to perform so the heat is back on in your home fast, and their cost is usually quite affordable. In these situations, most homeowners opt to go forward with repairs instead of moving to replace a furnace, as the minimal expense is all that is needed to regain reliable heat from the old unit.

Repeated Repairs

Before we get into major repairs, let’s talk about frequent repairs. Repeated breakdowns are among the warning signs of a failing furnace – most units see an increase in breakdowns and repair frequency during their final two years of service life. When you find yourself calling your HVAC contractor to schedule furnace repair, think back to the last time you made this call – was it recently? Have you called several times already this year? If you see a pattern of increasing furnace repairs over the past few heat seasons, talk to your HVAC professional about whether or not it’s time to replace your furnace.

Major Repairs

A significant malfunction within your furnace could not only leave your home without heat but risk your family’s health and safety, too. A cracked heat exchanger, for example, could allow too much carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide to enter your home – exposure to carbon monoxide can be deadly. To prevent this issue, the entire heat exchanger must be removed and a new one installed.

If your furnace or the defective parts are no longer covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, this furnace repair may be quite costly. While everyone’s financial situation is different, we have some general guidelines that many homeowners like to use as they evaluate the cost of repairs against furnace replacement costs.

  • The 5,000 rule involves multiplying the cost of repairs by the age of the furnace. If the result is greater than 5,000, installing a replacement furnace is likely the best option for you. When the answer is under 5,000, furnace repair could be a good financial option – consider factors like age, comfort, and more to determine if your existing furnace should be repaired or if you’d feel better off exploring furnace replacement.

  • Another comparison we look at is the cost of repairs versus the total furnace replacement costs. If the total price of repair work is half or more of the total furnace replacement costs, financially, it just makes sense to direct these funds to the installation of a brand-new furnace. If the repair price is under half the total cost to replace the furnace, you may wish to spend your money making repairs to the existing furnace. Examine the unit’s age, indoor comfort, and other factors to see if you want to continue to invest in the performance of your existing furnace or buy a new furnace.

Furnace Repair and Furnace Replacement in Louisville

Finding the perfect time to replace a furnace is a tough job for anyone, whether you are a homeowner or even an HVAC contractor! At Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, we use our expertise and HVAC industry knowledge to work for you, helping you compare options and determining the best time to pursue furnace replacement instead of continuing heating repairs. Whether you choose to repair your existing furnace or purchase a new one, contact us today for professional help.

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