Whether you have a furnace, heat pump, or other heating equipment, that unit will age and become less effective and thus less cost-effective over time. It will also break down on occasion and require repair. Should you continue fixing it until it cannot be repaired any longer or is just too expensive? Some homeowners certainly take this approach, but it is usually not the most economical in the end. In fact, homeowners can actually save money over the long term by replacing their heating systems proactively.
Big and Rising Energy Bills
There are two factors to consider when it comes to energy costs. The first is how your home compares to the average for your area. You can get this number from your electric company or other sources. It is an estimate that you should know before you move into a home, and you should update it at least every several years. With this figure as a baseline, you know if you are an outlier. If you are, you can begin figuring out why, and while your furnace is not necessarily the culprit, it often can be.
The second factor is consistency—or inconsistency as the case may be. You should keep track of how much you pay for electricity, natural gas, and so forth each month. While these numbers are not useful in the short term, they become very revealing over the years. If you average $100 in energy costs during December and suddenly get a $200 bill, you have a problem, and it may be your heating equipment.
Age of the Heating System
The average furnace will last 15 to 20 years. The average furnace warranty covers 10 years, but there are usually options to extend it to 15 or even longer. Does that mean that you should replace your furnace immediately at the 15-year mark or when the warranty is up? No, not necessarily. It depends. What is most important is that you have your furnace inspected, cleaned, and tuned-up annually. Doing so achieves three things: it slows the aging process for your equipment, helps avoid major repairs, and gives you an idea of how your equipment is aging. If after 15 years, your bills go up, your furnace is no longer working as well or it suddenly requires repairs, it is time to consider a replacement.
A well-chosen, well-installed heating system should not require major repairs in the first 10 years at least. As mentioned in the previous section, it is essential that you schedule an annual tune-up. During those inspections, your heating technician can identify small issues that could develop into big troubles over time. Regular maintenance will not stave off repairs forever. As your system gets older, you will need to discuss the problem with your technician and consider both the short- and long-term costs. There will come a time when repairing your unit is no longer the most economical option.
High or Low Humidity
The relative humidity is a complex topic when it comes to heating equipment because there are numerous factors involved, including your local climate, natural and mechanical ventilation within the home, other appliances, and so forth. Ideally, you should have a thermostat that measures humidity and determine what your ideal humidity is throughout the year. Among the oldest and most common problems with furnaces is that they dry out the home, which makes the heat less effective. However, modern furnaces are much better in this regard, and you can install a furnace humidifier to combat the issue.
A more modern problem can occur with conversion to high-efficiency furnaces, which draw air from a dedicated inlet rather than from within the home. In older homes, this conversion can expose ventilation problems that were being compensated for by the conventional furnace. The result is excess moisture that leads to high humidity, condensation, and eventually mold. If you have achieved a balanced system, your humidity should be optimal and predictable. As a system grows older, it may struggle to maintain proper humidity, which can be an indication it is time for a new unit.
Short cycling refers to a heating unit turning on and off too often. The exact characteristics of this behavior can vary. In some cases, the desired temperature is never reached, and in others, the temperature is reached but the unit turns on and off in the process of achieving it. The cause of this performance can be as simple as a bad thermostat or clogged air filter. However, it can also indicate more serious problems, such as a malfunctioning or failed flame sensor, igniter, or fan limiter.
Running Too Long
Running too much is also a problem and can be indicative of an aging system. How long should your furnace run? It depends on how cold your winters are. As a rule of thumb, a cycle should last 10 to 15 minutes. You should get a feel for how long cycles are in your home. If your furnace begins to run for longer periods, then it is definitely time for a checkup and may indicate that replacement is needed.
Uneven heating—often called cold spots—is more often than not a ventilation problem that can occur with new and old systems alike. However, with an aging system, sudden cold spots can be an indication that the unit is no longer delivering enough tempered air or not heating that air to the appropriate temperature.
Slow to Heat Up
A well-functioning furnace should be able to increase a temperature of 5 degrees within a home in about 15 minutes. If it takes longer than this, there is a problem. Be mindful that this issue often coincides with others, such as short cycling, running too long, or uneven heating.
Loud or Odd Noises
Furnaces have decibel ratings, and yours should operate within that range. If your furnace is loud or has suddenly begun making knocking or other strange noises, a professional inspection is in order.
Unusual smells after a long period of inactivity are to be expected. You may smell some mustiness followed by some smokiness, but within the first hour, those smells should be gone. Persistent odors, on the other hand, can indicate serious problems, such as a failed heat exchanger.
Tripper Circuit Breaker
Presuming that your home electrical system is sound, your heating system should never trip it. An isolated trip may not be a need for concern, but multiple incidents are a serious cause for concern. With an older unit, it can be an indication that the unit will fail sooner than later.
Your Heating Experts in Los Angeles
JW Plumbing, Heating and Air is proud to have served the Greater Los Angeles area for more than 15 years. Our licensed and NATE-certified technicians excel at installing furnaces, heat pumps, and other heating equipment. We also maintain and repair them. Our other services include indoor air quality, duct cleaning, HVAC zoning, plumbing installation and repair, and air conditioning installation, maintenance, and repair. Call today to learn more about these services and to schedule an appointment.