When Should I Replace My Furnace?

By Tom Moor, Angie's List

Westinghouse iQ Drive Modulating Gas Furnace

When should you replace your furnace? It's a question heating, ventilation and air conditioning experts say they often hear. But before spending $2,500 to $5,500 to buy a new furnace, keep in mind a few tips.

How old is your furnace?
If it's 12 or more years old, then it may be time to say goodbye, says Richard Ciresi, president of highly rated Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning in Louisville, KY. "It's at this point in its life that you run the risk of the furnace becoming unsafe and considering the efficiency and technology changes, you may be able to enjoy substantial energy savings by upgrading," Ciresi says.

Other HVAC experts say the average life of a furnace is 12 to 18 years.

Do you have an energy zapper?
Old or improperly sized furnaces typically use more energy and increase utility bills. "Many furnaces in older homes are grossly oversized," Ciresi says. "That causes the furnace to turn on and off more frequently than necessary, commonly known as short cycling." He says upgrading to the properly sized furnace can save on utility costs and increase comfort levels. Determining the right size furnace to buy depends largely on the square footage of your home and what region of the country you live in. A reputable HVAC contractor can help you determine this.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an energy-efficient furnace will increase the annual fuel utilization efficiency, which measures how efficiency the unit is at converting the energy in its fuel to heat over a typical year. A 95 percent AFUE means 95 percent of the energy in the fuel becomes heat, while the other 5 percent escapes. The higher the AFUE number, the more efficient the furnace.

The minimum AFUE number required by the federal government for most furnaces is 80 percent. However, for a gas furnace to meet Energy Star standards, the AFUE must be 95 percent or more in the northern United States and 90 percent or greater in the South. The Federal Trade Commission requires manufacturers to display the AFUE rating for new furnaces.

Is your furnace trying to tell you something?
Ciresi says that if you find yourself turning up the TV when the furnace comes on, it could signal another problem. A squealing or screeching sound could indicate a problem with the blower motor. It typically costs a few hundred dollars to replace the blower motor, so it may not be worth your money to replace it if your furnace is already on its last leg.

Buying a new furnace
Before buying a new furnace, Tony Bastianelli, general manager of highly rated McCarthy Services in Alexandria, Va., says you should consider the costs to repair or replace.

"A true cost analysis should always include the cost of keeping your old furnace for the next few years," he says "These costs include repair costs, rising equipment costs, costs associated with lower efficient furnaces and inflation."

Energy Star states it may be time to replace your furnace if it's more than 15 years old, needs frequent maintenance and repairs, if rooms heat unevenly or you have exceptionally high utility bills.

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