Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When to Replace an Aging Furnace?

This is the question we at Horizon Services hear more than any other around this time of year. As the temperatures begin to get cooler, you know you need to be prepared with a furnace that will get you through the winter ahead. Should you invest in a new furnace...or do you still have a few more years left in that existing furnace? Here are some important factors to consider:

Most HVAC experts will tell you that a good quality heating system should last at least 10-15 years. With proper maintenance, many systems will continue to work for 20 years or more, but energy efficiency becomes an important factor with units that old. If your furnace is more than 15 years old, you could be throwing money away on high utility costs.If you have an older furnace you should have it inspected by a licensed HVAC professional who can determine if there are any urgent issues that could lead to a system malfunction. Beyond that, think about the following if your furnace falls into the 15-25 year old range.

Could you increase your home’s fuel efficiency—and save money—by replacing the unit? The annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) is a measurement of how energy efficient appliances are over the course of a typical year of use. A higher AFUE percentage means a product is more fuel efficient and cheaper to operate over time. AFUE was first used in 1992, but you can still get a general sense of your furnace’s AFUE percentage if it is older than that. Low-efficiency furnaces have an AFUE between 68-72%. They use natural drafts to move combustion gases, have a continuously lit pilot and a heavy heat exchanger. Mid-efficiency furnaces have an AFUE of 80-83%. They use exhaust fans to control gas flow, have electronic ignition instead of a pilot light and are lighter and more compact. High efficiency units register an AFUE of 90-97% and use condensation to move heat more economically.

Could retrofitting your older furnace take care of major issues? Many systems can be upgraded with things like programmable thermostats, new ductwork or temperature zone controls. These improvements will spare you the expense of replacing the unit while increasing efficiency and lowering your utility bill.

Was your furnace converted from coal-burning to oil or gas? Ancient coal-burning furnaces that were switched to gas or oil burners are prime candidates for replacement as they are notoriously inefficient, and the cost of a new system will pay for itself in a relatively short period of time thanks to the increased fuel efficiency and lower operating expense. If you have a gas furnace with a pilot light—not an electric ignition—you could also save significantly by replacing the unit.

Is your unit an oil-burning furnace that is more than 22 years old? While most oil furnaces can be perfectly reliable and surprisingly efficient for many years, once these systems hit the 20 year mark their efficiency and dependability begin to decline. If total replacement is not in the cards, consider upgrading your unit with a newer standard efficiency flame retention head burner. This is a special fixture that mixes a fuel oil spray with the air needed to cause combustion and can increase your furnace’s AFUE to around 80%. The flame retention head provides a more controlled fuel/air mix and makes the burning process much more efficient.

If you're on the fence about replacing your furnace, Horizon Services recommends that you do at least one of the following:

  • Schedule a Precision Tune-Up for Your Existing Furnace: A Horizon heating technician can perform this 21-point check in less than an hour. It's your best guarantee that your existing furnace will start the winter season in the best condition possible and get you through the cold months ahead. While performing your Precision Tune-Up, your Horizon heating technician can check to see if there are any broken or damaged parts and give you an accurate assessment of how much useful life your furnace still has.

  • Schedule an In-Home Energy Analysis: Horizon Services can do this for you for FREE. One of our Comfort Consultants can come to your home to examine your existing furnace, measure your home and understand your family's heating needs and budget. Your Horizon Comfort Consultant will give you an honest appraisal of your existing heating system and show you multiple options for heating your home more efficiently and affordably.