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9 Ways to Extend the Life of Your Furnace

As part of an HVAC system, furnaces will typically last 15-20 years. We go through some steps you can take to help extend its lifespan.

9 Ways to Extend the Life of Your Furnace

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Roger Bakies


January 5th, 2023

Your furnace cost you…what? $3000? $5000? More? Whatever the number, it’s not a small investment.

Carrier suggests a furnace’s life, with proper care, is 15-20 years. If it wears out earlier than that, it suggests that either the furnace didn’t get the TLC it deserved, or it was the wrong heating unit in the first place.

If you ignore it, it will run until it fails. But even if it’s running, it may be on the verge of a breakdown. It can issue subtle signs that it’s laboring. A higher-than-normal gas bill might be a clue, or your home may not be as comfortable as it used to be.

Maybe it’s making a noise you’ve never heard before. There are telltale sounds coming from your furnace that indicate a problem. Waiting too long is asking for trouble.

Do you really want your furnace to fail on the coldest day of winter? How long might you go without heat? You might have to choose an HVAC company quickly, hope that the new furnace is in stock and can be installed quickly.

A wrong choice means money wasted amid freezing temperatures.

The good news is that there are things both large and small you can do to extend the life of your heating system. Here at Fire & Ice, we’ve worked on thousands of units and can offer some advice to increase your furnace’s lifespan.

1. Seasonal HVAC Maintenance

Yearly furnace maintenance is required to maintain your warranty, and it is going to prolong the life of your furnace. We want to keep everything clean, the electrical connections tight, and the burners and blower wheel clean. This is true especially if the furnace is in a laundry room; it will get full of lint and that will change the mixture of air and gas.

Maintenance can fix small problems before they become big ones.

The temperature rise across the heat exchanger is important. For instance, the temperature rise should be between 35 and 60 degrees. That means the air entering the furnace versus the air leaving the furnace should rise within the amount of temperature in that range. So if that’s too low, you could get condensation in the primary heat exchanger cells. And if it’s too high, it’s going to overheat. That’s rough on the heat exchanger. Either way, you’re going to lose efficiency.

You can adjust that by changing the blower speed or adjusting the gas pressure. A seasoned HVAC technician should make those adjustments as part of their routine maintenance.

2. Make Sure the Registers Are Open so the Ventilation System Can Operate as It Should

One or two closed registers are okay, but some people close half of them in their houses. That doesn’t do much for the airflow to other rooms where the register is open. And it increases static pressure, which makes the furnace work harder than it should.

Static pressure is the resistance to airflow in ductwork. Blocking too much airflow causes resistance, and the blower motor has to try to push more and more air. You want the right balance of static pressure in your system because too much or too little can cause problems, including energy insufficiency and system failure.

Locating furniture too close to HVAC air vents also makes a difference. Large furniture situated within 18 inches of a supply air vent decreases airflow and can affect temperature consistency.

3. Clear the Clutter Around Your Furnace that Might be Blocking Airflow

Your furnace has to be free and clear so it can breathe. Some people want to build a room around their furnace and close the door either for aesthetics or noise reduction. People tend to pile things up around the furnace and use the ductwork as a shelf.

Putting a lot of stuff on the ductwork, especially if you have flexible ductwork or duct board, can cause the ducts to separate, or the weight might puncture them. The space between the furnace and the return air drop is not designed as a shelf.

4. Operate Your Furnace at a Reasonably Consistent Temperature

Some people turn their furnaces down to 30-40 degrees when they’re away from the house for a long time. That will definitely help your energy bill, but bringing that cold air into the heating system is not great.

A lot of people turn down the heat at night or when they’re away at work. A moderate temperature adjustment - 4-5 degrees, for instance - that’s not really a big deal. But when the heat is turned way down, the furnace will struggle to bring the heat back up.

We work with customers who think that turning their furnace to a higher temperature will make it heat faster. Not true. The amount of heat will be the same.

For those homes where thermostat wars take place, stopping and starting the furnace multiple times a day isn’t a good practice. 

It’s like highway miles versus city miles: Braking and accelerating strain the engine, whereas cruise control on a freeway will increase your gas mileage.

Running constantly will be better than starting and stopping frequently. Your furnace is designed for continuous operation.

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5. Fix Leaks in Your Ductwork

According to experts, typical air-duct systems lose 25% to 40% of the heating or cooling energy put out by an HVAC system. Leaks make your furnace work harder, decreasing its life expectancy. It will also increase your utility bill.

Do-it-yourselfers can find a lot of fixes on YouTube for mending/sealing joints.

However, there are risks in doing HVAC work yourself, and we usually recommend that you use a licensed professional.

Working with HVAC equipment can be a lot more complicated than people realize. It requires expertise and the right tools. Read the article below for some advice:

Read more: Do-It-Yourself? Why You Should Avoid DIY in HVAC Maintenance & Install

6. Programmable Thermostat: Uses and Benefits

The best thing a programmable thermostat does for longevity is to remind you that maintenance is due, plus it will suggest you change your filter at regular intervals. When you install a new furnace, you have to install a programmable thermostat.

Filter change notifications on most units are based on blower run times. It will say, “Your furnace has run this much. It’s time to change your furnace filter.” Some of the sophisticated systems can sense static pressure and can sense when the filter is dirty enough that it’s restricting supply-side air.

7. Replacing or Cleaning Your Furnace’s Air Filter

The cheapest filters look like hair when they’re new. You can read a newspaper through them. Those suggest that you replace them every 30 days.

The pleated filters, which are pretty dense, should be changed every 90 days. There are more expensive filters that can be washed instead of replaced.

Trying to save money by not changing the filter will hurt you in the long run. A clean filter is going to give you better airflow, and the better the airflow, the better the machine is going to function. There’s less strain on the motor. As that static pressure goes up and the motor draws more amps, the temperature rise increases because you’re not getting as much air going through. It’s bad all the way around.

We’ve seen examples of people putting the wrong-sized filter in. It’s not long enough, so it’s catching ⅔ of the air that it should be. That will cause dust to accumulate in your furnace. The dirtier it is, the harder it will have to work.

8. Getting Your Home’s Air Ducts Cleaned

Clean air ducts are important. If they’ve never been cleaned since the home was built, it’s not uncommon at all to find construction debris in there: Sawdust and drywall dust have been in there since day one. If you get a good duct cleaning and use a clean filter, the evaporator coil, the heat exchanger, and the blower motor should stay clean.

9. Winterize Your Home: Beyond Heating and Cooling

You can always give your furnace a break by taking common-sense steps to make your house more airtight. Weather stripping keeps the cold out, and adding attic insulation makes the most of warmth by keeping it inside where it belongs.

The result is that your furnace has a lighter workload, and your home stays warmer.

Your Next Steps Toward Continued Warmth in the Winter

When we sit down with you for a free estimate, we discuss with you the air quality of your home, which determines your comfort level. We always check the date on the furnace (it’s on the manufacturer’s label, or sometimes on a sticker on the outside of the unit).

If we see an older unit, we don’t pressure you to replace it for the sake of making a sale. Instead, we find out if there are cold and hot spots in your home. If there are rooms that no one goes into because of the temperature, that’s a clue that something needs to change.

A new furnace may not be the only answer to your concerns. Sometimes the solution could lie within your ducts, and you might be amazed at what a good furnace cleaning can do to increase warmth.

If you have any additional questions or concerns that are not answered in this article, feel free to call us. Additionally, if you live in the Columbus, OH, area and are looking to take the next step and want to see if you are in our service area, see the zip code map below.

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