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5 Hidden Costs of Delaying HVAC Maintenance

Your furnace, air conditioner, or heat pump need regular maintenance to keep them running efficiently. Proactive maintenance fixes small problems before they become larger ones.

5 Hidden Costs of Delaying HVAC Maintenance

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Roger Bakies


April 25th, 2022

With a furnace or air conditioner, it’s often a case of out of sight, out of mind. You adjust one control on the thermostat and you get hot or cold air. Unless your furnace is making a new, loud noise or doesn’t turn on, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Same with your AC. If it comes on and blows cold air, everything must be fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

We at Fire & Ice have performed thousands of maintenance and repair visits. But we also hear a lot from homeowners who don’t feel that the repair cost is worth it. They’d rather take their chances that the worst-case scenario won’t happen to them, that a small defect won’t get worse. They put off maintenance because everything appears to be working fine.

The ideal maintenance program is proactive. Scheduled maintenance finds small problems before they become larger problems. Deferring maintenance changes the process from proactive to reactive.

Studies show that on average, for every dollar “saved” by deferring maintenance, there comes a four-dollar increase in future costs. There are additional indirect costs that may have an even larger impact. Over the life of that asset, those extra costs may total more than 15 times what would have been spent on the maintenance had it not been deferred. 

This article will highlight five things that could wind up costing you when you postpone maintenance.

Read more: Cost of Waiting to Repair or Replace HVAC Equipment   

Emergency HVAC Repairs

When some piece of your HVAC breaks, and the whole system needs to be shut down and repaired, it rarely happens at a convenient time. It’s like your car never breaks down while it’s sitting in the garage. Your HVAC equipment might break in the middle of the night, on the weekend, just before a major holiday. More than likely, you won’t see it coming until it’s too late.

During severe weather, when the strain on HVAC systems is at its peak, is when more stuff fails. Maybe you have to get in line for a repairman. 

For planned maintenance, they’re going to come out right on schedule. When it’s an emergency breakdown, you’re at the mercy of when they can get there.

And then the issue is, do they have the part? Is the part available? There will always be some parts that have to be backordered, and we’re facing a major slowdown in the supply chain

Then there’s the inconvenience. In extremely hot weather, you’re miserable. In extremely cold weather, you run the risk of freezing pipes. Most people can survive when it’s 95 degrees, but when it gets really cold, it’s dangerous. 

Your repair needs to happen RIGHT NOW, and you’re at the mercy of the HVAC contractor you’re choosing to work with. What’s their overtime rate? Are they the best company to do the job? When it’s an emergency, you likely won’t care as much about which company you choose. The first question you ask them will likely be, “How soon can you get here?”

Proper maintenance can keep your machine running more efficiently. For instance, not changing your filter is going to overheat the machine, and that’s going to shorten the life of the heat exchanger.

Labor costs associated with the repair will probably be higher than normal because the failure will most likely require more extensive work than would have been required if the piece of equipment had not been run to failure.

Shorter Asset Life

It’s not unusual when we go to someone’s house and we’re talking about replacing their equipment, and we hear customers say, “I haven’t done anything to my furnace except change the filter, and it’s lasted for 20 years.”

But we’ve seen other cases where the furnace is in terrible shape. The blower and the burners are dirty, the rotors have hair all over them, and the furnace has a bunch of lint in it. Everything will have to work harder. The harder it works, the shorter the lifespan.

It’s the same with an air conditioner. If the coils are dirty, the condensate drainage system on a high-efficiency furnace or an AC has to be cleaned and flushed, or it’s going to leak water or cause damage. If the condenser coil on an air conditioner is not kept clean, then the unit is going to run hot. And it will get hotter and hotter. The compressor gets hotter. The refrigerant gets hotter. Which leads to total failure.

Just like your automobile needs to be properly cared for, you need to change the oil and have it tuned up for it to reach 275,000 miles. Without regular maintenance, it won’t last that long. The same is true of your HVAC equipment.

We would guess that you could knock anywhere from a couple of years to five off of a unit’s lifespan if it’s not being taken care of. 

By performing preventive maintenance, you will extend the life of the HVAC equipment. This translates into dollar savings. Machines do break, even with the best of care, but you can decrease the number and rate of failures.

Safety and Health Risks

A clean, blue flame on a gas furnace produces very little carbon monoxide. If your furnace is in a laundry room or something similar, the gas furnace burners will get clogged with dust, lint, and hair. As that gas/air mixture is altered, the carbon monoxide level that is expelled goes up considerably.

We’ve gone to places that have a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger, and it’s running for a long time. That leak can expel carbon monoxide, as well. 

Yes, this is an expensive repair, because we have to replace the heat exchanger. But carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and can cause serious health problems - even death.

If the filter gets clogged, the blower motor is going to be the first thing to feel it. If the blower motor gets covered with dirt, it will overheat and not function properly. That will slow down the blower, thus reducing airflow. Then the dust can coat your heat exchanger, which reduces efficiency. We’ve seen evaporator coils that look like they’re wearing wool sweaters.

Then the dust and dirt wind up in your ductwork, and you’re breathing that stuff. A dirty furnace blows dirty air through the ductwork. 

You should change the one-inch filters every 30 days. Manufacturers tell us to change the pleated ones every 90 days. We recommend changing it sooner because it does a good job catching dirt.

On a high-efficiency furnace, if you have a plugged-up condensate, that condensate water will get pretty nasty and is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. It’s a simple matter of blowing the water out of the condensate trap.

Skipped or irregular cleaning of building HVAC systems can lead to the buildup of mold, mildew, and pathogens within the systems, which are then distributed throughout the ductwork. 

Collateral Damage

Everything in your HVAC system works together. When one thing is out of whack, it makes everything else work harder or less efficiently. It’s a chain reaction. One defective part can be the cause of a total breakdown if no one tends to it.

Homeowners will not only have to pay for the repair of the defective part, but they may also have to foot the bill for other parts that have become damaged.

For instance, a clogged furnace filter messes with the temperature rise across the heat exchanger. Air temperature rise is the difference between the temperature of the return and the heated supply air from the furnace. Temperature rise must be within the range on the furnace rating plate located on the furnace. 

This is important not only for the longevity of the furnace but also for customer comfort. If you are too close to the low-end rating number with your rise, the air coming off the furnace will feel cool to the occupants, and you may have complaints of “drafts” or not feeling warm. If you are below the low-end rise, the furnace could even start to form condensation in the heat exchanger, which could shorten its life.

Another “small” problem is if the heat exchanger is overheated. If the heat exchanger is too hot, the inducer motor will become too hot, which could lead to a premature breakdown. 

When the flame sensor gets dirty, it starts to become erratic. The flames light but they don’t stay lit. This means your furnace will turn on and off quickly, which means less airflow, less heat, and a furnace that will wear out quicker.

As the refrigerant evaporates within the indoor condenser unit, the evaporator coil absorbs heat from the air blowing over that coil. However, if the air filter is too clogged up, warm air is restricted, which can cause the coil to freeze.

Same with the air conditioner. The evaporator coil sits atop the furnace, if that condensate drain gets plugged up, it backs up and water runs into your furnace. Water can get on the blower motor, the circuit board, and the electrical controls. It can create rust on the furnace.

It is a testament to the design and reliability of the equipment that you can put it through that kind of abuse, and it still functions. The problem is you might not know if it’s running as it should.

Reduced Efficiency

A clean, well-maintained furnace will be the most efficient. This means it should have a clean evaporator coil, a clean condenser coil, and proper refrigerant. It’s not unusual to have a small leak in the refrigerant line. If that refrigerant charge is off by 5%-10%, it can reduce efficiency by 10-15%. Your system might be able to go up to 16 SEER, but you’re only getting 10 SEER. (SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The higher the number, the more efficient the furnace is.) You could see an increase in your utility bills. It’s a domino effect.

Reduced airflow can be an efficiency factor. Is the blower motor clean? Is the blower wheel clean? Does the furnace have a clean filter? If the airflow slows down, it can lead to hot and cold spots, uneven temperatures, and less filtered air.

Poor airflow is going to affect efficiency and will create problems with static pressure.

The North Carolina Alternative Energy Corporation found that 90% of units tested exhibited some sort of energy-wasting problem, 50% of those systems had improper refrigerant charge, and 40% failed to meet minimum airflow requirements.

Further studies showed that a 20% deficiency in airflow can decrease SEER rating by 17%, and that a 15% return air leak can cut efficiency in half. It’s estimated the average heating and cooling system loses about 5% of its efficiency every year you skip maintenance.

HVAC Maintenance in Columbus, Ohio

Your HVAC system is an investment. If you invest a small amount of time and resources regularly, savings can be achieved in the long run through increased energy efficiency, comfort, and improved air quality.

A maintenance visit that attends to a few minor repairs can ensure that homeowners will not be left without heat during the coldest days of the year.

Reactive maintenance is the “run it till it breaks” mode. No actions or efforts are taken to maintain the equipment as the manufacturer recommends. That could void the warranty, thus making repairs even more expensive.

If you’re ready to schedule a maintenance visit from us, click the button below. We look forward to working with you.

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