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Is Your Furnace Too Old? Problems to Look For and Actions to Take to Prevent Issues

A too-old furnace can risk your home and your family's safety. Find out the most significant risks and how you can prevent any issues.

Is Your Furnace Too Old? Problems to Look For and Actions to Take to Prevent Issues

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Olivia Minnier


October 14th, 2022

The average homeowner only buys a few HVAC systems during their lifetime. Most furnaces, on average last around 15-20 years. But what if you’ve recently purchased a home and suspect the HVAC system might be old? Or, if you have an older system and are concerned about the risks involved in keeping it, this article is beneficial.

At Fire & Ice, we’ve helped thousands of customers replace their old or existing furnaces and understand the risks involved with either option.

First, we will review how to determine your furnace's age if you are unsure or didn’t initially install the unit.

How to Find the Manufacturing Date on Your Furnace

There are a few different ways to tell the manufacturing date on your furnace. The most direct and easiest is to open or pull off the removable door on the bottom or outside of your furnace. Look for a sticker or a serial tag inside the door and see if that sticker contains a series of four-digit numbers. The first two numbers are typically a month, and the last two are a year.

If that isn’t available in the same location, look for a sticker or a tag that shows when the unit was last serviced. It might also include the date that the furnace was installed.

If either is not present on the machine, you can also contact the manufacturer about the system if those options are unavailable. A representative should be able to help you identify the approximate age of your system by a picture or by using the serial number.

Once you’ve figured out how old your furnace is, you can weigh the costs of repairing it vs. replacing it if you’re having issues. But even older systems that don’t have any issues present additional issues to you and your home, such as inefficiency and safety issues.

The Inefficiency of Keeping an Older Furnace

It’s no secret that older technology is frequently inefficient. It is no different with HVAC systems. Systems in the 15-20 years old range are frequently inefficient and are up to modern standards. Most modern furnaces are significantly more efficient and offer an opportunity for you to save money on your electric bills.

Furnace Efficiency

Furnace efficiency is measured in AFUE, which stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. It’s measured in percentages and calculates how much heat a furnace generates directly toward heating your home.

Think of it this way: If you spend a dollar on heating your home and have an 80% efficiency furnace, 20 cents of that dollar will be vented from your home rather than heating it.

Most older furnaces in the 15-20 year range are only 70-80% efficient or worse at best.

But are there significant risks to keeping an older furnace? It turns out there is beyond just the strain on your electric bills. There are safety risks involved with having an older system.

Safety Issues Associated with Keeping an Older Furnace

As stated above, older equipment can present safety issues and inefficiency. This frequently becomes an issue regarding key components of the system. The overall system can still run, but certain aspects will not be as efficient as a new machine. However, your technician should review all suggested repairs and replacements with you and leave the decision-making up to you. If any technician talks you into a repair or replacement, they should not be working on items inside your home.

Certain aspects of your furnace are more at risk of becoming a nuisance as it ages than others. Such as:

Increased Noise When Furnace Runs

One of the worst offenders are noise issues as the furnace gets older. Parts, including the fan, wear down over time and cause this increased noise. If you’re experiencing noise issues with your furnace, address it with your technician. The noise issue can be repaired, but it may be time for a replacement if you continue to have issues, especially if your furnace is older.

Cracked Heat Exchanger

A heat exchanger is a thin metal shield between the combustion chamber and the blower that transfers heat from the furnace to the air ducts and then through your home. If this becomes cracked, it can be hazardous and cause gas and carbon monoxide to leak through your vents. This can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Noticeable cracks upon inspection, worn areas, strange smells, or water collecting around the furnace can all be signs of a cracked heat exchanger. If you have any of these, turn off your furnace and call a technician to prevent CO and gas from leaking into your home.

Contactor Issues

Another frequent issue is the contactor; the contactor is a part with two plates that “contact” one another when a particular electrical signal is received. Some pads are installed on the plates where they contact.

Over time, these pads can deteriorate and burn due to the electrical charge they have to absorb frequently.

Replacing contactor pads is probably something we’d consider a “smaller” repair (but it’s an important one!). But what happens if you delay it?

The best-case scenario is that the contactor eventually stops. Your system may fail temporarily, but it’s still repairable (though it will be more costly than the pad replacement). In a worst-case scenario, the contactor plates weld themselves together due to the heat being generated.

Stay Ahead of Problems and Replacements by Scheduling Regular Maintenance

Regardless of how old your current system is, scheduling regular maintenance is the best way to keep your system up-to-date. At Fire & Ice, we currently recommend scheduling system tune-ups and diagnostics the season before you plan to use either system. So in the spring for air conditioners and the fall for furnaces. Keeping with this schedule every year will help you be prepared when more significant issues come up and keep your system running as it should.

Diagnostic Checks and Inspections Help Prevent Deeper Issues

In addition to regular system maintenance, diagnostic checks are incredibly important in catching issues and making your system more comfortable for you and for those around you. Aspects of every diagnostic check and inspection should be catered to you and your needs. These include adjusting the filter if it captures too many particles on one side and adjusting vents, thermostats, and other equipment to address your concerns. If your technician does not address your concerns properly or make adjustments like these, reconsider them for further jobs.

Maintenance Agreements Keep Your System in Top Shape

A maintenance agreement can also help you make sure you’re on time for these regular tune-ups.

This type of agreement is very simply an agreement to maintain a product. For HVAC, you will be paying a certain amount for the expectation that your machine will be serviced and provided for. At Fire & Ice, we offer three different service levels for our maintenance agreements. All include a warranty period of one year for the bronze level, two years for the silver, and three years for the gold level.

We offer priority service for all three levels with time limits. For bronze, a 36-hour priority service is offered; for silver, a 24-hour priority service is offered; and for gold, we offer same-day priority service. Discounts are also included with the plan on equipment repairs and accessories.

They are offered at 10% for the bronze level for equipment repairs, 5% for accessories, 20% for silver for equipment repairs, 10% for accessories, 30% for gold for equipment repairs, and 15% for accessories.

All of our maintenance agreements also feature:

Priority Service

All of our maintenance agreement customers get access to priority service when placing a call for tune-ups or service. Depending on your level, you can select which technician you have or pick a time on a Saturday.

Repair Warranty

Repair warranties for replacement parts sometimes last as little as 60 days from the manufacturer. With our three maintenance agreements extending this warranty to one, two, and three years, there’s peace of mind knowing that a repair wasn’t done just to collect a paycheck and get it running for a short while. If we aren’t confident the repair will last for years, we won’t do it, and you’re covered either way.

Lifetime Workmanship Guarantee

Guarantees like this are rare in the industry. Ours states the following:

“We guarantee the following items for the lifetime of the equipment against defects in materials or workmanship from the date the system is installed:

  • All ductwork we install
  • All ductwork insulation we install
  • Other items we install, include sheet metal straps, clamps, fasteners, hangers, locks, drivers, drain piping, and fittings
  • All high-voltage electrical wiring, wire nuts, straps, ties, and connectors we install
  • All refrigerant piping we install (does not include the cost to gain access to underground or other inaccessible piping)
  • Refrigerant insulation we install
  • All equipment pads, stands, jacks, and vibration elimination devices we install

Proper maintenance is what allows us to offer this unique guarantee. The only requirement to keep this protection in force for the lifetime of the equipment is to renew your annual maintenance program when due.”

And if you think that these are empty words, I can again promise you that we’ve honored this agreement on those rare occasions when the work is done improperly. We pride ourselves on attention to detail, but no HVAC contractor is beyond fault. Having a guarantee like this is protection for the customer.

All the details mentioned above are incredibly important when choosing whether to replace your furnace.

Next Steps to Improving Your Home’s Comfort and Efficiency

At Fire & Ice, we understand that choosing whether or not to upgrade your furnace can be incredibly confusing. If you live in the Columbus, Ohio area and are looking to take the next step in your home’s comfort level, use the zip code map below to determine if you’re in our service area.

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