Is Servicing Your Furnace Really Worth the Cost?
Millions of Americans rely on furnaces to stay warm and comfy when the weather’s cold. Many homeowners, however, balk at the cost of keeping these major appliances running.
Although it may seem tempting to save money by skipping furnace maintenance, doing so might prove more expensive in the long run. Here’s everything people should know about making cost-conscious upkeep decisions.
What Is Furnace Maintenance?
Furnaces use an array of sources to produce heat, with natural gas and electricity accounting for around 85 percent of all U.S. residential heating.1 The energy that these devices create can then be used to warm the air inside living spaces. Many furnace designs heat intermediary fluids, such as steam or water, which they then pump to other areas of the house and HVAC system components.
Furnace maintenance is the process of ensuring that all these functions work the way they should. Since individual furnaces differ in everything from their heat sources, distribution methods, and control systems — all furnaces have unique maintenance needs. It’s critical for homeowners to work with professionals who can diagnose problems accurately and conduct the correct repairs, such as
- Performing visual inspections to spot signs of fluid leakage, burner flame quality, or component breakdowns
- Replacing burnt-out electronics
- Using smart diagnostic tools to communicate with furnace control systems and analyze their performance track records
- Replacing consumable parts known for wearing down, such as air filters, fuses, gaskets and hoses
- Troubleshooting major problems, such as an inability to provide adequate heat or maintain a set temperature without cycling up and down
Other forms of maintenance are not as severe, yet they’re equally vital. For instance, a homeowner whose furnace starts making abnormal levels of noise might put in a service call even though the system is still heating their home fine. Or someone might book a maintenance appointment to optimize their furnace’s efficiency and lower their heating bills. No matter what’s behind your decision to perform furnace maintenance, being proactive is critical because these devices degrade and lose their energy efficiency with routine use.
Are Annual Furnace Inspections Really Necessary?
Furnaces should receive professional attention each year. Inspections let people handle problems before they become serious budget drains.
What makes inspection so important? One of the tricky things about furnaces is that typical seasonal usage patterns can hide serious trouble. Unlike nonessential major appliances, such as dishwashers and microwaves, most furnaces only see heavy use during one part of the year. During spring and summer, many sit completely dormant, and this isn’t always good for mechanical systems.
When left idle for too long, components like fan motors, drive belts, and other hardware can stiffen or bind, which makes it harder for them to start up later. Dirt and soot on gas burners can get caked on, which reduces these parts’ heat transfer efficiency so that the furnace needs to use more energy to produce the desired effect.
These obstacles underscore the essential importance of proactive yearly inspections. Problems may lie dormant until the system kicks on again when the temperature starts falling, so it’s easy to get caught off-guard. Families that want reliable heat always have a professional look at their furnaces at least yearly.
How Often Should Your Furnace Be Serviced?
Each furnace is different. Apart from the once-a-year rule of thumb, there’s no universal guideline that applies to all models or households. Instead, the easiest way to get a handle on your furnace upkeep plan is to look at the manufacturer guidelines and know your components.
Service Most Furnaces Two Times Yearly
Manufacturers have unique maintenance timetable specifications, with many recommending that their hardware should get checked every six months. For most people, this works out to one appointment in early fall and another in spring. Conducting the second inspection is a smart way to discover new problems that developed during the on-season.
Understand Your Hardware Layout
Furnaces are heavily interconnected with other devices, such as HVAC ducts and thermostats. These systems typically have unique maintenance schedule requirements, and their interaction with your furnace may make it necessary to modify your upkeep habits.
Filters typically need to be replaced every one or two months depending on factors like usage and the presence of airborne pollutants, such as pet hair and pollen. Ductwork and heat transfer surfaces need regular cleaning to remove dust that limits their efficiency. When unsure, always err on the side of more frequent upkeep.
How Much Does Furnace Maintenance Cost?
The average price a homeowner will pay for a furnace repair is about $300, however, there are many variables that can affect your overall furnace service cost.2 This can include things like needing to have parts replaced or repaired. In some cases, a home’s poor energy efficiency might mean that its furnace works harder and thus breaks down faster. Furnaces that have survived longer than their specified lifetimes can also carry heavy repair bills.
It’s also important to know that certain types of homeowners’ insurance may cover basic upkeep, but these policies often exclude routine wear or age-related failures. Other homeowners save money by contracting with local service providers that offer ongoing plans at discounted rates.
In general, furnace maintenance costs more the longer it gets delayed, and this is especially true with devices that already have problems. Letting faults go unfixed is a recipe for further breakdowns. Seasonal trends also have a big impact — consumers who wait until just before the cold season to book maintenance appointments are likely to pay premium prices, and they might even have more trouble scheduling service calls.
Is DIY Furnace Maintenance Safe?
Some basic forms of furnace maintenance, such as replacing filters, sealing leaky ducts, and adjusting dampers, are easy to complete by yourself. Other tasks, such as realigning gas burners or inspecting thermostat electronics, can potentially result in deadly electrocution or gas exposure hazards if performed incorrectly.
To stay as safe as possible, always turn off the electrical power before getting started. Even if your furnace burns fuel, it most likely still uses electricity for its control hardware, so take precautions.3
If it is unclear which tasks are safe, simply chat with an expert. Make an appointment for professional maintenance and ask the service technician for their recommendations on how to keep your furnace running smoothly between visits. This can be a great way to save money with older hardware that needs more frequent attention.