When Is the Right Time to Replace a Furnace?

Buying a new furnace, air conditioner, AC unit, or other HVAC system equipment is a big investment for Cincinnati area homeowners. Before you move forward with furnace replacement, you want to be sure you’ve gotten as much value as possible from the old furnace – this is the part that makes it tricky to determine the right time to replace furnace heating systems.

Whether you have a natural gas furnace, oil furnace¸, or electric furnace, when the current furnace reaches a certain point, you’ll be faced with making pricey furnace repairs or installing a furnace replacement. Is a furnace repair going to keep your existing heating system in service for a few more good years so you can save money on furnace replacement costs? Or, is it better to replace your furnace now and invest your money in a new, energy-efficient furnace that will help you reduce energy costs and increase savings right away?

Choosing the right time to replace heating and air conditioning system equipment instead of making repairs is a difficult task. Making repairs to a failing furnace can mean money down the drain if the unit won’t last through this year, but if you install a new system, you may miss an opportunity to make a simple repair that will allow older units to heat the entire home for another winter season or two. Natural gas furnaces, oil furnaces, and electric furnaces, as well as cooling units, don’t have a set expiration date to make things simple – the truth of the matter is, we just don’t know exactly how long most furnaces will last nor which furnace repairs are a good investment for an old furnace and which ones aren’t.

Instead, you must consider factors such as the average life expectancy of furnaces and furnace maintenance habits over the years, along with warning signs displayed by your old furnace as the furnace ages, including higher energy bills, hot and cold spots, poor indoor air quality, strange noises, frequent repairs, and your family’s health and comfort indoors. Thomas & Galbraith shares HVAC industry advice to consider as you choose between heating system repairs and new furnace installation, so you can feel confident in your decision, whichever option you select. If you decide to complete furnace repairs or replace a furnace, our HVAC professional technicians are ready to assist you – contact us anytime for the heating services you need in the Cincinnati area.

Average Lifespan of Furnaces and How Furnace Ages Impact Repair or Replacement Decisions

The choice to make repairs to your old furnace or buy a replacement furnace would be a whole lot simpler if your HVAC contractor could tell you exactly when your existing HVAC system will fail! While Thomas & Galbraith strives to deliver a quality customer experience, unfortunately, we just can’t say for sure when a heating unit will experience a catastrophic breakdown that will force you to replace your furnace.

The best information we have to work from in regard to how long furnaces will last is the typical lifespan seen from these systems. The average lifespan of natural gas furnaces, electric furnaces, and oil furnaces isn’t exact, but it does give a good starting point to use as we assess how many years any one furnace may last.

The average life expectancy of furnaces is as follows:

  • Gas Furnaces That Burn Natural Gas Average 15 to 20 Years of Service Life
  • Electric Furnaces Average a Typical Lifespan Between 20 to 30 Years
  • Oil Furnaces Average Between 15 to 25 Years of Service Life

It’s true furnace ages, and average life expectancy can be useful in determining how much longer old furnaces can be expected to run; it’s important to remember these numbers are only estimations and not confirmed age ranges. This is because the final age of any gas furnace, electric furnace, oil furnace, or any other type of HVAC system unit is strongly impacted by factors specific to each individual furnace application. Regular maintenance tune-up service, outdoor climate, indoor temperature preferences, the energy efficiency of the home, if the furnace was properly matched with an energy-efficient air conditioning unit, and characteristics of the duct system are all factors that can increase or decrease the actual lifespan of a furnace.

Despite the caveats that typical lifespan for furnaces are just estimations and the actual system age can be greatly impacted by individual factors specific to the installation, looking at the age of a heating unit can be helpful in making a decision between completing a furnace repair or moving forward with a replacement furnace project instead.

In general, if your old furnace is within or exceeds the estimated range for average equipment life, furnace replacement is something that is on the horizon in the near future, regardless of the current need for repairs.

  • When a furnace reaches this age range, odds are you are probably noticing some of the warning signs of a failing furnace that are common in an older system.
  • Furnaces lose energy efficiency as they age, largely due to the accumulation of wear and tear damage within the system. No matter the AFUE rating on the system, the furnace’s actual performance is likely much less energy efficient than you expect.
  • A furnace often experiences more breakdowns and a greater demand for repairs in its final two years of life. If repair calls to your HVAC contractor have increased in frequency over the last winter season or two, this is a strong indicator that total system failure is near, and the time to make arrangements to replace a furnace is now.

However, it is possible for furnaces to last years beyond the average service life estimate for the heating system type. If your current furnace is within or beyond the average service life estimate, it can be reasonable to expect a few more years from your unit if you have taken good care of the system over the years.

  • If you have an HVAC professional perform maintenance each year, your furnace may not suffer from a drastic reduction in energy efficiency nor carry the burden of heavy wear and tear damage.
  • If air filters were changed when needed, this regular maintenance step likely has protected your furnace from the excess stress and reduced efficiency that occur due to airflow restrictions from a dirty filter.
  • If you set the heat to efficient temperatures that kept your family comfortable when at home and set back heat over long periods of the day to reduce usage of your furnace while everyone was gone or asleep, your unit has not seen the same amount of use and operating hours as the furnace in a home set to a heat temperature of 73 all day, all winter long. With less use, your system may last much longer than the same exact model installed in another home.

What Repairs Are Needed?

No matter the age of the existing heat unit, the specific repairs needed can influence your decision to fix your furnace or replace your furnace. Simple repairs that will fix the current problem can be a good choice whether your furnace is new or 20 years old. Replacing an ignitor that has worn out over time or cleaning soot from the burner assembly to eliminate yellow flames are quick solutions that restore the proper performance of your furnace. These repairs can improve the efficiency of electric furnace units and those that burn fossil fuels, allowing your furnace to consume less fuel through the utility company gas lines and resulting in lower heating bills.

When the needed furnace repair is something significant, such as replacing a major furnace component, this is when you’ll want to carefully weigh your choice of repair or replace your furnace. A cracked heat exchanger is a significant issue that can allow too much carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the indoor air supply, creating a dangerous hazard to your family’s health and safety. Repairing this issue involves removing the old heat exchanger then installing a brand-new heat exchanger in the furnace to stop any carbon monoxide exposure due to combustion gases mixing with circulating air.

If you have a relatively new furnace, you may still be within the manufacturer’s warranty period, and the new parts will be covered. If you experience a major furnace malfunction not long after your warranty has expired or if your old furnace is long out of warranty, the furnace repair will be your financial responsibility. Before we get into total cost, you want to think about how many more years you likely have left on your furnace and whether or not it makes sense to put this new component into a furnace that won’t last anywhere near as long as the new part.

Total Cost of Furnace Repair

The choice between completing a furnace repair or buying a new furnace often comes down to the cost of the proposed repairs. Generally, the more extensive the issue, the more it will cost to repair. Even if the repairs are considered minor, there may be several things that require correction within the furnace to fix problems ranging from rooms heated unevenly to spiking energy bills, and these many small repairs add up to a substantial overall cost.

Some homeowners feel comfortable paying a few hundred dollars for repairs in hopes the solutions will keep older furnaces in use longer while also lowering utility bills – some homeowners don’t want to spend any money on repairs to an older furnace if the repair isn’t guaranteed to solve the issue at hand. Even if your older furnace has a fixable problem, if the repair cost is high, it’s worthwhile to consider if you’re better off spending that money toward furnace replacement costs.

Basing the decision between repairs or furnace replacement on financials will result in different choices in every household, as budgets and other factors vary. While we can’t tell you at what price point repairs no longer make sense for your financial situation, there is a tool we use that many homeowners find helpful – the 5,000 rule.

  • Take the Cost of All Needed Repairs and Multiply It by Your Furnace’s Age
  • If the Answer Totals Over 5,000, It’s Suggested That You Replace a Furnace
  • If the Answer Falls Below 5,000, Repairs May Be Worth the Financial Investment

Another way to size up repairs versus buying a new furnace based on financials is by comparing repair costs to the total furnace replacement costs. If the current repair bill is half or more of the total cost to buy a new furnace and have it professionally installed, it’s probably time to replace your furnace, no matter its age, if the unit is outside warranty.

Furnace Service and Replacement in Cincinnati

If you want to improve indoor air and reduce indoor pollution, you should approach your air quality issues from multiple angles. To fight poor air quality, the most important approaches to take are controlling pollutants at their source and improving home ventilation.

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