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Furnace FAQ | Answers to Maintenance, Repair & Replacement Questions

by vscontent on October 21, 2016

furnace FAQ - maintenance, repair & replacement

It’s the season of hayrides and pumpkin spices lattes, which means that homeowners will soon be relying on their heating systems to keep warm and toasty. Unfortunately, your home’s furnace has been lying in the dark, out of sight, out of mind all year. Instead of waiting until the dead of winter, take some time now to assess the health and efficiency of your furnace.

If you have an older central heating system that hasn’t been regularly maintained, there’s a good chance that an expensive repair or replacement is in your near future.

Lack of proper maintenance can cause permanent damage to your furnace. This can lead to system breakdowns and huge repair, maintenance, and utility costs, not to mention the potential health hazards and inconvenience of waiting to have it fixed.

fall furnace tune-up checklist - lakewood tacoma puget sound

Make sure you schedule fall furnace maintenance every year.

Since new furnaces have been upgraded with high-efficiency parts and materials, sometimes a full replacement makes more sense than a repair. Considering that space heating is the largest energy expense in the home, it’s especially important to keep energy efficiency levels in mind.

To help you understand your options, here are the most frequently asked questions about furnace repair and replacement.

Furnace Repair & Replacement FAQ

When should I replace my furnace?

The average lifespan of a furnace is between 10 and 25 years. If you have a furnace that is 10 years old or older, it’s past its midlife point and on its way out. Pacific Air Systems recommends considering a furnace replacement at 10+ years.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), If your furnace is “old, worn out, inefficient, or significantly oversized, the simplest solution is to replace it with a modern high-efficiency model.”

When deciding whether to replace your furnace or not, it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion (or two). If you have a low AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating, which is the way you measure furnace efficiency, then upgrading to a higher AFUE system will make both environmental and financial sense.

As your unit ages, it also gets more difficult to find replacement parts, which increases your waiting times during some of the coldest days.

What is AFUE?

A furnace’s efficiency is measured by its annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating, which calculates how much fuel or energy is used to create heat for your home.

Specifically, AFUE measures the ratio of generated heat output against the ratio of energy consumed by the heating system. All heating systems lose some energy during the combustion process, but some lose a lot more than others.

Modern furnaces have AFUE ratings above 90%, which means that 90% of the fuel is used to heat your home, with about 10% escaping somewhere.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “When a furnace is 20 years old, it is likely that its initial efficiency is very low (probably 78 percent or lower) and has significantly degraded with use. You could expect a good return on investment by installing a new 95 percent efficient condensing furnace. Expect even more savings if you choose a two-speed or variable speed system.”

We recommend considering a furnace replacement if your AFUE rating is under 80%, which is considered “low efficiency”.

What is the minimum AFUE rating for a gas furnace?

New AFUE energy-efficiency requirements set by the DOE raise the minimum AFUE rating for new weatherized gas furnaces from 78% to 81%.

These new requirements, which apply to all 50 states including the Pacific Northwest, have been in effect since January 1, 2015:

  • 80% AFUE for non-weatherized gas furnaces
  • 81% AFUE for weatherized gas furnaces
  • 80% AFUE for mobile home gas furnaces
  • 82% AFUE for non-weatherized oil-fired furnaces

The DOE proposed another national AFUE minimum increase from 81% to 92% in September.

When looking for a furnace replacement, we recommend looking at units with a minimum AFUE rating of 92%.

While higher efficiency units cost more upfront, the fuel savings over the course of its life will more than make up for the higher unit costs.

Where can I find my furnace’s AFUE rating?

All furnaces and most major appliances are required to post their efficiency ratings on a big yellow EnergyGuide label.

energyguide label for furnaces - federal trade commission

The EnergyGuide label displays the unit’s estimated energy efficiency level, how it compares with other similar units, as well as its estimated annual operating costs.

As the appliance ages, however, the efficiency levels drop. It’s important that you schedule professional maintenance every year to keep efficiency levels up and repair costs down. You should also have annual maintenance performed in order to keep your manufacturer’s warranty valid. If you haven’t done so already, schedule your Lakewood/Tacoma area furnace tune-up here.

What are some signs that I need a furnace repair or replacement?

Here are some tell-tale signs that you need a furnace repair or replacement:

  • Age (10+  years)
  • High Energy Bills
  • Frequent Repairs
  • Uneven Temperatures
  • Frequent Cycling On and Off
  • Comfort and Humidity Problems
  • Loud Noises
  • Visible Rust and Corrosion
  • Yellow or Flickering Pilot Flame

A healthy gas furnace is a very efficient way to heat your home. Unfortunately, problems do occur. If your furnace shows any of the signs above, call your local HVAC contractor to take a look. While the solution may be as simple as changing your filter, sometimes a repair or replacement is necessary.

What should I look for when shopping for a new furnace (or air conditioner)?

While choosing the right heating system is important, choosing the right HVAC installer makes an even bigger difference.

Make sure you research your prospective HVAC installation company and get written estimates that include the brand, size, efficiency, rating, warranty, permits, fees, and any necessary ductwork, thermostat, electrical, ventilation, or fuel delivery changes.

Use this ENERGY STAR Bid Installation Checklist as a template for your HVAC vetting process. Ask the HVAC companies bidding for the job whether or not they follow ENERGY STAR Quality Installation Guidelines.

You also want to check for licensing, bonding, insurance, BBB ratings, and online reviews.

If you are interested in more energy-efficient home heating systems, consider a Hybrid Heating System, which combines the energy-efficiency of a heat pump with the effectiveness of a furnace.

The more information you have, the more likely you will make a good decision.

How much does a new gas furnace cost? 

The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors so it’s hard to give any one answer.

For a precise estimate on a new gas furnace for your Lakewood/Tacoma home, give Pacific Air Systems a call at (253) 292-3995 or schedule service online and we’ll send a Comfort Advisor to your home for a Free Consultation.

We provide straightforward pricing options based on the needs and the size of your home.

How can I help maintain my furnace?

Turning on your heating system for the first time can be scary. Having sat dormant for months, you may experience issues such as strange noises and sounds.

Home Heating Tips

Luckily, most problems can easily be avoided with a few simple maintenance tips:

  • Set your programmable thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and lower the setpoint when you’re sleeping or away from home.
  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as recommended.
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Eliminate trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if unsure about how to perform this task, contact a professional.
  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
  • During winter, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.


Benefits of Heating and Furnace Maintenance:

  • Annual Cleanings
  • Avoid Major Repairs & Replacements
  • Extended Equipment Life
  • High Energy Savings
  • Lower Utility Bills
  • Professional Checkups & Diagnosis
  • Peak Performance & Air Flow

Click here for more information on natural gas furnaces.

If you are thinking about purchasing a new furnace or HVAC system, it’s important to make energy-efficient upgrades beforehand so you can save money on a more efficient unit:

Call Pacific Air Systems at 253.292.3995 for a Comfort Advisor to visit your home and provide you with personalized advice on the best HVAC system for your home.

Check out our The Club for further rewards and Pacific Air perks!

We are proud to provide Puget Sound area residents with quality HVAC services, including Tacoma, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, and Federal Way.

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