Schedule an Appointment

Send Message

Subscribe to our RSS Feed Articles & Tips

Furnace Replacement Can Be a Headache if You’re Not Prepared — Here’s Help

After several heating seasons in your West Texas home, you've no doubt come to rely on your furnace to work when you need it. What happens, though, when you reach for the thermostat and no warm air comes out of the vents? When your heating system has reached the end of its useful life, furnace replacement is the only choice you have. The following overview of furnace replacement options should help you recognize when it's time for  a new furnace, how to choose a new system, and how to keep your furnace working at its best.

Signs That Indicate a Need for Furnace Replacement

Furnace malfunctions can happen unexpectedly, but usually your heating system will give you some warning signs before it breaks down permanently. Some of the more common are:

  • Furnace age: Furnaces can be expected to last many years before they need to be replaced. It's common for furnaces to have a useful life of 15 to 20 years or more, especially if they receive regular preventive maintenance. In warmer climates, they should enjoy a longer service life than in a colder climate where the heating seasons are longer and colder. Age alone is not the only reason for furnace replacement. If your older furnace is also showing some of the other signs on this list, be ready to look for a replacement soon.
  • Loss of reliability: A furnace that is breaking down frequently, producing insufficient heat, or simply not working like it should is going to be a candidate for replacement. Furnaces tend to break down more often during the final two years of their functional life, so if your heating system has needed multiple repairs over the last couple of seasons, it may stop working at any time.
  • Inconsistent or uneven heating: Poorly functioning furnaces have trouble keeping up with the heating demands placed on them, which means that they will often produce inconsistent heating. If you've noticed rooms or areas that are hotter or colder than expected, or even a complete lack of heating in some areas, it could mean furnace replacement is needed.
  • Decreased efficiency: You probably have a reasonably good idea of how much it costs each year to heat your home. If that amount suddenly jumps sharply without a corresponding increase in usage, it could mean your furnace is losing efficiency. Inefficient furnaces not only cost more to run, they can also malfunction or fail completely when seasonal heating demands increase.
  • Loud, unusual or unexpected noises within the system: Furnaces produce minimal amounts of noise when they operate, usually associated with blower fan working, air being circulated, and burners cycling on and off. If your furnace makes loud noises or sounds you've never heard before, have it checked out immediately. Noises could indicate a potential danger, and may mean a replacement is needed.
  • Change in the color of the burner flame: Furnaces that burn fossil fuels such as gas and propane will have a burner that consumes the fuel to produce heat. Normally, burner flames should be blue in color. If the flames have changed color to yellow, it means combustion is not occurring correctly or cleanly. There might be a variety of reasons for this, but one possible issue is that there's a carbon monoxide leak in the furnace. Carbon monoxide is a gas produced when fuel is burned, and it's extremely dangerous. If you suspect a carbon monoxide leak, turn your furnace off immediately and have it checked as soon as possible. A leak can mean that the furnace needs to be replaced, especially if it's caused by a cracked heat exchanger. It can make better economic sense to replace a furnace than to replace the heat exchanger. It's similar to replacing an engine in a car.

Your Options: Types of Furnaces for Furnace Replacement

In most cases, it will be easiest to replace your existing furnace with a similar one that uses the same type of fuel. However, there are numerous options available if you want to switch to another fuel source or pursue better levels of efficiency and performance.

  • Natural gas: Natural gas furnaces are the most common types available on the market. Newer models offer high efficiency ratings and excellent performance. If you don't already have a gas connection from your local utility company, it should be relatively easy to have one installed. If you live in a rural area or small town not serviced by a gas utility, you will have to choose another fuel option.
  • Oil, propane and other fossil fuels: Furnaces are available that can burn fuel oil, propane and other types of fossil fuels other than natural gas. Propane or fuel oil is usually provided by a local supplier who delivers the fuel to your home where it's stored in a large tank. The tank is then refilled when necessary. Keep in mind that fuel tank refills will mean a large expenditure for fuel at one time. If you're used to making monthly utility payments, this could affect your budgeting for household heat.
  • Electricity: Electric furnaces turn electricity into heat. They have very high efficiency ratings and do not, in and of themselves, produce any exhaust gases or emissions. They can make use of existing electrical connections, though some modifications may be necessary in wiring, outlets, or circuit breakers to accommodate the heavier power demands of an electric furnace. While they are efficient, the cost of electricity, per BTU, is generally much higher than the cost of natural gas.
  • Heat pumps: Heat pumps are an extremely efficient and functional alternative to fuel-based or electric furnaces. They work by capturing heat and moving it from place to place, taking it where it's needed in the winter and removing it from your indoor spaces in the summer. Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the air around the unit, while geothermal systems pull heat from the ground or a body of water. Heat pumps are usually more expensive than other heating equipment, especially geothermal models, but their near-perfect efficiency and high reliability make them economical long-term options.

Efficiency and Furnace Replacement

When you look for a new furnace, pay close attention to the unit's efficiency rating. This is usually expressed as the system's AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) number and will be displayed on the unit, in the product literature, or on the attached EnergyGuide card. The furnace's AFUE number indicates how much of the energy in the fuel the system uses is converted to usable heat. For example, a natural gas furnace with an AFUE of 90 percent means that 90 percent of the energy in the fuel becomes heat that can warm your home, while the other 10 percent is lost through dissipation, leakage or exhaust processes. The higher the AFUE number, the greater the furnace's efficiency. High-efficiency furnaces are more expensive initially, but they cost much less to operate than other models since they make the best possible use of the fuel they consume. In areas with mild winters, however, it will take much longer to recoup the extra cost of a high-efficiency furnace than if you lived, say, in Michigan or North Dakota.

Today's technology has produced many additional components that can be installed in your furnace to increase its efficiency even more. These include:

  • Variable-speed blowers that distribute air at different rates. Depending on heating demands, these blowers will run most frequently on the lower speed that consumes less energy and costs less to operate.
  • Dual heat exchangers that provide an additional heat exchanger that pulls usable heat out of the system's exhaust gases before they are removed through the exhaust process. These are an essential component of high-efficiency condensing gas furnaces with AFUEs of 90-98 percent
  • Programmable thermostats that let you schedule temperature changes ahead of time, to match your expected daily and weekly schedules.
  • Electronic ignition systems that do away with the need for a constantly burning pilot light. Electronic ignition systems produce a spark that ignites fuel when needed. They are standard in modern furnaces of all type.

Furnace Sizing

Before investing in a furnace replacement, make sure the system has been properly sized. In this context, size means functional capacity and ability to produce the amount of heat required to keep indoor spaces at the temperatures you prefer. Your HVAC professional should perform a heating load calculation to find out exactly how much heating your home needs. This assessment takes into consideration relevant physical and thermal characteristics of the structure to arrive at a numerical designation of heating need. Make sure the calculation is performed according to industry standards such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America's (ACCA) Manual J, "Residential Load Calculation."

Maintenance and Air Filters

After your new furnace is installed by a qualified and licensed HVAC professional, make sure to have preventive maintenance performed at least annually. Regular maintenance will keep your heating system working at its best possible level and will extend the life of the equipment.

During heating season, check the system's air filters regularly and change them when they get dirty. A monthly check-and-change is usually enough, but if your indoor air tends to contain high amounts of particulates, it may be necessary to change filters more often. Keep clean, fresh filters in the system at all times; dirty filters can affect airflow and performance, which could lead to system damage.

We can help you locate reliable professional HVAC contractors who can guide you through the process of furnace replacement, from sales to installation. Contact us today to find a West Texas contractor near you.

Back to Articles