Furnaces last between 15 and 20 years. A well-kept unit rarely breaks down in under ten years, which is probably why 10 year warranties are common! Meanwhile, some people keep theirs running for up to 30 years.
With a range like that, you can imagine there are plenty of factors at play. Everything from where you live , to how often you call someone to fix your furnace, to how often you change the air filter can affect the lifespan.
What affects a furnace’s lifespan?
There are furnaces available at different price points, and the quality of the furnace you purchase will affect how long it lasts. You need to consider:
- How cold it gets where you live
- Whether the system is the right size for your house
- What kind of maintenance is required
- What level of energy-efficiency is important to you
But how you care for it matters a lot, too. Maintenance plays a big role in how long your heater lasts. But, we’ll get into that a little later.
For now, let’s look at climate. How cold does it get where you live? The lower the temperatures go, the harder your furnace will have to work to keep you warm.
Think of the number of cold days as the furnace equivalent to putting miles on your car- the more often it’s in use, the more wear and tear you can expect.
If the winters are no joke where you live, you can expect your heater to put in overtime and likely break down sooner than if you lived in warmer parts of the country.
Also consider whether you live closer to salt water. If you live in a coastal town, there’s a significant amount of salt in the air, which along with humidity can be corrosive for your HVAC system and lead to faster wear.
There are actually special labs in Florida where companies test their products for exposure to the elements and it’s clear that high heat, humidity and sea spray lead to significant shortening of the life of any HVAC system.
The Size of The System Matters
For places with harsher winters, you might think that a good solution would be to get a stronger model, right? Well, no. It would make sense that a model made to push out more hot air than you need would handle your home easily.
But, that’s not what happens.
An oversized model can break down faster than a right-sized one. The problem is that it does the job too well and shuts off quickly. Then, when the temperature drops a little, it kicks back on. Then it goes off again. And so on..
These on and off cycles wear out the system over time. Just like having a system that’s too small, a system that’s too big is no good either- we need the Goldilocks approach of “Just right”.
How do I know a furnace is breaking down?
If your unit is more than 10 years old, it’s time to be on the lookout for signs of wear and tear. Like with most issues- getting ahead of problems is much better than being stranded in an emergency.
Sometimes a little extra care can go a long way. Or, you can at least begin preparing for an eventual replacement so you don’t have to make a significant investment in a hurry.
Then, you have the time to consider all your options and make a good choice that fits the size of your home and your budget..
Some of the biggest signs you’re furnace may break down for good are:
- Age of the unit
- Frequent repairs
- Higher energy bills
- Lower inside temperatures in the winter
- Soot and discolored flames
Age is obvious: These things don’t last forever. Once they hit 16 or 17 years old, it’s only a matter of time.
You’ll probably start fixing it a lot more often. If your appliance is failing a lot, especially over two or more winters, it may be time to think about getting a new one.
And, a planned replacement is a much better option than having your heater fail during the biggest snowstorm of the year, when everyone needs help all at once.
On a similar note, higher energy bills in the winter are a sign of a failing hvac unit. It means it needs more energy than before to get the job done.
Or, you’re paying more but getting less heat. When your heater can’t keep your home as warm as it used to, it may be on the way out.
Finally, there are telltale signs on the appliance. Weird noises and smells mean problems. And, check out the flame. If it’s any color besides blue, there’s a problem. Often, you’ll notice more soot near the unit, too.
How can I make my furnace last longer?
Maintenance and proper care go a long way toward getting your furnace to last you at least twenty years. You can take some steps on your own to keep it in tip-top shape. And, you’ll want to get the professionals in there, too.
A pre-season furnace and heater check is a great first step. These are often called Tune-ups. Typically, a tech comes in and inspects your system with a fine-tooth comb before you start using it for the season.
They will clean out dust, change the filters, and inspect and replace any worn parts before they break or make things worse by stressing other components.
Going back to the car comparison one last time, pre-season tuneups and inspections are just like getting the oil changed in your car.
Replacing the oil and fluids on time all the time makes the engine run smoother for longer. It’s the same idea here.
Help Your System Last Longer
There are things you can do yourself to prolong your heater’s life. The first and easiest thing is to change the air filter regularly.
The filter blocks all sorts of dust and debris from getting into the system. But, that junk builds up on the filter. Pretty soon air can’t pass through it, either. When that happens, you’re back to making the unit work harder than it should.
And, make sure your vents are clear. When they’re blocked, air can’t pass through the ducts into the room. That affects the blower, which will then run slower. It pushes out less hot air but also draws in less cool air. Without enough of that, the heat exchanger can get too hot and crack.
An excellent way to avoid this is making sure no furniture blocks any vents. And, try not to close the vents if you can help it. That causes the same problem.
If you follow this advice and keep your eyes and ears open for problems, you can increase the lifespan of your furnace.