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Annual Service- Furnace and Air Conditioner
Old 12-17-2013, 01:32 PM   #1
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Annual Service- Furnace and Air Conditioner

Is it worth the "tune-up" cost?

In the 55 years that we've owned homes, cannot remember ever having an "annual service check up", nor any failures that might have resulted from this kind of neglect. Our recent furnace problem came from a circuit board failure, which could not have been prevented by a "check up", and over the years, all other problems have been from motor failures, or failed components of one sort or another.

That does not mean that no service has been done. Filters, and simple cleaning of the igniters in furnaces, a few drops of oil here and there, and washing the fins in A/C units are simple tasks, taking very little time, and not much technical knowledge. Likewise a once in a while simple vacuuming of ductwork.
My neighbor pays $100 to $150 each for annual check ups, where the serviceman takes about 3/4 of an hour poking around the equipment, but as far as I can see, does little more than dust and replace a filter. The "guarantee" seems little more than a statement that the serviceman will come back and repair anything that he might have missed... not for any future failure or for service calls.

What am I missing?
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:04 PM   #2
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When we bought our furnace and ac about 7 yrs ago, the company was running a promotion which included a 15 yr part/labor warranty. To keep the warranty, you must agree to have them inspected once a year (usually about $90). In the last 2 month, we had 2 parts of our furnace replaced, free of charge because of the warranty. Glad we took the warranty or we would have been looking at about $2,000 to get fixed.

New furnaces these days (while more efficient) also have more electronic parts which can malfunction.

I think the annual inspections are a good thing - be it the furnace is old or new. If they are old, need to make sure one is not risking carbon monoxide.

Just my 2cents.
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:09 PM   #3
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What am I missing?

Nothing as far as I know (at least for a Natural Gas furnace, oil is another beast). Like you, I do the filter change, occasional vacuum and general clean-up. Never had a failure that any other maintenance would have prevented.

I did replace the blower motor a few years back - but it is 'lubricated for life', which means when the lubricant is used up, the motor dies, and its life is over. I was able to take it apart, clean and soak the felt wicks and got a couple more years out of it though. Not really worth the effort.

I recently needed to replace the gas valve (pilot sensor was shot), and since I had to pull the burners (8 screws and some misc stuff), I could get a real good look into the heat exchanger. I made up a little scrubber with a greenie pad and a dowel, ran it through and inspected with a mirror. Everything looked like new, and I got just a small amount of powder off the tubes (furnace is 20 YO, A/C is older).

BTW, in my research I learned that a hole/crack in the heat exchanger is NOT a source of CO poisoning. Between the draft inducer sucking the air through and out, and the pressure in the vent from the blower, a leak forces the house air out and into the burner - not the other way around. A leak can cause the flame to climb out of the furnace though, which is very dangerous. But the furnace does have a sensor for this (not 100% reliable though), but more importantly, you can see this start to happen when the blower kicks on (youtube has videos for the curious). So it doesn't seem that a cracked heat exchanger is quite the big fear that it is made out to be. Regular inspection of the flame should detect any problem.

I guess I'll add here - being a DIY type has this advantage. I regularly check stuff as I walk by or it crosses my mind. How does the flame look in the furnace, is the well pump cycling as expected (should take a few minutes to fill the tank - a short cycle is a sign of a leak in the bladder), is the fridge and freezer running at the expected ~ 50% duty cycle, and a bunch of things like that. Others don't notice these things until it is too late. A friend of ours didn't notice their well tank lost pressure, and they ended with a bill for a new pump and tank, far more $ than just a new tank.

-ERD50
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:13 PM   #4
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I agree with Imoldernu. Not sure it is worth it.

Our units are now 14 years old. The first year after installing included 2 of these tune ups. After I witnessed what the serviceman did, I decided not to have the service done.

Mostly, it was checking and cleaning. I can't check pressures in the freon -- that's missing from my work. Otherwise I cover the rest.

But what the guy added concerned me. He "tested" the high temp cutoff by disconnecting the blower fan. He then turned on the furnace and let her rip -- with no fan. After a few minutes, the unit shut down due to a high temp condition. Very good. But is this really a good way to test that safety feature? I didn't like that my heat exchanger was getting cooked to red hot. Not happy with that idea at all.

I test the "no ignite" condition easily by shutting off the gas mechanically.
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:18 PM   #5
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Our winters are long, cold and bitter. I've got a favorite "furnace guy" who checks mine every two years. Cost is about $80. and well worth it to me. No one would want the furnace to go out--or carbon monoxide to leak--during these cold months. Survival depends on it.
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:20 PM   #6
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We have been in our new townhome for about three years. About a year ago I called the company that installed our HVAC system (2 A/C units and a furnace) to inquire about an annual service they told me that it was unnecessary and the only thing needed was to replace the filters regularly.

The 10 year warranty on the equipment will not be impacted.
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:24 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marita40 View Post
Our winters are long, cold and bitter. I've got a favorite "furnace guy" who checks mine every two years. Cost is about $80. and well worth it to me. No one would want the furnace to go out--or carbon monoxide to leak--during these cold months. Survival depends on it.
But what evidence do you have that the inspections have prevented any problems?

Interesting comment in JoeWras's post. I'm not sure that test would really over-stress the HEX, but it might. Sometimes the activities done during maintenance can create problems.

-ERD50
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:51 PM   #8
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I only have my oil fired boiler serviced every other year. I use it mostly for hot water as I heat the house with a wood stove. I go about 15 months before I need oil, 275 gallon tank. I had him show me how to change the filter on the oil tank and that looks pretty straight forwards so I'll do that myself. My central air needed freon about 3 years ago, no service done other than I change the filter each spring. Boiler and central AC in new construction in late 1998.
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:54 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post

But what evidence do you have that the inspections have prevented any problems?

Interesting comment in JoeWras's post. I'm not sure that test would really over-stress the HEX, but it might. Sometimes the activities done during maintenance can create problems.

-ERD50
I can't quantify anything that has been ever been detected. If I was more DIY I might forgo them, but propane/electricity scare the cr*p out of me. At least my furnace guy knows who we are, in case one goes out at 3AM at -22F. Is it worth it, not sure, he has worked with me on the phone and saved a couple of emergency calls.
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Old 12-17-2013, 03:10 PM   #10
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I had a family friend who works in HVAC do my repairs when needed. He told me annual inspections aren't needed either. When we sold our last house, buyer required HVAC inspections so I had to use a "real" company to do it. Both heating/cooling units (2 of each) passed. Shortly after, the 1st floor heater kept triggering a safety fault and the company would need to send someone out. For < $20, I just replaced the safety switch, that's when I noticed the HVAC guy didn't replace the heat shield completely covering the heat exhaust (he left a 1/8" gap). I didn't want this to cause a problem with the home sale, but I never would've had the HVAC company come out if it wasn't required by the buyer. Every HVAC company I've dealt with says it's just a "snapshot" of your unit(s) for that day and will only give a small guarantee of service, i.e., no service call charge (for coming out).
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Old 12-17-2013, 03:17 PM   #11
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In our old house we had an oil fired boiler. We had it tuned up every other year or so and that seemed sufficient.

Our new house is propane. We have an on-demand hot water heater that is used for both heating (one radiant zone and one hot water baseboard zone) and domestic hot water. I haven't done anything other than flush the on-demand hot water heater with vinegar and clean out the water filters to the on-demand unit.
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Old 12-17-2013, 06:01 PM   #12
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Decades ago I did service work on heating and A/C units. I don't bother, other than regularly changing the filters (that is important) cleaning out dust once a year or so and once in a while looking at the flame (natural gas) to see if anything is abnormal or changes when the blower comes on.

Oil fired equipment should be looked at at least every few years. Changing the oil inline filter annually is a good idea, and the oil burner orifice can get clogged or wear. It's not dangerous but can result in inefficient operation. Given the price of heating oil it's probably worth having it looked at every two or three years.
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Old 12-17-2013, 06:29 PM   #13
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I purchased a Lennox two stage gas furnace about 4 years ago. I asked the salesman what regular maintenance was needed and he was adamant - nothing beyond filter changes. When the installers were installing it, I asked them the same thing and got the same answer. About 2 years ago the circuit board died and I asked the repair man the same question ...and got the same answer.

This fall I got a postcard from the installation company asking why I wasn't getting yearly checkups on the furnace.

I know that AC systems do need the inside and outside coils cleaned occasionally.
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Old 12-17-2013, 10:55 PM   #14
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If you know you have a gas furnace in the basement, but can't distinguish it from other generic metal cabinets or stacks of boxes due to your intellectual temperment or lack of diy enthusiasm, get it checked yearly. Friends of mine had one blow up in their basement from neglect. Likely a rare occurrance, but gas or lpg can be dangerous. Can they go years without service safely? sure.
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Old 12-18-2013, 02:01 AM   #15
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I have no direct evidence one way or the other, but I did have regular cleanings/tuneups for several years as my furnace was 20+ years old. Every time the service guy recommended a whole replacement, every year I declined, and every year he came up with a part or two that needed to be replaced for a couple hundred bucks. After being told parts were becoming hard to come by and would start getting more expensive, I stopped the annual cleanings/tuneups and just replaced the filters myself. Twelve years later and not a single problem. My furnace is pushing 40 years old and has run with less trouble since I stopped the annual tuneups.

I certainly do not want my furnace to blow up, but I also don't want "routine" maintenance that seems to damage parts or reduce their useful life, like turning off airflow and running the heat until the emergency cutoff kicks in.
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Old 12-18-2013, 05:30 AM   #16
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I guess my "evidence" that routine maintenance is worth it is that in 28 years of living in MN my furnace has never malfunctioned in a critical time. Nor has my furnace guy ever--never once--recommended replacing anything or doing some other, higher level work that didn't need to be done. So I trust him, and it is well worth maintaining the relationship with him, just like having a good auto mechanic. As mentioned I do the tune up every two years, not annually. I suppose I could go to three years but that's really pushing my comfort level.
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Old 12-18-2013, 05:44 AM   #17
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Around here, having a service contract is one of the few ways to assure timely service when something actually does go wrong - otherwise you could find yourself waiting days for service. Beyond that, we have a two zone system, and the apparatus for that does need regular maintenance. The service contract has picked up the cost of maybe two or three motors over the time we've been here. We also have a whole-house humidifier and so its nice to have someone else take it apart once a year and clean it out thoroughly, rather than what abridged cleaning we could accomplish without taking the whole thing apart.
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Old 12-18-2013, 08:34 AM   #18
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When we moved into our house June 2011 we had a new gas furnace put in and a a wood burning insert in the living room. I really don't know much about either and asked a few general questions about how things were supposed to work.....the answers I got back from the installers did NOT give me any confidence in their abilities. There are 4 different blower speeds on the furnace. The guy set it at high when he put it in.....damn, sounded like a jet taking off. Had him come back to reduce this.....he didn't know how and and to check with the computer. He finally figured out how to reduce it one speed (we can live with it). But I thought it was still too noisy so I kind of asked him if we could move it one more down. He said that might cause a problem in the heat exchange. When I asked him why have 4 speeds if you can't use them? He had no idea. We only use the furnace in the Winter to help heat the house up....then the insert does the job for the rest of the day.....so the furnace really doesn't get all that much work. It's been about 2.5 years....I might have it checked at 3 years.
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Old 12-18-2013, 09:05 AM   #19
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I had a house once that I never had it checked and I lived there for 12 years. The unit was 8 years old when I bought it. Many years later(6-8 years) I ran into the guy that bought the house from me and he said it was still purring like a cat and he too never had a service call. Might be just good luck.....
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Old 12-18-2013, 10:03 AM   #20
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If you know you have a gas furnace in the basement, but can't distinguish it from other generic metal cabinets or stacks of boxes due to your intellectual temperment or lack of diy enthusiasm, get it checked yearly. Friends of mine had one blow up in their basement from neglect. Likely a rare occurrance, but gas or lpg can be dangerous. ...

For those w/o the knowledge, this safety angle might be good advice. Though, as someone mentioned earlier, it is only a snapshot, and may not tell us much/anything about the safety over the following season. I suppose it might catch something that came up the previous season, so the exposure might be limited if the safety issue didn't already create a problem. More later....

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I guess my "evidence" that routine maintenance is worth it is that in 28 years of living in MN my furnace has never malfunctioned in a critical time. Nor has my furnace guy ever--never once--recommended replacing anything or doing some other, higher level work that didn't need to be done. So I trust him, and it is well worth maintaining the relationship with him, just like having a good auto mechanic. ...
Well, maybe. Kind of like people who say their FA is doing a great job, if you aren't knowledgeable about furnaces/finances, how can you know your guy is doing things right? Does he provide a checklist, what he tests and what the results were? If so, that might be enlightening.

I know you put "evidence" in quotes, so yes, this is not really evidence. Back to that 'snap shot comment' - When I think back to the furnace failures I've had - not one of them would have been detected before the failure:

A) Motor bearings shot - started squeaking mid-season. I was able to get it apart and get some oil onto the 'permanent' oil wicks, and get through the season - replaced it the next year. ~ $100 and a few hours work.

B) Gas Valve - This just went bad. When I went to start up the furnace, pilot would not stay lit. Worked one day, not the next. There was nothing one could do to foresee this, it is a sealed unit. Replaced it. ~ $100 and a few hours work.

C) Draft inducer fan squeaking/sticking - Worked fine at the start of the season. Mid-season started slowing/sticking. I was able to get some oil in the bearings and it was fine. These things aren't really meant to be oiled, so it's a little tricky to get it in the bearings. This year, since I had things apart for the gas valve, I removed it and worked oil into the bearings as a preventative. Essentially $0 - a new one is ~ $200 on-line, I assume a furnace guy would mark that up and charge another $200 for labor. But again, not detectable by inspection.

D) Thermo-couple - maybe - If you have a standing pilot (getting rare these days), these things do tend to age and burn down to a stump. So these could be replaced pro-actively. But they are cheap (~ $5) and are very easy to replace. I keep one on hand, so I'm not stuck when the stores are closed. Replaced one IIRC, and one that was OK when I was trouble-shooting the gas valve.

So regarding safety - even if you are not a DIY or tech type, I think it is good to get familiar with how the furnace operates when it is running properly. If you just watch it go through a cycle occasionally and look for problems, and be aware of how it should sound and run, I think you will do more for your safety than an annual check up. You are home all the time, that guy checks it one a year.

For mine, I know I am 'tuned in' to hear the draft inducer fan kick in, then the gas jets woooosh a few seconds later (when it detects a slight vacuum from the fan), then the blower comes on ~ 30 seconds later. After the set temperature is reached, the flame shuts off, and the blower stops about 30 seconds after that.

Every once in a while, just watch the flames start, and look for changes when the blower comes on, and watch it as it shuts down. If anything is abnormal, check with someone.



Quote:
Originally Posted by growing_older View Post
I have no direct evidence one way or the other, but I did have regular cleanings/tuneups for several years as my furnace was 20+ years old. Every time the service guy recommended a whole replacement, every year I declined, and every year he came up with a part or two that needed to be replaced for a couple hundred bucks. After being told parts were becoming hard to come by and would start getting more expensive, I stopped the annual cleanings/tuneups and just replaced the filters myself. Twelve years later and not a single problem. My furnace is pushing 40 years old and has run with less trouble since I stopped the annual tuneups.

I certainly do not want my furnace to blow up, but I also don't want "routine" maintenance that seems to damage parts or reduce their useful life, like turning off airflow and running the heat until the emergency cutoff kicks in.
I wonder what the heck he could be changing every year that cost $200? There aren't that many 'wear' parts on an old furnace! Pilot, gas valve, thermo-couple, motor, belts maybe, a couple safety switches and maybe a fan switch (the old ones sense HEX temperature, mine is time based). 'Funny' that it runs fine w/o those changes!


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