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Furnace maintenance worthwhile?
Old 03-16-2012, 07:17 AM   #1
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Furnace maintenance worthwhile?

It's been about a year since we had a new furnace installed and the company called yesterday wanting to know if we want to schedule the annual maintenance. It's $134 for them to do a 21-pt checklist that's mostly checking and clean/dust various parts.

I'm sure we normally wouldn't bother, but if you don't follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule it voids the warranty.

What are the odds this is something worth doing?
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Old 03-16-2012, 08:25 AM   #2
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Does the mfg really spell this out in this way? I don't recall anything like that from my mfg papers.

My (NG) furnace is 19YO. Every time I've thought about having it inspected, I've looked in there, cleaned out a little dust, and that was that. Heat exchanger is warranted for 20 years. I have loosened the burners to stick an inspection mirror in there as far as I can see, and it looks fine. I vacuumed and brushed them a couple times. I have a relative who works on industrial boilers, he says that is all he does with his NG furnace.

I do have a CO detector nearby, and another in the house (both are due for replacement though, I understand they have limited lifespans).

I have done some maint on it - a few years ago, the blower motor started 'sticking' on start up very intermittently (apparently a 'dead spot' in the windings), maybe once a year or less. Two years ago, the blower started squeaking, I pulled it and oiled it. Last year, it 'stuck ' again, so I bought a new blower motor for $110, and replaced it. Pretty easy job, working great now. But I pulled a dumb one, and bent the fan getting it out, but a new fan was only $50. Still less than a service call, even with my 'ooops'.

I had to oil the draft inducer motor once. Takes a partial dis-assembly, but not hard either. Total main cost for 19 years (not including filters) - ~ $160 and a few hours of my time ( < $9/year! ).

I'm starting to wonder if I could keep this furnace running 'forever'. A replacement draft inducer, control board, and maybe the gas valve are the only main components that might fail, and those are ~ $200 ea. Then you just have minor items like the sensors, switches and stuff - peanuts, and I could easily DIY those.

That leaves the Heat Exchanger. I looked at it, and it seems like you could just pull it out by unscrewing a few things, and pop in a new one. I don't know if the mfgs sell replacements though. Not only would it save the cost of a new furnace, but I'd eliminate the install labor charge. That would be huge. Other than those things, it's just a sheet metal case that should last longer than me. Anyone keep a furnace running forever?

-ERD50
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Old 03-16-2012, 08:36 AM   #3
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After my last furnace repair, the repairman said not to waste money on yearly cleaning. I would look at the warranty doc to see if it requires yearly service as a condition or only recommends.

We purchased a new furnace and air conditioning unit, and the seller included 10 years of annual maintenance as an incentive. After two yearly visits, the tech seems to spend equal amounts of time cleaning and selling additional fee services or products. In this case, however, the contract clearly states that the yearly maintenance is a warranty condition.
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Old 03-16-2012, 08:53 AM   #4
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I'm a big fan of maintenance on everything we own. While living in NY I had our furnace serviced each year. We did not have a warrant or contract with our oil provider. I knew that if it broke it would be in the middle of the night when it was 5 degrees out. In 34 years we never had one break down.

My theory is that if you take care of it, it'll take care of you.
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Old 03-16-2012, 08:53 AM   #5
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When I had my new furnace installed a couple years ago I asked what maintenance was needed. The salesman told me flat out, none needed other than filter cleaning. Just out of warranty, the control board failed and I asked the repairman the same thing. He said, no maintenance needed other than filter.

My old furnace (circa 1966) had a belt and a motor with oil plugs which I maintained. I also vacuumed out the heat exchanger every few years. I think those days are over.
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Old 03-16-2012, 08:55 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 73ss454 View Post
I'm a big fan of maintenance on everything we own. While living in NY I had our furnace serviced each year. We did not have a warrant or contract with our oil provider. I knew that if it broke it would be in the middle of the night when it was 5 degrees out. In 34 years we never had one break down.

My theory is that if you take care of it, it'll take care of you.
I'd be interested to know what they actually do. Maybe with an oil furnace there is a fuel filter and the nozzle needs to be cleaned?
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Old 03-16-2012, 08:59 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 73ss454 View Post
I'm a big fan of maintenance on everything we own. While living in NY I had our furnace serviced each year. We did not have a warrant or contract with our oil provider. I knew that if it broke it would be in the middle of the night when it was 5 degrees out. In 34 years we never had one break down.

My theory is that if you take care of it, it'll take care of you.
Oil furnaces are a different ball game. I believe they require regular maint due to soot build up, plugged injectors, etc.

I'm a big fan of doing the appropriate amount of maintenance. Overdoing it is a waste, and you might damage something in the process.

-ERD50
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Old 03-16-2012, 09:03 AM   #8
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I'd be very surprised if a warranty required that kind of service. I used to do most repairs (motor replacement, sensors, etc) but have found a great one man operation who is quick to respond on everything but an invoice, which I have to bug him for. One time it was minor fiddling and he just asked for a twenty on way out. This is constrasted to one of the big firms in the yellow pages my wife called when we first were here, furnace was not working. When they showed up, apparently the gas valve "unstuck" and it worked fine, they did nothing. $80 ~15 years ago. I understand business and revenue, but when it comes to auto and HVAC repairs I'll ask around to find someone I can develop some trust with. If it's not required by the warranty, I think you're wasting your money. Sort of like buying the extended warranty deals.
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Old 03-16-2012, 09:06 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WM
It's been about a year since we had a new furnace installed and the company called yesterday wanting to know if we want to schedule the annual maintenance. It's $134 for them to do a 21-pt checklist that's mostly checking and clean/dust various parts.

I'm sure we normally wouldn't bother, but if you don't follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule it voids the warranty.

What are the odds this is something worth doing?
I pay about $150 /year for a service contract that includes an annual inspection/cleanout/filter change, but that's for an oil burner, heating by fhw. The big belching beast in the basement was something I long ago decided I would leave to the pro. I have had him come out a few times over the years when it failed on a cold winter night and it was covered by the contract, but it's safe to say he's profited long-term. To me it's just another insurance policy.
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Old 03-16-2012, 09:12 AM   #10
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Since the HVAC system is so new, I wouldn't bother unless you're having problems or if your warranty requires it. I have a family friend that's in the HVAC business and he says it's just a money maker for them. When I sold my house last year, the buyer required a maintenance check (my friend didn't want to do this since he has to do it w/his company receipt and he's working off the books), that's when the problems started. I watched the tech who did a thorough reverse vacuum and cleanup and checked out all the components, but forgot to replace the heat shield correctly, so one of the safety shutoffs kept shutting the system down well after he left. Problem was it would cost me another $100 visit for him to find the problem he created, which I found myself and corrected the problem. My HVAC systems were 16-17 yrs old and my friend had checked it out about 4-5 yrs prior and said there was nothing wrong with the system.
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Old 03-16-2012, 10:06 AM   #11
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OP isn't specific as to the fuel, but if heating oil then periodic maintenance, including a new orifice is useful for the furnace to continue working efficiently.
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Old 03-16-2012, 10:18 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by travelover View Post
I'd be interested to know what they actually do. Maybe with an oil furnace there is a fuel filter and the nozzle needs to be cleaned?

They change the injector, vacuum the entire burner to the chimney. Also a general inspection and they put some equipment on the unit to check efficiency.


I'm sure that todays units are much more efficient and require less maintenance.

Now that we are living in Florida it's a distant memory.
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Old 03-16-2012, 10:44 AM   #13
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Last year we had an oil furnace fire. We had replaced the furnace about ten years ago and had yearly maintenance done on it. We were lucky the fire didn't go further than the furnace, because I was home and turned it off, but since we had a clear history of proper maintenance our insurance didn't even blink. They replaced the furnace, the electrostatic air cleaner on top of it, all the duct work to and from the furnace and had the house painted where needed. They put a gas line down our road shortly after we had purchased the new oil furnace, so we took advantage of the situation and switched to natural gas. What a huge savings!
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Old 03-16-2012, 12:07 PM   #14
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If gas, watch the fuel bills and compare with last year, if your occupancy was the same [and the average temps ] it is a fair benchmark for condition. Warm air furnaces benefit from frequent filter changes, Four months in my house, some people go longer, if you have a fleet of cats or something, more frequent. On gas I wouldn't go more than three yrs. between pro servicing, esp. if you never look at the thing.

Warranty is good to review as others have said.
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Old 03-16-2012, 02:11 PM   #15
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Thanks for the replies. It's a NG unit, and the warranty states "Proof must be supplied that the equipment has been properly maintained over the life of the warranty, i.e., a minimum of once-a-year maintenance."

We never used it that much, living in southern California, but we're renting the place out right now and I don't know how the tenants will use it (they pay their own gas bill). Because it's not owner-occupied, the warranty is already down to 10 years instead of 20 on the heat exchanger.

We may have already blown it because it's been 17 months since the install (the company was behind in getting these calls out).

Maybe my question is, what are the odds we'd need the warranty? If the servicing is useful I'd probably have someone come look at every year or two, at least while we've got renters in there. But if the servicing is really just to maintain the warranty, that will be $1400 or more over the next ten years even if nothing happens.
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Old 03-16-2012, 02:29 PM   #16
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Even if you chose not to service yearly I would think you would also not choose the opposite, to never service. If you serviced every third year the choice would be expensive repair vs 6 or 7 additional cleanings. Over the warranty period you would lose with a repair costing more than $800 (roughly).

One question: does the warranty include labor, or is it parts only? If it covered the entire cost of a repair I would consider doing the minimum yearly service. If parts only I'd probably service it every 3 years or so and set aside the difference as a kind of self insurance.
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Old 03-16-2012, 02:30 PM   #17
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I had two gas forced air furnaces installed 1 yr apart, so 16 and 17 yrs old unit I had an official inspection from an HVAC company. Never had any problems unit the house was sold and the buyers wanted the inspection. The warranty was for 10 years on both, never used it on either. This was in Chicago and I doubt you'll ever use it that much in Ca.
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Old 03-16-2012, 02:43 PM   #18
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In a rental, a gas furnace is a good choice as they can last a good long time with very little care. The filter is the crux. I have a single family rental with gas. and have provided filters and instructions for replacement [ easy..the filter location is right in the livingroom] but tenants' attitudes in this case is "not mine, won't prompt myself to do it" But... service calls are not just to preserve the warranty, things can and do go wrong, but thankfully for gas forced air in modern equipment, not usually.

"Real" furnace technicians are now equipped with combustion analysis equipment that is very useful for tuning and servicing, as well as safety, so they can quickly spot problems. I would get them serviced if the cashflow was sufficient, or maybe commit to filter service yourself, and watch it burn as a test, getting a pro @3 yrs. If you have twitchy tenants who are twisting your tail a bunch, I'd get pros annually for liability reasons.

The number I hear on average life on gas is usually 12 years. If you are a gearhead like me you can purchase a new GF for 800 - 1500$ and swap it yourself, but that's not for everybody. You provide your own warranty at that point <G>
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Old 03-16-2012, 07:21 PM   #19
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I've been in my house for 11 years (FYI, live < 50 miles from Canada); never had any maintenance done on the furnace (or AC) at all. Perhaps I'm pushing my luck...I called about having it done last fall. After talking to the Tech and finding out what he was going to do, I decided I would let it go another year. I do change the filter every 3 months or so.

My guess is every 3 - 5 years would be more than sufficient. I doubt that a warranty would be voided by not having it done. Sometimes I think it is better not to open something up and start messing around with it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I'm also one of those guys that does not do the 30k, 45k, etc checks on the car. I look at what is valuable from the manufacturer's suggested maintenance listing and pick and choose; note that I did not say the dealer's suggested warranty (there's a big difference). Both cars have over 100K and are running like tops.
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Old 03-17-2012, 01:46 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WM View Post
It's been about a year since we had a new furnace installed and the company called yesterday wanting to know if we want to schedule the annual maintenance. It's $134 for them to do a 21-pt checklist that's mostly checking and clean/dust various parts.

I'm sure we normally wouldn't bother, but if you don't follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule it voids the warranty.

What are the odds this is something worth doing?
Agree with other posts. Is your furnace an oil burner. Lots of use.

My, case, sunny california. mild weather. Gas furnace. Never paid for yearly inspection. Just vacuumed some time. Changed the filter.

Orginal furnace, (came with house), lasted 20+ years. (no service).
Installed new furnace, few years ago, (more efficient and quiet), no service, runs fine. Just vacuum and wash, reusable filter.
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