What to Know Before Replacing a Furnace or Heater

On those rare days in Katy, Texas in Fort Bend County when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you may be wondering if the time is drawing near for replacing a furnace or heater.

Gas furnaces and electric heaters are the primary appliance HVAC contractors recommend to keep warm indoors here on the Texas Gulf Coast. Snow and ice are rare, which can mean that these heating appliances can last longer than they would further north.  

Furnaces, heat pumps, or electric heaters are one important component of a central air and heating system found in most residences in our region. But when your furnace or heater needs a significant repair, many HVAC contractors will urge replacement.

Here are questions to ask and what to know before you consider replacing your furnace or heater.

How Old Is Your System?

If your furnace or heater is 10 or fewer years old, it should be in good working order. A repair is more than likely not going to require replacing your heater.

If it is sufficiently young, parts may be under warranty, but keep in mind that furnace warranties do not always cover warranty processing and labor.

A heat exchanger in our mild Gulf Coast climate can last 25-35 years at a maximum and sometimes longer.

In What Condition Is Your Furnace or Heater?

If your furnace, heater, or heat pump has been serviced and maintained regularly, it extends the life of the equipment. It has the double benefit of preserving the manufacturer’s warranty, too.

We recommend that a licensed professional maintain your heater in the fall before the heating season if possible. A heater tune-up or heater check can give you advance warning if a big repair is needed or if something small can be fixed now to prevent a breakdown later. 

Common Heater Repairs

When the weather gets sufficiently cool, these are the types of heater repairs we see most frequently. January is on average the coldest month in Katy, Texas.

    1. ou may need to replace a furnace if your heat exchanger is cracked and rusted through like this one

      This heat exchanger is cracked and rusted through.

      Cracked or Failed Heat Exchanger

      This critical furnace component separates the warm air from the exhaust that is ventilated out of the home. When it’s cracked (often from age or from rusting out), it can be very dangerous. At the extreme, it can cause a fire, burn out furnace parts, or vent exhaust gas into your indoor air. Failed heat exchangers on the newer furnaces will often burn up parts, and other fail-safes will shut the furnace down. 

    2. Furnace Not Heating

      If your heater or furnace isn’t keeping your home warm, a repair may be needed. It could be caused by blocked vents or clogged air filters.

      Your system might have begun to overheat and your heater’s safety mechanisms shut the system down. Many of these fail-safes may require a manual reset by a professional once the repair has been made.

    3. Flame Sensor Failure

      A fuel-burning furnace has a sensor that detects the presence of fire and heat when the furnace is on. If it does not detect heat, it will shut off the flow of gas for safety.

    4. Igniter Problems

      The igniter does as its name suggests, it lights the gas so it can be burned for warmth. Sometimes people may recognize this problem when they hear a lot of clicks or their heater tries to turn on but isn’t successful.

    5. Blocked Flue Vent

      Sometimes we see birds or other critters who have set up homes in the flue pipe. The flue is where exhaust fumes are safely vented from the home. If it is blocked, it will ultimately cause your heater to shut down.

    6. Electrical Components

      Heat strips, blower motors, thermostats, and other electrical components can unexpectedly go out during a cold snap. Even furnaces powered by natural gas or propane rely on electrical devices, including thermostats, to turn the systems on or off. This is why when the electricity goes out, a furnace won’t be able to operate.

      A licensed professional will be able to evaluate if the electricity is to blame or if it’s a frayed wire or faulty part that can be easily replaced. Sometimes, when holiday decorations come down from the attic, someone accidentally hits the off switch on the furnace. If you’re not sure, a call to a licensed HVAC professional is always a good idea and will give you peace of mind.

Regular HVAC Maintenance for Your Furnace or Heater

Many of these common heater repairs are caught during regular maintenance visits. HVAC maintenance has many benefits for homeowners. There are tasks you can do yourself such as replacing air filters, changing batteries in the thermostat, keeping condensate drain lines clear, and spraying off condenser units. Regular service can over time lessen the load on the electrical components like motors, air handlers, and more.  

A complete inspection of your heating system in the fall is the best way to prevent breakdowns. Many HVAC companies offer scheduled maintenance plans or service contracts to make this easier.

If your heater, heat pump, or furnace is breaking down more often, it can be a sign that your system is nearing the end of its useful life. If you partner with the same HVAC company over the life of your system, they probably have your service history on file and can help you determine if the system is breaking down more often or if a simple repair is normal wear-and-tear.

Knowing in advance if you may need a replacement in the near future can buy some time, eliminating the pressure of making a quick decision.

What Is the Availability of Parts for Your System?

We weigh the availability and overall cost of replacement parts for your furnace, heat pump, or heater before recommending furnace or heater replacement. Supply-chain issues also affect the availability of parts and equipment.

While we work on all brands and models, specific parts for older equipment can be more difficult to obtain quickly and may be very expensive. Most people with a non-working furnace want it repaired on the same day!

Most of the time that is possible, but we have also had the experience of having to track down obscure parts for older equipment. Because those parts are less in demand, they are more expensive, almost as if they are paying rent to sit on a shelf waiting for a 25-year-old furnace to fail. Invariably, very old equipment is often a good candidate for replacement.

When compared to a furnace that is decades old, a new furnace will be undoubtedly more efficient and with more safety features built-in. This can tip the scales and make it worth it to replace an aging furnace or electric heater.

What Are the Homeowner’s Preferences?

An HVAC technician should also factor in a homeowner’s preferences, budget, and goal for their home comfort system overall. Is your plan to stay in your home another 10 years or do you plan to move soon?

An HVAC technician can often repair a furnace or heater for some time to extend its life even if the furnace is toward the end of its lifecycle as long as parts can be found.

Sometimes the benefits of energy efficiency and safety can make furnace replacement worth it. If budget is a concern, there are several furnace levels from which to choose — the value-level to the ultra-energy-efficient models.

It is possible to replace only the furnace part of your HVAC system, though if your air conditioner is the same age, sometimes it can be more cost-effective to replace it all at once in the off-season. In Katy, Texas, and the surrounding area, any season that isn’t summer is the off-season.

If you’re getting your home ready to sell later in the summer, you may consider getting a matched system by replacing both the furnace and air conditioning system which can lead to a faster sale. In that situation, we often don’t recommend choosing the higher-end central air and heating systems since typically there won’t be time to benefit from the return on investment.

We Can Keep You Toasty

If solid advice about a heater repair or replacement for your heating system is what you need, call Rob and Kenny at Terry’s A/C and Heating at 281-495-7830 to discuss the options available.

Find out what customers have to say about the excellent service that Terry’s A/C & Heating provides, what makes our family-run company different, and the heating options we offer in the West Houston, Katy, Fulshear, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg areas

Photo Sources: Terry’s A/C & Heating