The days of early fall may still be warm, but the chill of winter will probably arrive before we know it. Is your heating system up to the challenge?
No heating system lasts forever, but a minor investment now, could delay that bigger expense later. Buying a new heat pump or gas or oil furnace could cost you anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000, while a preventive maintenance service call — assuming no major problems are found — runs $50 to $90.
If you have a gas furnace, it should be serviced every year, preferably in the fall, recommends Glenn Berg, owner of Allied Heating and Air Conditioning Co. of Medford. And that service should include a check for any carbon monoxide leaks, especially if it's an older furnace.
"Anything that uses gas as a primary fuel source should be checked regularly, including gas fireplaces," agrees Jared Murray, president of Spring Air Inc. Heating and Cooling of Jacksonville. He recommends that people buy a carbon monoxide detector, even if the only gas appliance in the home is the hot water heater in the garage. Detectors are relatively inexpensive, sometimes as low as $30.
If you have a heat pump, chances are you had it checked last spring to get ready for the air conditioning season. Should it be checked again? Murray recommends a second service call, because, unlike furnaces, heat pumps run during both hot and cold weather. "Maintaining the correct refrigerant charge is critical for effective and reliable operation," he says.
Some Rogue Valley homes, notably out in the country, have oil heat. And in this case, both Berg and Murray agree adamantly: an oil heater MUST be checked every fall, because too many things can go wrong. Filters need to be changed, and nozzles cleaned, in order to avoid problems like soot buildup and moisture getting into the oil. An expert needs to clean the burner assembly and check the chimney flue.
A good technician will have a checklist of services rendered and go over it with you, says Berg. With all three systems, someone should check the duct work periodically to make sure there are no leaks.
With any forced-air heating system, changing your filter often is a key.
"Filters need to be changed monthly, even if they are not dirty," says Murray. "Stick with the inexpensive filters," he adds. "There's no need to shell out $15 for one. Some of the heavier, more costly filters actually impede air flow and make your equipment work harder."
When should your heating system be replaced? Deciding when to buy a new heat pump or furnace depends on the age of what you now have, says Berg. Older systems were less efficient than they are today, and many of today's options are more environmentally friendly. Be sure to check out all your options when replacing.
If you are buying a home that has a 20-year-old furnace, you should replace it, he says. Some other estimates from Berg:
- A heat pump lasts 15 to 20 years. To replace it, plan on spending $4,000 to $8,000.
- A gas furnace will last 20 to 25 years. Replacing it will cost $3,000 to $6,000.
- An oil furnace will last 25 years, if installed properly. A new one will cost $4,000 to $6,000.
Murray says he's noticed that people who call his firm for urgent help are often those who did not maintain their equipment on a regular basis. Preventive maintenance really pays for itself, he says.
Part of the problem is the "out of sight, out of mind" factor, he adds. The only thing that many folks see is the thermostat. So they tend to forget that heating systems, like many other things, can break down, if ignored.
Much more visible is a fireplace, but even it needs to be serviced periodically, says Aaron Barnes, owner of Southern Oregon Power Vac of Central Point. If you use your fireplace each winter to help heat the home, an annual fall cleaning is recommended. Firms with power vacuum equipment can suck out soot and other debris. Cost usually runs between $90 and $120.
The big chill may be coming, but with some proactive maintenance, you'll be ready for it.