A recent question received from one of our customers asked, “You recommend getting a furnace inspection every year? Is it really necessary? Do I really need to pay an HVAC specialist to do an annual tune-up? Can’t I do it myself and save money?”
Some great questions! We’ll answer them in this post.
Are Annual Furnace Inspections and Maintenance Really Necessary?
All the major furnace manufacturers highly recommend annual inspections and maintenance by a qualified heating technician. Many manufacturers include language in their written warranties that “damage caused by improper maintenance is not covered under the warranty.” While this doesn’t explicitly say an annual furnace checkup is required by the warranty, does this mean the warranty is voided if maintenance isn’t done?
Just like a car requiring repair work under warranty, the manufacturer may refuse to cover it if the recommended maintenance isn’t performed. Why not hedge your bet and keep your warranty in place with an annual inspection and tune-up? After all, a new heating and cooling system is probably one of the larger investments you’ll make during the time you own the home. One misstep to save a few bucks may cost you that warranty.
Think of it like this (again, just like a car): include the cost of maintenance in the ownership of the equipment. So if you spend, say, $3,500 on a new furnace, spending another $100 a year over the 12-15 year life of the furnace is chicken feed.
We’ve seen some other HVAC contractors recommend getting newer furnaces checked every other year (not us!), but once they’re ten years old have them checked annually. So much can happen in the life of a furnace in 2 years, especially one that gets a lot of use in Columbus winters. For the same reasons, your dentist recommends a six-month checkup and cleaning. Better to be safe than sorry. And stepping over dollars to save pennies!
What, Exactly, is Done By An HVAC Technician During a Furnace “Tune-Up”?
Ask 10 HVAC contractors and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Most furnace maintenance packages include terms like “safety check,” “tune-up” or “annual maintenance.” But what do they actually do?
There isn’t an industry standard for a furnace tune-up, so what’s included will vary by contractor and manufacturer. Here is a list of items that most manufacturers recommend be performed annually by a qualified HVAC tech:
- VENT SYSTEM Check the vent system to ensure there are no leaks or blockages, including internal connections in the furnace and the termination outside the furnace.
- COMBUSION GAS ANALYSIS We measure combustion gases and compare them to the manufacturer’s specifications (and adjust accordingly).
- BLOWER ACCESS DOOR We’ll check to ensure it makes a tight seal at the furnace.
- FRESH AIR INTAKE We check the cold air/fresh air return vents for blockage. This is what the furnace ‘breathes’ to provide air to be heated and sent back into the home.
- HEAT EXCHANGER We inspect the heat exchanger for rust, corrosion and leakage.
- BURNERS We’ll check the burners for optimal burner flame, ignition and flame sensing.
- DRAINAGE SYSTEM In the process of heating air, some condensation collects and must be drained from the system. This is designed into the furnace. We check and clean the condensate drain and trap, and replace the water in the trap. A clogged condensate drain can leak and cause premature rusting and decay of the furnace.
- BLOWER WHEEL This part of the furnace moves the heated air out into your ductwork. If it’s dirty or full of debris, the quality of your indoor air, and the efficiency of the furnace are affected. This requires complete removal of the blower wheel or squirrel cage for proper cleaning.
- ELECTRICAL We conduct an amp-draw test on the blower motor to ensure it matches manufacturer specs. We also check for corrosion and damage on any wiring inside or around the furnace.
- FILTERS We will check and change the filter, but technically this should be checked and changed at least bi-monthly by the homeowner (monthly if you have pets or live in a dusty environment). Failure to perform this basic maintenance can lead to higher maintenance costs and more expensive repairs if not tended to on a regular basis.
- STATIC AIR PRESSURE We routinely check static pressure (a.k.a. system air resistance), a measure of the resistance to airflow that occurs in the HVAC system. Identifying a static pressure issue before it causes a system failure will save a lot of hassle (and money!).
- GAS PRESSURE If necessary, we’ll perform a gas pressure test, depending on other symptoms exhibited while the furnace is running. Low gas pressure can prevent the furnace from starting, or the burners from running optimally.
- TEMPERATURE RISE We measure the temperature rise in the ductwork above the furnace to match the manufacturer’s recommendations. Too high a temp rise could cause the system to overheat and short cycle. Too low, and your house will not quite get warm enough (and the system will overwork itself to try to keep up with the thermostat setting).
Can These Tasks Be Performed by the Homeowner?
Homeowners familiar with the basic operation of a gas forced air furnace can easily check things like the burner flame, vacuum out the burner area or ductwork, do a temperature rise check with a digital thermometer, and so on. But what happens when those numbers aren’t what they’re supposed to be? Most homeowners (unless they are HVAC technicians) don’t have the training or experience to make the actual adjustments or repairs to the equipment. It’s best left to the pros.
We’ll be happy to show you our working checklist when we perform the work, to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.
Do I really Have to Pay $80 to $150 every year for a Professional HVAC service?
Yes, sort of. This is a fair price for a professional service provided by a trained and certified expert. For most HVAC contractors, that $80 fee barely covers the cost of having the tech show up. Remember, though, this is about more than safety, it’s about preventative maintenance, keeping the warranty intact, and preventing a possibly expensive repair on the coldest day of the year. Most HVAC contractors charge evening and weekend up-charges (we don’t).
When I said “sort of” I meant that all of our customers are automatically enrolled in our Annual Maintenance Plan (free the first year) that includes both a Fall furnace tune-up and a Spring AC checkout. We also will perform routine maintenance on your gas hot water tank to ensure smooth year-round performance. For $129/year. And we’ve been doing this since 1962.
How We Can Help
Our team offers a wide array of routine maintenance services for your heating and cooling system, allowing your family to breathe fresh, safe, clean air year-round. We also offer a number of add-ons to your HVAC equipment that can improve your home’s IAQ, such as electrostatic air filters, whole-house humidifiers, duct cleaning, and more.
Schedule an appointment for your routine HVAC system maintenance with us today by using our online contact form, or call one of our seven neighborhood offices listed below. We pride ourselves on our customer-focused service, and our reviews show it.
Dor-Mar…Your Climate Hero!