Repair or Replace: 8 Warning Signs of a Failing Furnace

Stafford Home Service HVAC Technician installing a new furnace.

Cold streaks like what we recently experienced make us beyond grateful for our heating systems. However, the fact remains that they can’t get us through the winters forever. Do you know how to tell if it’s time to repair or replace? To help, we put together this guide to warning signs of a failing furnace.

Furnace is Over 15 Years Old

Depending upon fuel type, a furnace’s average life expectancy is 15 to 20 years according to Consumer Reports. Older systems already have lower efficiency ratings, and performance degrades significantly with age. On the other hand, today’s HVAC systems feature updated technology for enhanced safety and efficiency. Once your unit reaches that 15-year mark, start using more caution and consider an upgrade.

Inefficient or Uneven Heating

Your furnace should warm the whole home evenly; experiencing cold spots or some rooms feeling hotter or colder than others mean there may be something wrong with the heating system. While this may be due to ductwork issues or inadequate insulation, it can also be caused by mechanical problems with the furnace itself.

If you notice a decrease in heating performance, one of Stafford’s professional HVAC technicians can diagnose the issue and help you find the ideal solution.

Unexplained Rise in Utility Bills

Nobody wants to be surprised by a spike in utility costs, and it can also indicate trouble with your furnace. When something is damaged or wrong with the system, it has to work harder – and burn more fuel – to maintain the temperature settings. Remember, inefficient or uneven heat distribution requires professional attention to address underlying issues before they get worse.

Decreased Indoor Air Quality

Properly functioning HVAC systems help keep your home’s air clean as well as comfy. It may be time for a furnace upgrade if you notice these signs of decreased indoor air quality (IAQ):

  • Excessive dust accumulation in the household
  • Increased irritation and symptoms of allergies, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses
  • Poor humidity management leading to dry indoor air during winter

While there are ways to improve winter IAQ, don’t ignore these potential signs of a failing furnace. Call your local HVAC specialist to diagnose any issues and help you decide if it’s better to repair or replace.

Frequent Cycling

Cycling is a normal part of a furnace’s operation, turning on when the temperature drops below the thermostat setting and off once it’s reached. However, if you notice this cycle happening more frequently or that the system seems to be running continuously, take it as a clear sign of trouble.

Strange, Persistent Smells and/or Sounds

HVAC systems may not be completely silent, but they are designed for quiet, non-disruptive operation. Rattling, banging, popping, or squealing noises (particularly when the system is turned on) mean something is likely wrong or broken.

When turning the furnace on after a long time, it’s normal to smell a faint burning smell. Dust naturally gathers on the heat exchanger and inside ductwork, and the smell should only last a few hours. Should it persist or happen randomly, there may be something as serious (and dangerous) as a broken electrical component. Have a professional inspection right away.

Signs of Physical Damage

Rust, cracks, and corrosion will develop on a furnace with age, and they can create a potential safety hazard for the family. A crack in the heat exchanger is particularly dangerous as it can leak poisonous carbon monoxide (CO). Other signs of a CO leak to look out for include:

  • Weak, flickering, yellow burner flame (should be blue with consistent burn)
  • Soot streaks near the furnace
  • Rusting on appliance jacks or flue pipes/other pipe connections
  • Excess moisture accumulation on windows, walls, and other cold surfaces
  • Water leak at base of vent, flue pipe, or chimney
  • No upward draft in chimney

Symptoms of CO exposure can appear as common illnesses. Beware of unexplained flu-like symptoms such as nausea and frequent headaches, as well as disorientation and burning in the nose/eyes. CO poisoning can cause serious harm or even death. If you or someone in the house show any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention and then contact your HVAC technician ASAP.

Frequent Repairs

HVAC repairs can add up quickly in terms of both the hassle and costs. If your furnace has been serviced frequently in the last two years, it’s likely time for an upgrade.

While the recent weather has given us a break, we know better than to expect it to last. And in our state, it’s no secret that every winter will put our heating systems to the test. Remember these warning signs of a failing furnace to help you decide whether to repair or replace.

From boiler and furnace installation to HVAC system repairs and maintenance service, trust the experienced technicians at Stafford Home Service for all your residential heating and cooling needs. Contact us today to learn more.



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