Many furnace and AC contractors offer a 1-year labour warranty which they carry directly, some offer a 2-year base labour warranty as we do, and most furnaces and AC equipment comes with a base 5-year furnace and/or AC equipment parts warranty carried by the manufacturer, which is complimentarily upgraded to a 10-year furnace and/or AC equipment parts warranty by registering the furnace and/or AC equipment with the manufacturer within a month to three depending on manufacturer. Some contractors register the equipment they install on behalf of their clients to their clients get that additional 5 years of parts warranty coverage at no additional charge as we do. Some provide their clients with instructions on how to register their new furnace and/or AC equipment themselves, and some don’t make any mention of it whatsoever, nor do they complete the registration themselves. Be sure you clearly understand who is to register your new furnace and/or AC, and if your contractor doesn’t do it for their clients, ask them how to do it yourself and do so as soon as the equipment installation is complete, lest you only get half the parts warranty you’re entitled to.
Extended warranties, usually 10-year furnace and/or AC equipment parts and labour, are available for most furnace and AC brands, and usually cost 10% - 15% of what the complete furnace and/or AC installation costs. These extended warranties are usually carried by the manufacturer themselves, not the contractor, which is very important if you’re using a small company as your contractor, as those multi-billion dollar a year multi-national manufacturing corporations are far more stable and thus far less likely to go out of business than a small company that’s very likely to go out of business in short order, should that business owner pass away or become too ill to work, and if your warranty is carried by that contractor directly, your warranty coverage dies with that business. Given how much use we put on our furnaces in the Calgary area, having this extended warranty coverage on your new furnace is a prudent fiscal choice, as it’s almost certainly going to pay for itself through eventual free or discounted furnace repairs, so many companies, us included, include a furnace extended parts and labour warranty as part of their standard furnace quote, we feel it’s easily in the best interest of our clients. The same can’t necessarily be said for the extended warranties on ACs in our area. ACs here only run for 10% of the time they’re designed to on an annual basis, given they’re designed for tropical (hot and humid for most if not all the year) climates, so by the time your new AC is at the end of its 10-year extended warranty, it’s only ran for about the same amount of time that an AC installed in, let’s say Miami, would have by the end of its first year in use. So the AC extended warranty is nowhere near as valuable as the furnace extended warranty, at least not in climates like ours, and to that end many companies, us included, don’t include an AC extended parts and labour warranty as part of a standard AC quote, instead offering it as an optional upgrade, believing that there’s not necessarily enough value in it for clients to justify adding its additional cost to their standard quotes. That said, at the same time, that AC equipment extended parts and labour warranty offered as an optional upgrade can pay for itself in a single repair that wouldn’t have otherwise been covered by labour warranty, it just comes down to whether that particular AC system owner is going to have good luck with their AC’s reliability, or bad luck with their AC’s reliability, and that luck is largely dictated by the quality of the AC system installation, mostly via the installers following proper AC installation practices —which is alarmingly uncommon.
What maintenance does my heating and air conditioning system need?
Contrary to popular belief and many marketing campaigns in our industry, the standard heating and air conditioning system requires little more than the periodic replacement of its filters. I can’t stress strongly enough how important clean filters are to a furnace; neglecting the filter will take years off the lifespan of the furnace, and the newer the furnace, the harder a dirty filter is on it. While a preventative maintenance check-up certainly gives our technicians an opportunity to identify the state of an appliance’s degradation, there are few components within a standard furnace or air conditioner that are cost-effective to replace preventatively, limiting any value in a preventative maintenance check-up, save for peace of mind, which I’ve just ruined for you. Sorry. For larger and more complicated systems than the average, there is more value in routine maintenance, but for basic systems; standard furnaces, water heaters, and air conditioners, it almost always makes more financial sense to pay for it to be repaired when it fails vs. paying for us to perform a check-up and advise you that it’s working.
Is it true that I have to have my furnace and air conditioner serviced annually or my warranty would be voided?
Technically yes, but in practice no. While it’s true that every heating and air conditioning equipment manufacturer states in the fine print of their warranties that “the equipment must be maintained by a qualified technician on an annual basis to maintain warranty coverage”, that stipulation is never enforced by the manufacturer.
How often should I change my furnace filter?
That depends on the type of filter you are using. For low-cost ($5 each) disposable filters, every two to three months. For medium cost ($5-$10 each) disposable filters, every one to two weeks. For expensive (>$10 each) disposable filters and washable/reusable filters, every month.
How long will my heating and air condition equipment last?
That depends on so many variables, such as when it was manufactured, how it was installed, whether it was properly tuned when it was first started, and if it was ever used during any construction or renovations performed on the home. Unfortunately, the majority of furnaces in the Calgary area are poorly installed, not tuned for optimal efficiency and longevity upon start-up, and were nearly always ran during construction of a new home until a fairly recent building code change, taking years off their life expectancy, and frequently causing premature component failure. Generally, the older the better as far as life expectancy goes. The average furnace built before 1975 will last 50 years, between 1975 and 2000 will last 20, and from 2000 forward you can expect to get about 15-20 years out of a furnace. Now, it’s rarely ever a matter of having to replace the furnace because it’s irreparable, but much more a case of it being more cost-effective to replace vs. repair, as at those ages one can expect the furnace’s aged components to start failing regularly, making replacement more sensible.
My furnace is really old, pre 1970s. Should I replace it with a new high-efficiency furnace?
Old furnaces, while noticeably less efficient than the new high-efficient models currently on the market, were built to last for as long as possible, and have very few components within them, which is very few components to fail. The new high-efficiency furnaces available are designed to last for the warranty period before faulting, and to start experiencing component failure slightly thereafter, but are 20% more efficient in their use of fuel. If you prize reliability and repair cost-effectiveness over efficiency and effectiveness, keep that ancient furnace; a high-efficient furnace will give you more comfort, convenience, and energy savings while it’s operating, but will fail more often.
Why are new high-efficient high-tech furnaces less reliable than old simple low-efficient furnaces, shouldn’t it be the opposite?
It should be the opposite, but it isn’t. An old low-efficient furnace only has 6 components in it that are prone to failure, only 2 of which are expected to fail within a 10-year cycle, and both those components cost very little. New high-efficient furnaces have 25 components, 10 of which are expected to fail within a 10-year cycle, and only a few of those components are under $100. In this day and age, very little is built to last, and the equipment manufacturers have figured out that they’ll sell three times as many furnaces if they build them to a third of the quality they once did. It breaks my heart how their successful business model can start with ‘build an inferior product’, but that’s certainly the direction the industry has gone in since the late 1970s/early 1980s.
I need a new furnace and I want the best, the top of the line. What type of furnace is that?
The best grade of furnace manufactured is called a ‘Modulating Variable-Speed’ furnace. As opposed to a base grade furnace, called a ‘Single Stage Multi-Speed’ furnace, who’s gas valve can open 100% or close 100%, with nothing in between, and who’s circulating fan will run at one set speed for heating, and one set speed for cooling, a modulating variable-speed furnace’s gas valve and circulating fan can both vary their output in small increments based off the exact heating, cooling, or ventilation needs of the home at that moment. Now that you know what the best furnace available is, allow me to tell you why it’s usually not the best furnace to have in your home. While the varying output from the furnace’s gas valve and circulating fan are great features to have, the general homeowner will notice little difference in the end result of their home’s comfort level with this level of upgrade, as the differences are subtle. Secondly, when it comes time to eventually replace this grade of furnace’s gas valve, circulating fan motor, or control circuit board, the total cost of the repair is usually 1/4 the cost of replacing the entire furnace. For the most part, the biggest difference that the homeowner will experience with a modulating variable-speed furnace is the cost; it’s expensive to install, it’s expensive to repair, and the technical benefits are quite subtle to the general public. It would be like buying a Ferrari to commute to work instead of a compact car; sure, the Ferrari is a far superior machine, but for what you need it to do, the compact car will serve just as well.
Ok, so if the best furnace they make isn’t the best one for my home, what grade of furnace do you recommend?
As a general rule, a ‘Two-Stage Multi-Speed’ furnace is everything you need and nothing you don’t. This grade is one step above the base grade. A two-stage furnace’s gas valve can open at 100% or 60% (depending on the exact make and model) of its capacity, allowing the furnace to operate as a smaller furnace when it’s peak heating output isn’t required. This is very useful, as in Canada we are required by law to ensure that the furnace is able to keep the home at 22 degrees Celsius when it’s -21 degrees Celsius outside. It may not feel like it some winters, but that -21 degree outdoor temperature only accounts for 4% of the year, meaning that for 4% of the year the furnace requires it’s maximum output, and for 96% of the year that same furnace has a greater capacity than is required, this is what is meant by the term oversized. Using a two-stage vs. single-stage furnace will a save fuel and electricity, as most of the time the furnace will be operating as a smaller capacity furnace.