Frequently Asked Questions

You've got questions about home heating and cooling. We have answers.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, if your furnace is old, or has a serious malfunction that will cost several hundred dollars to fix, it may be wise to replace it. As a general rule of thumb, if your furnace is more than ten years old and costs more than $500 to fix, it should probably be replaced in place of repair.

 

If your furnace is old but not broken, deciding when to replace it can be difficult. Average life expectancy of furnaces in homes today is between 16 and 20 years. If your furnace is close to this age or older, begin shopping.

 

How do I know when to repair or replace my furnace?

How do I know when to repair or replace my air conditioning?

Consumer Reports Buying Guide notes that an air conditioner should last about 15 years. If a system that’s more than a decade old begins to falter, consider total replacement of inside and outside units rather than a major repair. Usually only one of the system’s major components—coil or compressor—fails, but it’s usually more cost-effective to replace the whole system at once. Unmatched major components can compromise efficiency and lead to added repairs.

 

How do I shop for a new furnace?

STEP 1

 

Find a reputable dealer you can trust. This is the most important task in the process. This is the company who will have workers in your home during the installation. It is also the company you will expect to be around when you need service on your furnace. The Yellow Pages may not be of much help given the number of companies that might be advertising. Similarly, an ad in the local or regional paper may just be a start in the right direction since a large ad does not necessarily translate into a firm’s competence. If you have done business with one or more dealers servicing your furnace you might want to include them on your short list along with any referrals you have received from relatives, friends, or coworkers. Once you have your short list of one to five potential dealers, do a little homework and life will be simpler. Call or go online with your Better Business Bureau and check the records of your potential contractors. Then, contact the local branch of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (or the national online directory located at www.acca.org) or a local heating and cooling dealer’s association. They should be able to provide you with a list of affiliates who are pledged to customer satisfaction.

 

STEP 2

 

Invite representatives from one or more of your list to your home. Watch and listen carefully to them while they are in your home. Do they take the time to find out what you really need or do they just march to the furnace, look around for a few minutes, and then go upstairs with you and fill out a proposal and give you some brochures? A good company’s representative will do a heat loss calculation and discuss several potential furnaces for your consideration. That person will also discuss additional comfort components with you. If you are replacing a furnace it’s a good time to consider a new air conditioner if the current unit is more than ten years old. It’s also a good time to look at an air cleaner, a humidifier, ductwork additions, or other devices that will make your home more comfortable. The representatives from the better companies will show you pictures of actual installations and will be knowledgeable about availability of products, installation time, and availability of labor to complete your job. They will also know the people who will be working in your home and be able talk about their training, their qualifications, and their skills. If the representative is more interested in your comfort than in just selling you a furnace don’t be surprised if the visit takes an hour or an hour and one-half. That is the time it takes to develop a comprehensive plan for your home’s comfort and answer questions you have along the way. Finally, does the representative take the time to actually answer your questions? If a promise is made to get to your question in time is it remembered or lost along the wayside? Remember, you are the customer and your questions, no matter how small, are an important indicator on how people follow up on details.

 

STEP 3

 

Check references. Any company that is unwilling to give you references to check is a potential problem. If the representative can’t give you the names on the spot, see if that person calls you with names and addresses. Most good companies will issue customer lists to their representatives to facilitate reference checks.

 

STEP 4

 

Determine if the proposal meets your needs and is affordable. Don’t be surprised if your representative offers you several financing choices. Most established dealers have financing available through their manufacturers. Some of the larger dealers may have even better financing options through local or national banks. Don’t hesitate to consider the financing options offered because they are often better than you can arrange on your own with your local banker. The bottom line is that if you trust the contractor to do what it says and the proposed system appears to meet your needs and the proposed system is affordable it’s time to make your decision and schedule the installation of a new furnace. The proposal may very well include options you did not think of when you first made the appointment. You may even choose to complete the proposal over time. Your representative should be happy to alter the proposal to meet you needs.

 

STEP 5

 

Sign an agreement with the dealer you have chosen. This proposal should spell out model numbers, and a detailed listing of the work to be done. It should outline warranty terms and the final cost. It should indicate the method of payment that has been agreed upon. While the sales representative may not able to schedule your actual installation date you should at least be told the process that the dealer will follow from the time of signing your agreement through your final payment after installation.

 

None of these five steps is difficult but each is important. You might note that none of the steps involves the selection of a brand. Most dealers will have access to several brands and will recommend the furnace that is right for your situation. If you follow the steps as outlined you will end up with a furnace in your home that meets your needs and you will feel good about the decision you make.

 
 

Is a mini split right for me?

Consumer Reports Buying Guide notes that an air conditioner should last about 15 years. If a system that’s more than a decade old begins to falter, consider total replacement of inside and outside units rather than a major repair. Usually only one of the system’s major components—coil or compressor—fails, but it’s usually more cost-effective to replace the whole system at once. Unmatched major components can compromise efficiency and lead to added repairs.