For us and our North American culture, we seem to just blindly assume that when we flick a light switch, the lights turn on. When we turn the key, the car starts. When we set our thermostat, our home stays comfortable. This is the case almost every day of our lives but when the car doesn’t start it’s usually when we are late for a meeting and when the heating system doesn’t heat it’s usually on a record low temperature week.
For the rest of this article I am not going to talk about vehicle maintenance but about heating and cooling systems. How can you tell that your heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is functioning efficiently and how do you know when it’s time to “put it out to pasture”?
Is your system performing as designed?
Let’s talk about heat pumps for a minute. The buzzword around heat pumps seems to be acronym SEER. SEER stands for a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It is a relationship between how much energy the system uses and it’s rated capacity of cooling…. That’s right, cooling. SEER is a rating of cooling efficiency and since we use our heat pumps primarily as a heat source with the bonus of cooling, this rating isn’t as important as some consumers may think it is. The HSPF, or Heating Season Performance Factor, is the rating we need to be concerned with. When looking at an HVAC system’s performance there are a few variables that can minimally or drastically affect your system’s overall performance and efficiency and most are a result of how the system was installed. I often tell our team that a system can never outperform it’s install. This is true whether it’s a gas or electric furnace, a ducted heat pump, or a ductless heat pump.
Proper airflow is one of the most important factors of a system’s performance. If a filter is clogged, a heat exchanger is dirty, or the ductwork wasn’t sized correctly upon install, the system will never meet the efficiencies that the manufacturer brags on.
If your system is a heat pump or air conditioner, the proper refrigerant charge is also critical but not to put the cart before the horse, proper air flow needs to be verified before refrigerant charge can be considered.
If you have a gas furnace, air flow is also very important in order to achieve the efficiency stated by the manufacturer. On the nameplate of any furnace there is a manufacturer’s rating of temperature rise or “Delta T”. This is the required temperature difference between the return air (the air coming back to the furnace) and the supply air (the heated air leaving the furnace). The gas pressure should also be checked to verify that is it is within nameplate specifications.
If airflow, temperature rise, motor voltage and amperage, and refrigerant temperatures and pressures have all been checked and verified only then is it safe to say that the system is performing as it was designed.
Life Expectancy of a Heating System
A well maintained furnace or heat pump can last sometimes as long as 25 years or longer. The catch is that, in order to achieve that kind of longevity, proper maintenance is a must! This means changing the air filters often. If the filter looks like a blanket upon replacement, you’ve left it too long. On average, filter replacement would need to be done every 3 months. I tell my customers to check the air filter after 3 months and then you’ll know if it needs replacing at 2 month intervals or maybe even sooner. Consistent filter replacement is the easiest and least expensive way to get the most life out of your HVAC system. The next most important thing is to have a professional annual or semi-annual maintenance performed. It pays to have someone who is trained and experienced to look at the heating and or cooling system on a regular basis because a small problem can become a big problem if left undetected. Neglecting to do proper maintenance can reduce the effective service life of the furnace or heat pump to sometimes 10 years or less.
When is it time to replace an HVAC system?
At some point in the life of the HVAC system there is going to come a point when the system will need repairs. If the system is only 2 years old then it probably make sense to repair it rather than replace the entire system but as the age of the furnace or heat pump increases it might make more sense to replace rather than repair.
When faced with the dilemma of repair vs replace, there are a few things to consider. Obviously the first would be cost. Dollar-for-dollar the repair will almost always be less expensive than replacing the entire system but based on the current condition of the unit in question, the cost of future repairs and the expected service life remaining, it might be time to retire the current HVAC system.
Another thing to consider is that new systems will have higher efficiencies and there may be offers and rebates. Whether from the manufacturer, the utility company or from provincial government, rebates help to lower the cost of the install and higher efficiencies help to lower operating costs.
We at 360 Comfort Systems also offer low payment financing on most heat pump and furnace installs which can make the difference on whether or not a new system is affordable. Take for instance Customer A. Customer A has an electric forced air furnace. Even though Customer A has maintained it regularly it still costs $400 per month in the heating season. Currently there is an $800 rebate towards the purchase of a ductless heat pump and with a low monthly payment option, the new heating cost would go down as low as $120 per month and the monthly payment for the 18,000 btu ductless heat pump would be only $63 per month. In this situation it makes financial sense to replace the heating system.
One last thing to consider when looking at a replacement is the warranty coverage. At 360 Comfort Systems all of our products are covered by a 10-year, 12-year, or Lifetime warranty with additional labor coverage included or optional.