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Realities of an older furnace

By HUB SmartCoverage Team on November 29th, 2020

If you have or buy a home with a furnace that’s older than 25 years, it may raise questions with your insurer.

Why? A 20- or 25-year-old furnace has an efficiency rating of about 60 per cent. Instead of warming your home, 40 per cent of the heat generated through the combustion of natural gas goes up the flue and out the chimney.

Efficiency is about decreasing waste. You want all of the effort you "input" into something to be productive, or "output." In this case, it's fuel and you want all of what is burned to be used to heat your home.

If your furnace is 95 per cent efficient, then out of 100 per cent of the fuel input, only five per cent is wasted. The higher the efficiency of your furnace, therefore, the less you waste. Conversely, the lower the efficiency the more is wasted – most of it through the chimney.

Another thing you should consider is the average lifespan of a furnace is 15 to 20 years. The older they get, the more problems and potentially pricey repairs will arise, especially if annual maintenance hasn’t been done.

May have to replace

The bottom line is the heating system in your home may need to be replaced or upgraded to secure insurance coverage or your premiums could be more. Radiant heat panels, space heaters, and furnaces older than 25 years may not be deemed acceptable heat sources.

Let’s face it - living in Canada no one wants to be caught on a bitterly cold winter night with a faulty furnace. You’re cold, and so are some essential other services in your home, especially when it comes to water. You definitely don’t want your pipes freezing.

And, if you’re wondering if homeowner’s insurance will cover your gas furnace in general, the simple answer is no. Home insurance is not a maintenance plan. Your insurance provider will cover your furnace if there is damage done from fire, flood, or a burglary.

Troubleshooting tips

Reliance Home Comfort, a Windsor, Ont.-area company that installs and maintains HVAC systems, offers these tips if you find your furnace has stopped working:

1. Check your furnace filter

If your furnace is firing up but not blowing heat as hard as normal, dirty air filters are often the culprit. That’s because air filters trap dust, dirt, and debris like hair, which over time can restrict or block vital airflow, overheating the heat exchanger and preventing your furnace from working as it should.

Filters should be changed every three months or as recommended by your equipment manufacturer manual. To fix the issue, simply purchase a new filter and follow the instructions in your owner’s manual to make the switch.

2. Thermostat issues

The source of many a malfunctioning furnace is the thermostat, which is really the control centre of your heating system.

To troubleshoot, set your thermostat to heat instead of cool, then set it to 5 degrees above room temperature and see if the furnace comes on. If it’s not working, the problem could be as simple as the thermostat’s batteries. When the batteries die, the display will go blank and the thermostat will no longer be able to operate your heating and cooling system. A good way to avoid this is to replace the batteries every year.

3. Is the furnace turned on?

It may sound like a no-brainer, but if repairs or maintenance were recently performed on your furnace, and it’s not working for some reason, you may want to check to see if it was turned back on. All furnaces have a basic power switch. Look for a standard wall switch on or near the furnace and check if it’s on.

You also may also want to check your circuit breaker or fuse for the furnace, which may have been turned off. Finally, make sure the front panel covering the blower motor is securely fastened – under it, you’ll find a push-in switch, which needs to be fully depressed for your furnace to turn on.

4. Inspect air ducts

Have you noticed cold spots in your home even when hot air is coming out of the air vents? The problem could be the air ducts. Check for handles that protrude from the ducts – these are dampers that control airflow. You’ll want to make sure they’re fully open.

If some entire rooms are still cold, you may have a problem with leaking ducts or incorrectly designed ducts. To find blocked or leaky ducts that could be restricting airflow, look at any ducts you can access – are there any gaps between sections of ducts or branching out points? You can seal these with special metal duct tape.

And always make sure your vents aren’t being blocked by furniture or covered by objects in your home, like drapes, plants, or wall art.

5. Call the professionals

If the above doesn’t work, call the professionals. A furnace is not the right time for DIY. Another thing you may want to consider is annual inspections to ensure it’s in proper working order and for peace of mind.

Finally, if you have questions about your furnace’s age and how it might affect your home insurance, contact your broker.

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