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Furnace Installations Part 1

Furnace installations can be a big process, and it takes skilled minds and hands to accomplish this very process. This 2-part article is NOT to be an intended self-help guide. Furnace installations are to be completed by a qualified, trained, certified person who has the proper experience. This article is strictly intended to walk through how a furnace install should go and what to expect.

In my 10+ years as such a person, I installed many furnaces, and have seen many different types of furnaces, some with good installs, bad installs, and some excellent installs. What makes a good install versus a bad install? Some people in the industry can be dangerous simply by not knowing what they are doing. Lack of experience is similar to trusting an accountant to work on your car as an ASE certified mechanic. There’s a big difference between companies as well. How happy are the workers and professionals they send out to your home? Are they disgruntled? We will cover that and much more!

Furnace installations begin long before the installer arrives at your door. I would ask you to ask yourself why you are replacing the furnace. Most furnaces’ lifespan is in between 12-20 years. From parts breaking down to overall reliability, and most importantly, safety, these are the most common reasons for needing to replace your furnace.

One reason to change out a furnace is if there are unsafe levels of Carbon Monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a term used very frequently in this industry when referring to combustion (although technically CO is a byproduct of INCOMPLETE combustion). Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas and mimics flu-like symptoms. In my opinion, it is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions because it is EXACTLY like having the flu. I am not a medical professional, I am a heating and air conditioning professional. When I was installing furnaces some years ago, we changed out a furnace of a very prominent brain surgeon. His furnace was 35 years old, and he simply wanted to replace it. He hadn’t had it inspected, tuned up, or anything for at least the past 20 years. After the furnace was installed, some weeks later he called us back to his home to share his story, and it was this: He had spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical diagnosis and testing in seeking out his “mystery illness” because he would feel so sick at home, but start to feel ok at work. Often, he would even sleep at work to avoid feeling miserable at home. “Weekends” he said, “were not pleasant.” After changing his furnace out, he was able to put 2 and 2 together, and realized his old furnace had been emitting deadly CO. My only wish was to validate and test the levels of carbon monoxide his old furnace was emitting to verify this was the case, but this Dr. was very lucky nothing serious had happened. Most firemen, facilities personnel, gas utility workers, and heating professionals will attest to the fact that if you are sick with carbon monoxide, by the time you realize it, it can already be too late.

Safety is a major, if not the top reason to change out a furnace. There is no price tag on a family’s safety. I have been woken up in the middle of the night (time after time being on call), worked late nights to respond to possible CO poisoning calls and other furnace related emergencies. The lesson in this entire article is this: HAVE YOUR FURNACE CHECKED REGULARLY! That is my only plea. From gas leaks, to potential hazards, I have also uncovered many more serious situations from doing a routine checkup on a furnace. It can not only save your life, it can prevent personal and property loss, frustration, and EVEN KEEP YOU SAFE.

Second, repairs on an existing unit might not make sense, especially if it only fixes 1 part in order to find out what is going on. Often, a repair on an older unit might be a significant cost; why not use this towards a newer unit? I’ve personally been in situations where the homeowner wished they had changed out the old furnace by the time the 3rd, 4th, and 5th (etc…) repair rolls around. As a general rule, I would recommend that if the repairs are anywhere from $300-$500 or more (USD) then at least explore the option if your furnace is at least 12-20 years old. Not every person will fit the aforementioned scenario though, but it does happen more often than we would like. Repairs such as a gas valve or a motor can be very costly to the contractor, and after the markup is applied, even more expensive to the homeowner.

Who should I trust to install my furnace?
That’s a fair question, and sometimes even reputable companies make mistakes (these will typically own and fix them). However, a couple of pointers to help you answer this question.

First, the contractor should be NATE certified. NATE stands for National Association of Technical Excellence, or can be applied as “those who know what they are doing from experience.” I personally have this certification and it is not an easy task. While I am not a test taker, this test is purposefully written to make even the most experienced HVAC technicians stumble and get mixed up. Those who are experienced and NATE certified will attest to this fact of this painful, arduous test.

Second, if your contractor has good reviews on consumer websites, such as Angie’s List, this is a really good indicator that you are dealing with a reputable contractor. Also, good reviews on the Better Business Bureau is another place you can check. Be aware, all of these are just indicators and not a reflection of the experience you will have with your heating and air conditioning contractor. DO NOT RELY on “anonymous reviews” because people can hide behind that wall, and even reviews with a profile can be questionable. Many times reviews are disgruntled people that will have a bad experience no matter what contractor shows up at their door.

I hope this information has helped, and in part two I will go over the actual installation and what to expect. Sincerely, Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan is a licensed heating and air conditioning professional with over 10 years of experience. He has installed, serviced, repaired and enjoys helping homeowners with their furnace and air conditioning needs.