Dead furnace, need help!
March 27, 2013 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Our furnace died. Help us not get overcharged. Other questions inside.

OK, the HVAC person said our blower motor is dead. We were quoted $750 to replace it, but our furnace is 25 years old, and they said we would be much better off in the long term replacing it. I'm waiting on a quote, but he said tentatively $4-5000.

With the thought in mind that we're going to be living in this house for at least another 15 years (probably longer), I want to make sure we make the best choice not just based on how much it will cost now, but long term savings and other benefits as well.

Are there any good sites for us to get more information on the actual energy and money savings we would get from a more expensive option, or other good sources of information so we won't regret our decision 5 years from now?
posted by markblasco to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, I've been told that there are tax credits or other possible benefits to buying a more efficient furnace, if anyone has info on this I'd appreciate it!
posted by markblasco at 9:57 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

A brand new furnace is going to be vastly more efficient than a 25-year-old furnace. So, while the $4-5k price tag is steep, you will quickly recover it in savings on heating costs, especially if you live in a colder climate. Over 15 years, you'd probably recoup the cost several times over in savings. One of my employees replaced the 1980s gas furnace in his house last year with a brand new model and cut his heating bills in half.

$4-5k is average for a new furnace. $750 seems a little high for the motor replacement, but could be due to the peculiarities of your model.

Might check into your local utility (gas, electric, whichever is appropriate). If you work with them, there are often substantial discounts and credits to be had.
posted by xedrik at 10:47 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My old furnace was about that age when we replaced... probably one from the 60's, 70's. Old models rarely have parts that are easy to get and that is probably all that goes into why you received such a high quote for just one portion.

If your electric/gas is tilted heavily toward electric usage due to the inefficiency of the furnace, a new furnace will definitely change that equation. Considering how cheap natural gas is compared to electric, it could show net savings within a decade.

In our case before the new furnace we wasted lots of electricity on the blower portion of the furnace with the poor efficiency of the system within the house in general. Our quote and the work done included the furnace and new insulation in our ceiling and roof. We use the furnace quite generously now compared to the conservative use with the old furnace, but it is a night and day difference from before in terms of comfort and warmth in the house.

In California there were offers to get rebates on the furnace and also on improving the energy efficiency of your home. That is why we got the insulation installed as well. Typically though the installer company will take the rebate out for you and deduct on your invoice. In general be smart about any quotations you receive and ask (demand) for a detailed invoice as needed. Also during the summer and before everyone wants A/C service is the best time to get this done.
posted by Bodrik at 12:01 AM on March 28, 2013

Federal tax incentive. Looks like it's a 10% credit, up to $500, for furnaces that are at least 95% efficient. Depending on where you live, there might be state incentives as well.

I'm skeptical of xedrik's prediction that the improved efficiency of a newer furnace will pay for itself several times over. Furnaces weren't all that bad 25 years ago (my last house had a first-generation 90+ efficiency furnace from the early 1990s), so the most they'll save is probably in the range of 10-15% of their current heat bill, i.e. probably in the range of a couple hundred bucks a year.

$4-5K is probably for a premium-brand furnace (Trane, Carrier, Bryant). There are "builder grade" brands (York, Goodman, etc.) that are fine, and can be considerably cheaper. As with any other consumer product, furnaces come in a range of fanciness levels. Shop around so you know you're not being steered towards a Mercedes when a Focus would be a better fit. If your house is poorly insulated, consider whether some extra cellulose blown into the attic might be a better use of the last $500 of the cost than moving from a basic furnace to a fancier one.
posted by jon1270 at 4:25 AM on March 28, 2013

That price they quoted you is roughly what I paid for a new furnace two years ago. For us, given the size of our house, the tax credit wasn't worth the additional cost of a more efficient furnace.

I would get someone else to come in and give you another estimate, just for peace of mind.
posted by something something at 6:22 AM on March 28, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the info so far, I'm spending the day getting additional quotes, so I'm not just going to go with whatever the first company offers. I just hate dealing with the sales talks that some of these people give, so I'd like to be better informed before I go into this decision. I think it will also help me to figure out who is trying to be helpful and who is just trying to upsell me to make a little more money.
posted by markblasco at 7:37 AM on March 28, 2013

When we replaced out a few years back, we went with the guy who gave us a number of quotes including the one he told us was more than we need. Surprisingly enough, that was the furnace several other places were trying to sell us.

Most places that gave us quotes knew the ins and outs of every rebate out there and worked them into the quotes. The one we chose even took care of all the paperwork. I think at one point, they sent us a few things to sign and mail, but it was a real pleasure to work with them.

So my advice to you is that you should ask them about rebates and have them work them into quotes if possible. Also, if you happen to be in the Twin Cities MN, memail me and I'll share the company we loved.
posted by advicepig at 7:44 AM on March 28, 2013

Depending on where you're at and the seasonality of your area, you might want to look at wrapping a thermal pump into the quotes you're getting. I'm in Quebec, Canada and when my oil furnace died a few years ago, switched to a cheaper electric furnace + outdoor air-driven heat pump – it's still expensive to heat my house in the dead of winter, but in the six months a year of transition season it's been amazingly cheap to heat/cool the house.
posted by Shepherd at 7:59 AM on March 28, 2013

In my opinion, this is what you need to do for due diligence:

Get bids from a couple different places. This is totally worth doing.
If you have Angie's List or equivalent in your area, sign up for a month or two of the service (this will cost you a tiny amount of $), use it and have companies with good reps give you those bids
If Angie's List is not available, call a few friends and get recommendations

Then you get the bids and hire the company that gives you the best deal, keeping in mind that the best deal may not be the cheapest, but the one that you are most comfortable with.

I just went through this with my water heater, btw. I first called up the people that did our furnace a couple years ago, and their estimate seemed kind of high. I followed the steps above, found a plumber (who, as it turned out, used to subcontract from the furnace people), and I saved $1000. 15 minutes of effort for a savings of that scale is worth a try.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:00 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to fed stuff, also look at
- state
- county
- utility

inducements/rebates/credits etc. Our gas company had a rebate if you installed a 95% efficient gas furnace, there were state rebates/credits or something for it as well. The county gave us a credit for a new hot water heater, etc. Lots of credits, you just have to A) spend the time to find them and B) Make sure what you get qualifies for them.
posted by k5.user at 8:18 AM on March 28, 2013

Look everywhere for rebates. When we replaced our old water heater with a tankless, I got $ from the gas company, $ from the feds and $ from the state. Basically, it cost nothing.

Your utility company is a good first stop, they may have sub contractors they approve and brands they subsidize, then match with other rebates, and there you are.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I got my furnace replaced 2 years ago the extra efficiency was not worth it. even the sales guy told me so. The extra efficient ones have computer boards that can die without warning. He told me without a contract replacing the board would eat up your energy savings.

Look into an 80 percent efficient one with dual stage motor. I got a $250 rebate for the furnace having it. The dual stage motor will help your airconditioning if it is combined with the furnace. The blower starts on low and if needed then ramps up.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2013

I've replaced two furnaces in the past five years in two different homes. 95% Efficiency is extremely expensive - especially if gas prices are expected to drop or remain flat. I've purchased both 95% AFUE and more recently, an 85% AFUE natural gas furnace.

85% AFUE is fine. It depends on where you live... as for installation/sales, look for a family owned and operated business. While you'll pay more for the model, you'll save a ton on installation and follow on service. You want to deal with the installer from the get-go, not a sales person - they won't be around when things go wrong at install or next winter.

Both times, the sales person = the installer and follow support person. Very happy.
posted by vonstadler at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2013

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