Replace the furnace or fix the old one?
March 7, 2014 8:44 AM   Subscribe

We had our furnace inspected yesterday. It's worked fine all winter. We were told we have a bad heat exchanger. We were encouraged to buy a whole, new furnace for $10K. Our preference is to ride it out with the old furnace for another few years and replace it when it is convenient for us. Does that make sense?

We've lived in our house for a little over a decade. We bought it new. We currently have a high-efficiency, zoned Bryant furnace. It has given us quite a bit of trouble over the time we've been here, but it's been running reliably for the past couple of years and done a remarkably good job during this brutal winter.

Yesterday, we had our annual furnace checkup and were unhappily surprised to learn one of the two heat exchangers has gone bad. We were told you can't replace one exchanger, you have to replace both. The cost is $1,300.

Instead of making the repairs, we were encouraged to buy a new furnace. We were told this Bryant is unreliable, the replacement parts are low quality and hard to get, and we'd be throwing good money after bad. .

The furnace we have is 90% efficient. It heats well. We talked it over, and our plan right now is to make the repairs, keep this furnace for a while and then replace it with a really good one.

Do we really need a new furnace right now? What would you do? When do you NEED to replace a furnace?
posted by clarkstonian to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At those prices, I'd fix the old one.
posted by jon1270 at 8:48 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ten thousand...dollars? US dollars? What? How big is your house? Regular, regular-house-size furnaces do not normally cost $10k.

Get a second opinion, not just on the replacement -- get four opinions/quotes on that -- but on the repair. A few years ago my furnace broke and helpful "Direct Energy" quoted me nearly $1k to repair it. A lovely local firm fixed it for just over $200.

You NEED to replace a furnace when your house is cold. The only problem with the wait-it-out approach is that you may be replacing it in a hurry, in a freezing house. Not ideal, but do-able if you plan for it -- do your comparison shopping now, and stash some cheap electric heaters in your closet.
posted by kmennie at 8:50 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

We recently had to make a similar decision. Our heuristic was along these lines:

If total repair cost within 1 year is less than 15-20% of purchase price of new unit, then keep repairing (we pulled that number out of thin air - there may be a statistical way to get a value here)
If repairs are easily-identified, then keep repairing.
If we can live with occasional breakdowns and waiting for a repair person, then keep repairing.

We ended up replacing our AC when a failure occurred that was (a) difficult to troubleshoot, so total repair cost was unknown, (b) the first set of repairs needed to diagnose the problem would by themselves cost 20% of the cost of a new unit, and (c) failures were occuring at the coldest and hottst temperatures when waiting for a repairperson was most inconvenient.
posted by muddgirl at 8:51 AM on March 7, 2014

How old is that furnace? Heat exchangers from most manufacturers have their own warranty that is a nontrivial number of years.

Apparently for Bryant 90% furnaces the answer is 20 years (link).
posted by rocketpup at 8:53 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

(Also, I agree on getting a second and even third quote if and when you decide to replace the unit. The first company we spoke to heavily pushed buying a new, $10-$13k unit. The second company we spoke to helped us keep our unit running for as long as possible while we saved up money for a new unit, and eventually installed a new unit for 1/2 that cost.)
posted by muddgirl at 8:54 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

A heat exchanger with a hole can kill you quickly, although you didn't say that a hole is the problem. I have a little experience in this, so $1300 sounds like a great price. I would have guessed 25% to 40% of the price of a new furnace at least.
posted by Lornalulu at 8:58 AM on March 7, 2014

Looking at forum discussions, there seems to be a pattern here for contractors to declare Bryant furnaces substandard. I'd get at least a second opinion, ideally from a service company that is more invested in repair work than replacement.

(FWIW, we needed a new heat exchanger on our old furnace last autumn, and it cost just shy of $1000.)

The NEED question depends upon your budget, your long-term plans for living in that house, and your ability to draw upon secondary heating when it gets chilly.
posted by holgate at 8:59 AM on March 7, 2014

Bryant recalled a bunch of furnaces for failed heat exchangers. You might want to call them with model and serial number info to see if they would replace it.
posted by advicepig at 9:16 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

We were recently in a similar situation where we had multiple things wrong with our furnace and were looking at a little over a grand to repair and we got a brand new furnace plus CO detectors and programmable thermostat for $4K. $10K sounds insane to me.

That said, I agree you need a second and maybe third opinion, and if the furnace is newish, contacting the manufacturer about warranty repairs is a good idea.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2014

I recently replaced my furnace and it did not cost $10,000. Shop around. Someone can give you a better deal.
posted by BlueJae at 9:53 AM on March 7, 2014

Shop it around for sure. Also, if you do decide to replace it, be sure to get as many government rebates as possible!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2014

To answer some questions: The furnace was new with the house - so 12 years old.

We have heat. I wasn't aware of any problem.

They did a carbon monoxide test. We also have a carbon monoxide monitor in the house. There is no leak, but there is rust. He showed me photographs, and I cleaned out a pipe that had a lot of water and rust in it. They did make the situation sound dire and made me sign a paper with DANGER on it in big, bold red letters to state that I was aware this was a life-threatening situation. They said I cannot wait more than a couple of weeks to do the repair.

This is our first gas furnace, and I am woefully ignorant about them. We have it serviced twice a year and rely on the heating company to keep it working. I believe it is a reputable company.

We would prefer to buy a reliable, efficient furnace, whatever the cost. Emphasis on reliable, which this furnace has not been. But we're not really prepared to lay down an unexpected $10k this week. So if it's really feasible to repair this furnace, preferably a month from now, knowing that a new furnace is in our future a few years down the road, that would be ideal.

We'll start by contacting Bryant.
posted by clarkstonian at 12:34 PM on March 7, 2014

I assume you're talking a standard natural gas burner, forced air furnace, yes? $10k is ludicrous.

I have an older boiler that is still in good shape, but a quote to replace that was only $5k, including a mammoth amount of labor to haul out the old one.

HVAC guys can be tricky - I too had someone quote me $1,200 to replace the low water cutoff in my boiler. The only problem with the low water cutoff was that there was sediment gunking it up so it wouldn't function properly. Cleaned it out, oiled it up and it works just fine with a little elbow grease.
posted by tgrundke at 12:35 PM on March 7, 2014

Rust - so, you have a boiler?

If you do, then blowing out the rust water is pretty normal. Nothing to be concerned about.
posted by tgrundke at 12:36 PM on March 7, 2014

No - not a boiler. This is a forced air, natural gas furnace. It was rust in a plastic pipe in the heat exchanger. The tech said it was because there is water condensing in the heat exchanger, and it is dangerous. We cleaned and drained the pipe, and he put it back together.
posted by clarkstonian at 12:40 PM on March 7, 2014

I recently had a similar-sounding interaction with an HVAC guy who came out to service my furnace. The guy serviced the thing -- cleaning and inspecting -- and then when it was time to wrap things up he laid it on so very thick about how one part would fail, then another, and another, and it would be the height of foolishness to repair any of those parts and I should just purchase a new furnace altogether. It's not an old furnace, less than ten years old, and it works just fine. His argument for "these parts are going to fail" was related to the power being drawn by the individual parts, but when I later looked up the issue on various HVAC forums, I found out that the differences in amps he referred to were actually within the margin of error for your average multimeter.

We did have a real problem with the furnace, which is that a bit of condensation is dripping from a joint of the exhaust pipe. The company took its sweet time getting back to me with a quote to repair the exhaust pipe, and their attitude conveyed to me that they did not think it was a job that was worth their time.

The whole thing leads me to believe that "don't repair, upgrade to a new furnace" is a sales tactic of the HVAC industry. Certainly the profit margin on a new furnace and the cost of installation must be higher than the part repair jobs. If a furnace part craps out in the middle of winter unexpectedly, you might not be inclined to get a new furnace because they are expensive and you want your heat back on right away. But if they've sown the idea into your head over the last couple of service visits, you may be more inclined.

However, you don't want to mess around with carbon monoxide. I would get a second opinion from another company in your area, and maybe read some HVAC forums, too.
posted by stowaway at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Passion and profession   |   What treats are appropriate for cats with bladder... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.