Friday, September 3, 2010

Mistakes Homeowners Make, Part Deux

Your house is the most expensive investment (or money pit) that you'll probably have (or at least the bank will). While furnaces and air-conditioners don't have the conversation value a new car or plasma television have, they are probably more important to your health and safety than that car (definitely more so than that precious, useless television). Business has been slower than slow lately and even with the discounts on clean and checks for furnaces, it has been an uphill climb, but praise God it has been uphill.

After much telemarketing today, leaving a lot of messages and a few people saying "not interested" and even one proclaiming "I'm on the do not call list,": to which I snickered to myself, "You're a past customer and I'm only informing you of our special, not a big deal." I finally got a service call from a customer assuming that her air-conditioner, in sub-70 degree weather was "low on freon." The first thing I did was to hook up my gauges and turn the thing on. The fan ran, but the lack of a metallic whirring sound and no change of pressure on the gauges told me the run capacitor was gone. A quick change and the homeowner was back in business.

One thing about a service call is to go over the entire system while you're there. The homeowner, a middle-aged lady informed my dispatcher that she "had never needed work on her furnace in five years." I went downstairs to check on the furnace, a five year old American Standard that was in good shape, but an inspection of the inside revealed otherwise. Two hoses had nearly worked their way off the drain trap in the blower compartment, leaking water. A look under the draft blower revealed a patina of rust underneath and I knew from experience that the transition was cracked and leaking condensation into the cabinet.

Fortunately, I had the part on my truck and about $80 later, had it changed out. The old transition was cracked badly and the customer gasped at what could have amounted to a trashed control board. The mistake that homeowners make is while they may spend hundreds of dollars servicing their car, they ignore the equally complicated machinery right under their feet. A furnace with a 90 plus percent efficiency rating is a trade off. While there is money to be saved in buying on, there is a lot to be lost in neglecting maintenance. Electronics are crazy expensive in a furnace and one call can exceed $600 or $700 to replace the control board in a two stage furnace. Do this in a communicating model and the costs will be much higher. Add to this failing on Christmas Eve and company coming over the next day and your holiday is ruined, not to mention your bank account.

90% and above efficiency rated furnaces are called condensing furnaces in that they create water that needs to be drained because the heat that would normally allow this to vaporize is being used to heat the house. As long as this water can drain out into a condensate pump or floor drain unimpeded with no leaks, this isn't a problem. The issue comes when traps and drains get plugged or components fail and allowed to leak water onto expensive electronics or structural sheet metal. You really need to have this equipment maintained yearly to head off problems. In the days of old, you could let a furnace run for decades without any major problems or inefficiency penalty. There were only three moving parts back then. The gas valve, blower and the fan/limit control and these were relatively trouble free, the only other thing to wear out was a thermocouple. Now there is a control board full of relays, an electronic blower motor, a draft blower, at least one or more pressure switches, an igniter and flame sensor, and this doesn't include the mess of hoses a 90% furnace needs to get the water drained.

Now is the time to make an appointment to get your heating system serviced; while the weather is halfway decent out. If there is something expensive, you can at least budget for it and not have to borrow money when it dies during your turkey dinner. You may not think it needs service, but you could pay a little now or a lot more later. Maranatha!

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