If you're struggling over whether to replace your old heating system with a newer unit, keep in mind the risks of waiting and the benefits of taking action now:
Your furnace won't announce when it's had enough.
Furnaces often rattle, squeak, or have strange smells, all of which can be repaired easily if the problems are just loose fans or duct-cleaning issues. When a furnace reaches the end of its useful life, you may be able to continue replacing a few parts here and there to keep it poking along another season or two. But it's a big gamble if you live where it gets truly cold during winter.
If your aged furnace is asked to respond to frigid winter temperatures for an extended period of time, the older system may not be able to handle the load, and it may fail you at the worst possible moment. But your old furnace isn't going to warn you in advance that it's about to die. It will just quit.
Chances are, if it's cold enough to drive your furnace to the grave, other customers will be freezing as their furnaces bite the dust, too. You'll be on a waiting list to get a new furnace installed, and you'll pay emergency-service call fees that will make you wish you'd just repaired the furnace before the ice and snow season.
Your system may not be optimized for your dwelling.
Today's furnace installers have advanced methods to calculate the best-sized furnace for your home's needs. Using methods like the Manual J calculations, they can go room by room or do a whole-house assessment of your energy needs and suggest the systems that provide the optimum levels of comfort and efficiency for your situation.
Your old furnace may be inadequate for your household today, or it may be too large and inefficient, using more energy than necessary to deliver heat. Also, old venting pipes and outlets for high-efficiency gas furnaces could have buildup or leaks that make your air unhealthy.
You may also want to take advantage of a furnace replacement by changing to an all-new source of heat, from a boiler to an electric HVAC system, for example, or to a green power source such as solar or geothermal. Planning and scheduling for big heating changes when it's not severely cold outside will allow you to test your new system and get it right before you must depend on it.
There is help out there for homeowners.
Local utility companies and cooperatives will often do free or low-cost energy audits of your home, including the HVAC unit, to help you find ways to save energy. They often have rebate programs or other incentives to encourage you to purchase a more energy-efficient home heating system, properly insulate your home, and practice other energy-conservation habits.
The federal and state governments also provide financial assistance or tax credits in some areas when high-efficiency HVAC units are installed. The federal LIHEAP (low income home energy assistance program) will help pay your power bill if you qualify, but they also have a furnace replacement and home-weatherization program for homeowners for whom such repairs would be a financial hardship.