Everybody knows how cold Canada can be in the winter, so it’s important to have a reliable furnace that’ll keep your family warm and comfortable during those cold snaps.
If your furnace is starting to get up there in age, then you might be asking yourself things like how many more years will it last? Or, when am I going to have to replace it? And, what will it cost to upgrade to a new furnace?
If any of those questions sound familiar, then you’ve come to the right place. Today you’ll learn everything you need to know about furnace lifespans in Canada, maintenance, getting the most life from your heating system, and more.
What’s the lifespan of a furnace in Canada?
You can expect a furnace to last anywhere between 15 and 30 years, with most furnaces being replaced around the 17-year mark. It’s not unheard of for a furnace to run for more than 30 years, but in Canada, furnaces are steadily pumping out heat for at least 6 months of the year, and this generally means more wear and tear and a shorter lifespan.
There are lots of factors that will impact the life expectancy of your furnace, including:
Make and model: While brand isn’t always important when it comes to HVAC equipment, some makes and models are simply better quality than others, and this usually means they’ll last longer.
Type of furnace: There are many different types of furnaces, including gas, oil, propane, and electric, and each one has a different average lifespan. See below for more details.
Frequency of maintenance: Furnaces require regular annual maintenance to work optimally. As long as you keep up with regular maintenance, you’ll likely get more years from your heating system.
Quality of the parts: Furnaces are complex systems with lots of components. Parts are sometimes defective, which can negatively impact the system’s life expectancy.
Proper sizing: A furnace that’s too small will run constantly, and this will lead to an early breakdown. On the other hand, a furnace that’s too large will cycle frequently, and this will also cause wear and tear and a shorter lifespan.
Installation: A new furnace should always be installed by a professional, because an improperly installed furnace won’t work optimally and likely won’t run as long.
How long do different furnace types last?
Natural gas furnaces are the most common furnace systems these days, but they aren’t the only type. There are also electric furnaces, propane ones, and even furnaces that run on wood or oil. Each of these has a different average lifespan, and they are:
- Gas furnaces: 15 to 30 years
- Electric furnaces: 20 to 30 years
- Propane furnaces: 16 to 20 years
- Oil furnaces: 15 to 20 years
Should I replace or repair my furnace?
A furnace is a big investment, and not one you want to make if you don’t have to. But if you have an older furnace and are looking at a repair, you might be wondering if you’re better off replacing or repairing the system.
An easy rule of thumb is this: if a repair will cost half the price of a new furnace, then it probably makes more sense to replace the unit. This is especially true if the furnace is over 10 years old, if a major component needs repairs, or if you have a less efficient furnace.
For example, say you have a broken heat exchanger and the repair is estimated at $2,000. The average cost of a new furnace in Canada is between $3,000 and $5,000, so it makes more financial sense to replace the heating system than repair the old one.
At the same time, check through the documentation that came with your furnace. Some manufacturers offer incredible warranties that last 10 years, 20 years, or even the lifetime of the furnace. It’s possible that your furnace — or at least major components — are still under warranty and you won’t have to pay for a repair or an upgrade.
Signs it’s time to replace your furnace
There are other indications that it’s time to upgrade to a newer furnace, and here are some of the most common:
- Your heating bill is higher than it used to be
- Your old furnace has a low annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), as most new furnaces in Canada today have an AFUE of at least 90%
- The system is loud or making strange noises
- You notice hot or cold spots throughout the house
- The system is cycling frequently
- You’re calling in an HVAC technician regularly for repairs
- Your home is too dry or too humid
ENERGY STAR recommends replacing your furnace if it’s 15 years or older. This is because you could save a lot of money on monthly energy bills by upgrading to a new and more efficient unit, especially one with ENERGY STAR certification. An ENERGY STAR certified furnace is guaranteed to have a high AFUE rating, and to perform better than other furnaces on the market.
Getting the most life from your furnace
Whether your furnace is brand new or getting up there in years, there are things you can do to help prolong its life.
At the beginning of your furnace’s life, the single most important thing you can do is have it installed by a licensed professional. Along with extending the furnace’s life, this will also ensure the unit is the right size, that it’s installed safely (this is especially important when gas hookups are involved), that it’s operating at maximum efficiency, and that there aren’t any manufacturer defects.
After that, regular maintenance and cleaning will keep your furnace working efficiently for as long as possible. Here are some tips:
- Have the unit inspected and tuned up every autumn
- Clean or replace the filter once a month during heating season
- Consider a programmable thermostat that will maximize efficiency and operation
- Seal air leaks in the ductwork to prevent overworking the furnace
- Have a new furnace sized properly for your home
- Vacuum the blower, ignitor, flame sensor, and burners at least once a year
Finally, if you notice your furnace isn’t working as it should, call an HVAC technician for a diagnosis and repair as soon as possible. A problem with your heating system will only get worse if you ignore it, and could end up costing you more in the long run.
What to look for in a new furnace
As mentioned, a new furnace is a big investment that will cost you at least $3,000, so you’ll want to know what to look for when you’re shopping for a new unit.
When it comes to long-term cost and energy savings, look for a high-efficiency furnace. Signs of high-efficiency are ENERGY STAR certification, the EnerGuide label (a labelling and rating program through the Canadian government), or an AFUE rating of 90% or higher.
Another thing you might want to look at is zoning possibilities. Many modern furnaces have zoning capabilities, meaning you can set individual temperatures for different areas of the house. This is great if you have a large home, have a home with multiple levels, have specialty rooms like a sunroom, or have certain rooms that are used more or less than others.
Warranty is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to as well, because a good warranty could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars on repair and maintenance costs over the years. Every furnace in Canada will come with some sort of warranty, but the better ones offer protection for 10-plus years on major components like the heat exchanger. Here are some common furnace warranty terms in Canada:
- 1- to 10-year standard parts warranty
- 5- to 10-year standard heat exchanger warranty
- 10-year to lifetime registered heat exchanger warranty (most manufacturers offer extended warranty terms when you register a new furnace within 60 to 90 days of installing a new furnace)
- 1- to 3-year labour warranty (not as common)
Finally, some modern furnaces have a lot of different features and technologies that might interest you. Here are some of the most popular:
- Visual displays that allow you to monitor performance and maintenance requirements
- Remote control and monitoring
- Air purification systems
- Humidity control
- Variable-speed blowers
- Quiet operation
- Secondary heat exchanger
The average furnace will last you between 15 and 30 years, so even if you’ve had your current furnace for a decade, you can still expect a few good years out of it yet. But if your furnace is getting older, needing more frequent maintenance, or needing an expensive repair, then it might be worthwhile to look for an upgrade.
When it’s time to replace your furnace, you can expect to pay at least $3,000 for a new system. Things to remember when buying a new furnace include a good warranty, a high efficiency rating, and getting a unit that’s the right size for your space.
Once you’ve upgraded your furnace, keep your new unit running smoothly and efficiently for many years by opting for professional installation, and keeping up with regular maintenance and cleaning.
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Over to you
Do you have a furnace or home heating story you’d like to share? How old is your current furnace and what type is it? Let us know in the comments below.