How Often Should a Furnace Be Inspected?

Having your furnace serviced each fall will prolong its life.

Having your furnace serviced each fall will prolong its life.

Before the cold weather hits, experts recommend having a professional service your furnace to keep it in good running order and prevent it from conking out when you need it most.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning experts say annual furnace inspection and service will prolong the life of the system, save energy and decrease health risks.

“The manufacturers that built them all agree on this; you should get it serviced once [a year] for heating and once for cooling," says Paul Mills, owner of highly rated Air Experts Heating & Cooling in Raleigh, N.C. "Tuning it up and checking it out is definitely recommended. Much like a car, if you ignore it, a lot more things break. You [will] extend the life of it and help prevent major breakdowns.”

Benefits of a furnace inspection

Some HVAC experts say up to 75 percent of no-heat calls in the winter are related to a lack of maintenance. Left unserviced, a furnace can stop working suddenly, leaving your family in the cold.

It can also be a health hazard. Experts say a furnace inspection can reveal carbon monoxide leaks, which are hard to detect because the gas is colorless and odorless. Carbon monoxide can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea and even death. An estimated 500 people die each year, and 15,000 people are taken to emergency rooms, because of exposure.

Related: Are HVAC Service Contracts a Waste of Money?

Not maintaining your furnace — whether it's gas or electric — can cause it to run less efficiently, making it work even harder, therefore increasing your monthly energy bills, experts say.

An furnace inspection and cleaning typically costs anywhere from $60 to $85.

"There are about 24 different things we do," Mills says. "We clean the heating system to improve efficiency and save money. We check all the controls for safety, which can give you peace of mind for the season. For every tuneup, we make sure it's running at peak operating performance, so it will be comfortable."

Other service checks include:

  • Checking the thermostat settings to make sure the system is properly running.
  • Inspecting electrical connections and testing voltage on the system components to prevent any component failure in the future.
  • Lubricating moving parts.
  • Inspecting the condensate drain so it's not obstructed.
  • Checking system start-up and shutdown controls for proper operations, as well as changing the filter.

Make the right hire

HVAC systems are one of the most complex systems that run through your home, so make sure you hire the right professional. Many states have licensing requirements for HVAC contractors.

4 Tips to Avoid HVAC Scams

This video has more advice about when to service your furnace and how not to get ripped off.

The National Contractor License Service maintains a list of each state’s professional licensing agency. You can also search for licenses through Angie’s List License Check. Check with your local licensing agency to see if the company is licensed, bonded and insured, and ask for references from the company.

Energy savings

After an HVAC professional services the furnace, there are a few steps homeowners can take to keep it running smoothly. Most importantly, perhaps, is changing the air filter regularly, at least every three months, according to Energy Star, which is a branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A clogged air filter will restrict air flow, which can also negatively affect your health through exposure to environmental contaminates.

Another energy savings tip, HVAC professionals say, is using a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat can save you up to 10 percent on energy bills, if you dial it down seven or eight degrees from the normal temperature setting — the U.S. Department of Energy recommends a setting of 68 degrees — for eight hours a day, whether it's during the work day or at night, according to DOE.

"There have been a lot of studies that have proven having it serviced and maintained can save up to 30 percent on your energy bills," Mills said.

Related: Which Thermostat Is Right for You?

Kris Conover, a technician for highly rated Aaron York's Quality Air in Indianapolis, says it's also important to remember to maintain new furnaces, not just old ones.

"Most people don't understand [and when they] put a new system in think, 'I’ve got a new system, so I won't have to maintain it,'" Conover said. "Well, there's nothing greater from the truth than that, because manufacturers require you to have regular maintenance and to have record of that. If you would ever have a warranty claim, that manufacturer has the ability to ask you for those service records. So not only does it make sense from a perspective of the longevity of it, but if you have a warranty, you want to make sure you keep it intact."

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Oct. 2, 2013.

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