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Archive for February, 2010

Is Maintenance REEEALLLLY Important?

by on Feb.06, 2010, under HVAC News

That seems to be the question most asked when I suggest annual maintenanceĀ  to people. I don’t always think they want to hear the response of “Yes, Yes it is important.” Primarily because they break eye contact or turn their head as soon as their mouth is done asking the question. I’ve rationalized THAT down to a few reasons. First one being I’m biased. I’m a heating contractor working for a company and last time they checked, companies needed to make money and I want to get paid for my time, so of course my only answer would be “Yes, yes it is important.” Secondly, they haven’t had maintenance in so long and their furnace hasn’t broke until now. Think of all the money they saved in those years by not having maintenance. Thirdly, they do it themselves or a have a relative who’s going to school do it or maybe even a neighbor or worse yet, a relative of a neighbor do it. Some other reasons are, their last furnace lasted 30yrs and NEVER hadĀ  problem or simply they can’t afford it.

Let me start by stating a few facts. As I progress through my career, the calls begin to all look and sound the same. Broken HSI (Hot Surface Ignitor) here, “did you have it cleaned?”, “No.” Dirty flame sensor there, “did you have it cleaned?”, “No.” Plugged filter, burnt motor, plugged (dirty) coil(s), blown capacitors or burnt contactors, restricted condensate drain. “Cleaned?”, “No.”, “No.”, “No.”, “NO!” Also as i progress, I noticed patterns start to develop, I’d hear things like “Is it normal for a furnace that old (9yrs) to have this much trouble?” or “What causes that?” The answer is simple…… Lack of maintenance. Example: HSI’s can fail with excessive furnace cycle times. Excessive furnace cycle times can be caused by overheating. Over heating can be caused by, a dirty filter, a dirty coil, a dirty fan blade, high gas pressure. There are other things that can cause overheating such as, undersized ductwork, oversized furnace, insufficient return air, high static pressure. Most of these things are structural and cannot be remedied with maintenance, but are worth mentioning. Now while an HSI WILL break at some point regardless of how much maintenance you do, having maintenance will extend the life of such a repair and save you the inconvenience of being with out heat in the middle of Winter.

On the A/C side of things poor cooling can be contributed to a dirty filter, dirty coil(s), dirty fan blade, low freon, high freon, poor compression ratio. A burnt contactor can be caused by excessive cycle times, extreme amp draw. A dirty coil or filter will raise the temps which will raise the pressure which will in turn raise amps (as a side note: Amps is a measure of electrical current, when you raise the amp draw you increase the amount of electricity being used and that LOWERS EFFICIENCY) and since wires, and contactor points are rated for only so many amps, they burn out and THAT’S what RAISES your concern. Here’s the deal with that, the vast majority of those concerns are caused by dirt or a needed adjustment. All stuff that’s done on a routine maintenance visit. The reasoning should not be “Well it’s working.” Rather, “How well is it working?”

In regards to me being biased, manufacturers are requiring routine maintenance and listing under their EXCLUSIONS: “Failure to properly maintain” and some list in BOLD in the warranty header “This warranty is void WITHOUT annual maintenance.” If you have newer equipment, you may want to check your owners manual or contact your installing company for a copy. In the EPA’s Guide to Duct Cleaning, “EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove, or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. Some research also suggests that cleaning dirty cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers can improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. However, little evidence exists to indicate that simply cleaning the duct system will increase your system’s efficiency.” Here’s the link if you want some clarification in that aspect. This is not about being biased, it’s about being professional.

I can go on about how dirty equipment causes inefficiency, which in turn raises energy bills or brings about unnecessary repair costs, but i think you can get the idea. As far as having a neighbor, a relative or ANYBODY outside the scope of a professional, potentially including yourself, you will want to question the qualifications of said person. After-all, just having maintenance is not as important as having maintenance done right! I could not charge people for merely walking in with my vacuum cleaner. If i could, just think of the thousands of dollars i could have saved on education, meters and hand tools.

When I first started in this business there was a time when i carried more thermocouples on my truck than HSI’s. I also had more belts and belt driven motors on my truck then direct drive motors. Additionally, I had more dial limits than fixed limits and inducer motors were unheard of. So to tell me a furnace lasted 30yrs without a hitch is well, it’s a bit absurd. Not to say the people are lying. They may have had the one furnace that simply just ran with out any problems. There were however, thousands upon thousands of units out there that were not so fortunate. The specific trouble with dirt related issues is they generally do not prevent the equipment from working, but they do prevent it from working properly.

Cost is not for me to judge. Everyone has their own finances to deal with. I would, however, like to offer this bit of advice for you to consider. Lets say the average cost of a maintenance visit is $120 through a local respected dealer. Lets also say you do that twice a year, once for the A/C and once for the furnace for a total of $240 annually. A filter will need to be changed as well as a humidifier panel, but due to the variations regarding these, I will not include them in the annual cost. I’m a person that likes to break things down, analyze them and then make a decision. So if i decided that maintenance IS important, the next question is, can i afford it? If I’m looking at $240 annually, that’s $20 a month. I now need to decide if that $20 is worth me extending the life of my equipment by maintaining its efficiency, reducing the chance of a breakdown and ensuring its safety. The value needs to lie in the quality of the company, the quality of the service technician and your satisfaction. Which will you be willing to sacrifice for a few dollars?

Now while that last part may have sounded like an infomercial, it was only meant to provide perspective. The facts are the facts and I’m sure if you make routine maintenance an important part of your life and commit to it, it can become as manageable as anything else. It may also save you in the long run. The topic of maintenance, for some reason seems to be confusing to some people and I can see how anybody could be confused about getting maintenance, just not anybody I know!


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