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  #1  
Old 03-19-2007, 05:10 PM
mazinger_z mazinger_z is offline
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My furnace, a/c and water heater are 20 yrs old should I replace it?

I just got done with my home inspection for a townhouse that I'm buying. It's 20 yrs old this June. It has the original A/C, gas furnace, and hot water heater. All are clean and look to run pretty good, though the A/C wasn't turned on because it's still too cold with the snow and all, and the furnace took 20 minutes to burn after I raised the temperature on the control (though the pilot light clicked on immediately). The home inspector listed both as marginal (or "serviceable" as he calls it) because it's 20 years old.

I want the seller to put in new high efficiency stuff for all three. Does this request seem unreasonable? How much does a highly efficient furnace, hot water heater, and A/C cost? Is there a good time to effect such repairs/replacements? How long does it take? Are there varying levels of efficiencey, like there are varying levels of furnaces? I don't want to go overboard, though I am environmentally conscious. Then again, I'm really just concerned with making sure the heat is on during the winter and that it's cool during the summer.
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  #2  
Old 03-19-2007, 05:19 PM
Khadaji Khadaji is offline
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Mine are about the same. I replaced the A/C last year because the compression pump was just about to go. They told me at the time that the furnace needed to be replaced too, but I didn't have the cash. I will endeavor to replace it this year.
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  #3  
Old 03-19-2007, 05:53 PM
boytyperanma boytyperanma is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mazinger_z
I want the seller to put in new high efficiency stuff for all three. Does this request seem unreasonable? How much does a highly efficient furnace, hot water heater, and A/C cost? Is there a good time to effect such repairs/replacements? How long does it take? Are there varying levels of efficiencey, like there are varying levels of furnaces? I don't want to go overboard, though I am environmentally conscious. Then again, I'm really just concerned with making sure the heat is on during the winter and that it's cool during the summer.
Since you've already made the offer on the house the request is pretty unreasonable. Typically you'd offer less money towards the home citing the furnace and such need to be replaced. A furnace could be around 5k. The water heater may cost 1k and the AC I'd guess 3k

A good time to do such things is before you move in or in off seasons for the equpiment.

A service person can test the furnace and tell you how efficient it is working. Many conpanies offer a free evaluation of your heating/coolong system(keep in mind their interest lies in selling you a new one).

The furnace, if a boiler you may want to replace soon for peice of mind when the die the tend to make a mess of things. If it is forced hot air I wouldn't bother unless it is found to be very inefficient.

I'd wait on the water heater and AC untill something goes wrong with it.
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  #4  
Old 03-19-2007, 06:07 PM
kanicbird kanicbird is offline
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Use it to get a few bucks off and you replace it with the stuff you want. Someone selling just doeesn't have the motivation to buy quality.
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  #5  
Old 03-19-2007, 06:28 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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When to replace these things? On your schedule.

Prices to replace these items shoot up tremendously when you need it done today. With some foresight, you have the luxury of being able to take time and get some competitive bids, rather than waking up one morning to an ice-cold shower, or worse, to the sound of a waterfall pouring out the bottom of the water heater, and having no time to do anything but grab the phone book, flip to "water heaters" call the first name you see, and say "HELP! I need a plumber NOW!"

The water heater is far overdue for replacement if it really is 20 years old. I'd expect the price to be around $700-800, once installation labor, old unit haulaway and permits are dealt with. There's a surprisingly small price difference in the heater itself between varying levels of insulation and expected/guaranteed years of life. When I bought mine last year, the difference between a "good enough" unit with a 6-year guarantee and a "best" with twice as much insulation and a 12-year guarantee was only about $100, if even that much.

Your furnace and AC are nearing the end of their lives, but are probably nowhere near as urgent as the water heater.

What do you mean by "the furnace took 20 minutes to burn"? That it ran for 20 minutes, or that 20 minutes elapsed between jacking the thermostat up and heat actually coming on?

Check with your local electric/gas utility as they may have rebates for installation of new efficient units.

Last edited by gotpasswords; 03-19-2007 at 06:32 PM..
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  #6  
Old 03-19-2007, 08:29 PM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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I'm astonished that the water heater has lasted that long. Truly. No other comments.
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  #7  
Old 03-19-2007, 08:47 PM
Baffle Baffle is offline
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If you replace them with higher-efficiency models, they'll pay for themselves. And you'll be doing your bit to reduce air pollution.
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  #8  
Old 03-19-2007, 08:51 PM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Is the water heater on a floor where a sudden leak could flood something damageable? If so, don't wait.

Take it from a guy whose water heater decided to water his basement last year.
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  #9  
Old 03-19-2007, 09:00 PM
Harmonious Discord Harmonious Discord is offline
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Like was said this is not reasonable. You put in the offer and are now are going to demand new high efficiency models. They might do it if desperate to sell, but don't feel they were in the wrong refusing to do this after accepting your bid.

You should purchase the items after doing price quotes, and before any busy period if you can. Some utilities have rebate programs that require you to purchase specific models. Don't buy something and then look for the rebate. It's not a deal killer if the model doesn't get a rebate. The rebate should be taken off the total price of the units, when comparing prices. The high efficience furnance ma got is two stage heating, and has a continous running variable speed moter. It emproves greatly on keeping the house evenly heated.

Be sure to add in a expansion tank when you replace the heater. The water can expand into the tank instead of the extra pressure bursting the pluming somewhere.

Last edited by Harmonious Discord; 03-19-2007 at 09:02 PM..
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  #10  
Old 03-19-2007, 10:00 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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I disagree with a couple of the gentlefolk here on one point - I mean, you make the offer on a house typically with the understanding that it's contingent on the house being in "normal repair" or with no serious atrocities going on. The home inspection for my house found that there was a possibly dangerous natural gas leak - should I have been held to my offer, since I didn't carry around a natural gas sniffer with me everywhere I went?

I do think however that asking them to replace everything is going to be a non-starter and somewhat unreasonable, unless they got caught in the housing bubble-burst and are desperate to sell. I tend to take a harsher view, however, because my seller lied three times on their seller's disclosure and stuck me with a problem I did not know about - and which the home inspector missed - which will cost about $25,000 to fix. At a minimum, you should think hard about replacement cost and factor that in.
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  #11  
Old 03-19-2007, 10:35 PM
boytyperanma boytyperanma is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Una Persson
I disagree with a couple of the gentlefolk here on one point - I mean, you make the offer on a house typically with the understanding that it's contingent on the house being in "normal repair" or with no serious atrocities going on. The home inspection for my house found that there was a possibly dangerous natural gas leak - should I have been held to my offer, since I didn't carry around a natural gas sniffer with me everywhere I went?
Age and condition of HVAC systems are standard questions that should be asked and answered before placing a bid on a home. These major appliances are in normal repair for 20 year old pieces of equipment. Just like the house is in normal repair for a 20 year old house. Should the buyer ask for a new home to be built because the inspector told them it was 20 years old?

A home inspection should only change conditions of the offer based on things the potential buyer was incapable of identifying. If the inspector found the furnace and AC did not work it would be a different issue. It sounds as though they work fine.
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  #12  
Old 03-19-2007, 11:50 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma
A home inspection should only change conditions of the offer based on things the potential buyer was incapable of identifying. If the inspector found the furnace and AC did not work it would be a different issue. It sounds as though they work fine.
Yes, I understand, but when the OP said the inspector said the system was marginal or "serviceable", I might take that to mean it could be problematic.
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  #13  
Old 03-20-2007, 12:33 AM
Rhubarb Rhubarb is offline
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20 years for an A/C or furnace is not too astonishing. If properly maintained, they should last at least that, if not another 5 or 10 years. You WILL have problems with them sooner rather than later. Motor bearings go out, compressors seize, heat exchangers rust through - entropy always wins out.

20 years for a water heater is absolutely astounding. The only one I've seen last that long had a Monel tank and lasted 48 years. It was still working when it was replaced for being too small. I can't even imagine what it would cost today or if it's even available.

If the seller is willing to replace them (I doubt it) or give you some allowance toward their replacement (possibly), go for it. At the least, insist on a 1 year home warranty contract. This will cover repairs to all of your major appliances. It will generally NOT cover replacement of the entire HVAC system, at best you'll get the replacement cost discounted by the cost of the needed repairs. It will cover replacement of your water heater, though. These things usually cost $350-400 per year (in my area) and can be renewed pretty much forever by the new homeowner. I let mine lapse after the initial year about 3 months ago, but my house is only 11 years old and I know how to repair/replace all of my appliances. In a 20-yo house I would consider it a good thing to have.

ETA: I didn't make it clear that the seller pays for the first year of a home warranty contract. After that, the buyer has the option of renewing annually.

Last edited by Rhubarb; 03-20-2007 at 12:35 AM..
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  #14  
Old 03-20-2007, 08:46 AM
Caffeine.addict Caffeine.addict is online now
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This is what a home inspection clause is for. Since mazinger_z isn't an expert in this area, he hires someone who is. If the sellers agreed to a home inspection clause, then he has the right to ask for it in negotiations. Having to replace all of them will be somewhat costly and if he can avoid it than he should go for it.
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  #15  
Old 03-20-2007, 09:04 AM
FRDE FRDE is offline
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Since I'm in the process of selling, I totally disagree.

I set my price knowing that my 20 year old CH unit needed replacing and was careful to point it out (not that anyone bar a moron would have been unable to figure that out)

Chiseling on relatively minor things after having made an offer is a good way of annoying the seller.

The advice about getting it done in your own time is very sound, plumbers tend to be a bit short of work in the Summer.
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  #16  
Old 03-20-2007, 09:10 AM
Athena Athena is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baffle
If you replace them with higher-efficiency models, they'll pay for themselves.
Yes, but over how long?

I used to own a house that was 100 years old. The furnace was a huge behemoth, at least 40 years old. I looked into having it replaced, and after an inspection the local heating/plumbing place told me that a new furnace would be more efficient, but not to the point that it would pay for itself in the short term. It might over 10 or 15 years. I was not planning on staying in the house that long, so I didn't replace it.
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  #17  
Old 03-20-2007, 09:49 AM
mazinger_z mazinger_z is offline
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I don't feel too bad asking for new HVAC stuff. I don't plan on getting it, but I don't feel bad on asking for it. My fall back position is the home warranty, but if they felt like they didn't need to replace or credit anything, then I would be a bit sour. Housing is one of those things where the seller can have a difficult time to agree to an "as-is" sale, even if both parties initially agree. A lot of local statutes come into play when selling a house. Anyway, I'm really concerned because of the lag time of the furnace. To be clear: I jacked up the temp, the pilot came on two seconds later, but the heat didn't start until 20 minutes later. In my parents house, the heat comes in about 30 seconds. The owner, quite proudly, said that that hot water heater and all the other stuff is the original. I'm concerned that the air conditioner is going to go out this summer, because it looks really old, though surprisingly clean (like the rest of the stuff). I don't think anything was replaced in the house, because the kitchen is also 20 years old. I'm not asking for a new stove or other appliances.
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  #18  
Old 03-20-2007, 10:03 AM
FRDE FRDE is offline
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The thing is that the seller has already factored things into the price, so to be beaten down after accepting an offer is really annoying.

As Athena pointed out, old stuff can still work, and not replacing it can be more cash and energy efficient.

I have a 20 year old multipoint and a number of plumbers have said that a modern one is expected to last about 8 years - yet apart from some teething problems and a small but recurrent defect ... it just works.
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  #19  
Old 03-20-2007, 10:04 AM
Kalhoun Kalhoun is offline
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Prolly, but I'm one of those people who hangs on to stuff that still works, even if it isn't efficient. Our water heater is every bit of 30 years old. Inefficient as all get out, but it makes the water very hot in a fairly short period of time, so we hang on to it. AC and furnace...we've replaced those because we had to.
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  #20  
Old 03-20-2007, 11:22 AM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mazinger_z
I jacked up the temp, the pilot came on two seconds later, but the heat didn't start until 20 minutes later. In my parents house, the heat comes in about 30 seconds. The owner, quite proudly, said that that hot water heater and all the other stuff is the original. I'm concerned that the air conditioner is going to go out this summer, because it looks really old, though surprisingly clean (like the rest of the stuff).
It's hard to say what's going on without being there in person. If the furnace has a pilot, it should always be on. That said, my 18 year old furnace has no pilot, and a heat cycle does not start instantly - when the thermostat calls for heat, the thing sits and thinks for a few seconds, then the igniter fires to ensure there's no stray gas, then it thinks a bit more, then the igniter fires again and the gas valve opens. This all takes about 30 seconds, which is ages longer than the <click><FWOOM> that my mother's old standing pilot furnace starts up with. If yours is taking 20 minutes to fire, there may be some problems with the igniter, gas valve, flame detection, or controller circuits - one fairly common scenario is the burner lights, but the flame detector's not seeing it, so the controller cuts off the gas, because it thinks the room is filling up with unburned gas. Until you have a furnace tech look at it, you really don't know if the cure is 30 seconds time to wipe soot off the sensor, replace a $25 part, replace a $300 part, or start shopping for a new furnace.

Unless the seller's trying to get the water heater into the Guiness Book of World Records, having a 20 year old water heater is a horrible thing to be proud of if you're trying to sell a home.
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  #21  
Old 03-20-2007, 12:21 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FRDE
Chiseling on relatively minor things after having made an offer is a good way of annoying the seller.
I don't know about the UK but in the US we are in an "annoy the seller" type of market right now, after having enjoyed a "screw the buyer" market for a few years.
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  #22  
Old 03-20-2007, 07:30 PM
Caffeine.addict Caffeine.addict is online now
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Yeah, no kidding. Its part of the process here. Now that the market has softened, the seller can take it or leave it.
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  #23  
Old 03-20-2007, 07:47 PM
Balthisar Balthisar is offline
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What goes wrong with water heaters? My gas water heater is probably original to the house, so it's 22 years old. Maybe. They seem like such simple devices compared to the HVAC system. I've always planned on replacing my water heater with an on-demand system when the time came, but is that time imminent now??
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Old 03-20-2007, 08:29 PM
boytyperanma boytyperanma is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balthisar
What goes wrong with water heaters? My gas water heater is probably original to the house, so it's 22 years old. Maybe. They seem like such simple devices compared to the HVAC system. I've always planned on replacing my water heater with an on-demand system when the time came, but is that time imminent now??
They can get a build up of hardness or other gunk that insulates the water from being heated efficiently or takes up enough space that you run out of water sooner then it's rating.

They can spring leaks. Usually it is minor at first, you'd see a bit of water on the floor around the water heater. Every once in a while they leak spectacularly and you end up with lots of water in the basement.

Since your considering an on demand system I'd look into it sooner rather then later. Factors like the size of the gas line will effect your ability to do so. They price of the average unit is not something you want to be spending in an emergency when the hot water tank goes.
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  #25  
Old 03-20-2007, 09:41 PM
mazinger_z mazinger_z is offline
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How much does it cost to have someone test all these things for the efficiency? The home inspector said that he will only certify that it work up to the point of the inspection. He even suggested getting a credit of some sort because they aren't top brands. Will the inspector be able to give a good estimate of how long these things will last? I've changed a hot water heater once in my life...once. I will never go through that process again. It took three big dudes and a blow torch, not to mention so various other wrenches. Oh, and a typhoon amount of water.
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  #26  
Old 03-20-2007, 11:37 PM
Rhubarb Rhubarb is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mazinger_z
How much does it cost to have someone test all these things for the efficiency? The home inspector said that he will only certify that it work up to the point of the inspection. He even suggested getting a credit of some sort because they aren't top brands. Will the inspector be able to give a good estimate of how long these things will last? I've changed a hot water heater once in my life...once. I will never go through that process again. It took three big dudes and a blow torch, not to mention so various other wrenches. Oh, and a typhoon amount of water.
I've never heard of anyone doing efficiency testing on residential HVAC equipment, but I imagine it's possible. Generally, you just look at the stated ratings for the units and then derate it for condition.

I would not expect a home inspector to be able to give an informed opinion about how long equipment might last. It might even be unethical for them to do so. It's also a tough thing to predict with any degree of accuracy. I know of a fair number of signs that would point to an imminent failure, but I've also seen a good number of failures without any of the usual signs. You could ask the inspector if he (or she) observed any such signs, but unless he is an experienced HVAC person I wouldn't expect him to have noticed them.

For the furnace, as boytyperanma said, it's hard to tell without being there, but it may be something as simple as a weak thermocouple. A new thermocouple costs less than $10 and takes about 15 minutes to install. A weak or mis-directed pilot flame will give similar symptoms.

I am NOT a plumber, and I've replaced at least 50 water heaters. After the first few times it gets to be amazingly easy*, but I've never once enjoyed the experience.


*Usually - some of 'em are a gold-plated bastard to get in and out.
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  #27  
Old 03-21-2007, 03:02 AM
Zoe Zoe is offline
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My parents had a water heater that lasted forty years. One of the mottos of environmentalists is "Use it up and wear it out." (I think the saying came from the Depression.)

You don't have to present yourself in a total panic to a salesman or a plumber when the WH goes out. You may have to heat some water on the stove for your bath for a couple of days while you comparison shop.

You might be surprised at how well you can make do for a couple of days when conveniences give out. I wouldn't dream of replacing something that is still working!

That does have a downside. My stove top is Harvest Gold.
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  #28  
Old 03-21-2007, 05:14 AM
Lok Lok is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalhoun
Prolly, but I'm one of those people who hangs on to stuff that still works, even if it isn't efficient. Our water heater is every bit of 30 years old. Inefficient as all get out, but it makes the water very hot in a fairly short period of time, so we hang on to it. AC and furnace...we've replaced those because we had to.
You may want to think about replacing it this year. There is a federal tax credit for various energy saving home improvements made before Dec. 31, 2007. There are also a lot of state and local incentives for various things. The DSIRE website is a database about the different programs and where to find out more.

As for the OP, I took possession of my house at the beginning of December. I had a 26 year old furnace, 140,000 BTU, and an 11 year old central AC unit. December was extremely warm here, and the thermostat was set at 55 because I was having the entire house rewired and not living here. My first gas bill, for 2 weeks was $218, actual readings. I got the bill in the beginning of January and decided to look at getting the furnace replaced. Because of my procrastination, and the slowness of one of the places where I was getting a quote (who of course ended up with the best quote and service reputation), the furnace (75,000 BTU, 93% AFUE) and AC (replaced with a 13 SEER heat pump) didn't get replaced until just when the gas reading at the end of January were taken. It cost me $5400.

My January bill, still warm, thermostat still set at 55 to 60, was just about $300. My February gas bill, sub-freezing temperatures, programmable thermostat from 64 to 70 since I am living here now (plus using gas for water heating and cooking), $56. My electric has gone up because of the heat pump, but I don't know how much yet they keep doing estimated bills. But even if it goes up to $150, savings will pay pay off the expense in just a few years.

Not everyone will have those kinds of savings, but it is still worth looking into. I am hoping to get a tankless water heater later this year, but my gas feed from the street may be too small.
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Last edited by Lok; 03-21-2007 at 05:15 AM.. Reason: tyops
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  #29  
Old 03-21-2007, 09:58 AM
mazinger_z mazinger_z is offline
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Originally Posted by Rhubarb
I've never heard of anyone doing efficiency testing on residential HVAC equipment, but I imagine it's possible. Generally, you just look at the stated ratings for the units and then derate it for condition.

I would not expect a home inspector to be able to give an informed opinion about how long equipment might last. It might even be unethical for them to do so. It's also a tough thing to predict with any degree of accuracy. I know of a fair number of signs that would point to an imminent failure, but I've also seen a good number of failures without any of the usual signs. You could ask the inspector if he (or she) observed any such signs, but unless he is an experienced HVAC person I wouldn't expect him to have noticed them.
Sorry, I mis-typed. My home inspector told me to find a HVAC person. I was wondering if a HVAC person could give me longevity estimates and efficiency ratings (but, I'm more concerned with the longevity). I can't believe how much cash I'm shelling out for this place. I wonder if I can tap my home equity loan right off the bat to pay for this stuff?
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