As heating systems go, electric air handlers are the least complex. It is still very important to keep them maintained. With the high consumption of electricity, they are prone to electrical shorts and burnt wiring that can lead to other, more serious problems. Fans accumulate dirt over time, and motors typically require lubrication. Unlike gas heat, an electric air handler can have many problems internally, and still produce heat.
When a homeowner calls for no heat on an electric furnace, it is typically from a more catastrophic failure after multiple other failures have already occurred. For example; 1 of 4 electric heat strips can burn out, a sequencer (control device) can fail for one of the remaining 3 elements, and the wiring can overheat and burn off on a 3rd element.
With mild weather the system will continue to operate in a very unsafe manner until either the blower motor fails, or the final element fails to function. Other than a longer run cycle, a homeowner may be unaware there are significant problems with their system. A regular maintenance can help avoid major problems, and help keep the equipment running at the lowest cost possible.
Between annual or semi-annual maintenances, homeowners can contribute significantly to the efficiency, comfort and extended life of their heating and cooling equipment. Airflow is the most important component to efficiency and longevity of the comfort system. Maintaining good airflow requires a clean filter, unrestricted ductwork, and open vents in the home.
Most duct systems are designed for the output of the furnace. Restricting the airflow with dirty filters, closed vents, or crushed ductwork can cause the system to overheat regularly. Aside from a significant loss of efficiency, this puts tremendous strain on the heat exchanger and compressor, usually resulting in a premature, catastrophic failure.
Keeping the outdoor unit (AC or Heat Pump) clear of plants and soil buildup will maintain high efficiency and reduce the chance of a failure due to corrosion. Rinsing the coil on the outdoor unit is also a good practice from time to time. This will ensure the hot or cool air is transferred well and the unit is able to produce the maximum amount of heating or cooling for which it is rated.
As a rule of thumb, heating and cooling equipment has a typical useful life of between 12-15 years. While many factors can extend, or reduce the functional lifespan, catastrophic failure may not be the only reason you’ll want to consider an upgrade.
It is not always cost effective to continue to operate an older unit beyond this rule. Federal, state and local efficiency codes require higher and higher efficiencies of heating and cooling equipment. Over a 15-year life, the efficiency gains of new systems will begin to exceed the operating costs and maintenance and repair of your older equipment. As we say in the industry, “you may be paying for a new system, you’re just not getting it.”
Only you can decide when that time is right for your system upgrade to be made, but with some helpful advice from an experienced and honest service provider, you can make an informed decision and put the investment into the replacement at the right time. Your service provider can typically provide you with an analysis of your return on investment.
There are also local and federal rebates that can help make the system more affordable. If financing is a consideration for you, some upgrades can offset some or all the monthly payment in energy savings alone. How great would it be to improve the comfort in your home, reduce your consumption of energy, with little to no additional impact on your monthly budget?