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When furnaces go "bump" in the night

Does your furnace make spooky noises in the middle of the night? Is excess dust creeping around your baseboards? If so, it may be time to replace your furnace!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a furnace should be replaced if it's 15 to 20 years of age—the average life expectancy of home heating equipment.

Regardless of whether you have a gas or electric model, there are several telltale signs your furnace might need to be replaced. Among them:

Your gas and electric bills are going up

Older furnaces run longer to provide the same amount of heat a new furnace can provide, causing utility costs to rise.

You've had to repair your furnace more than once in the past two years

Like a car, furnaces break down with age and begin to require costly replacement parts. And, as models get older, the parts become more expensive—and more difficult to find.

Your furnace is making loud noises

Banging, popping, creaking, squealing and rattling noises are great for haunted houses, but not when you're trying to get a good nights' rest. Noise can also be caused by the blower turning on and off frequently in an attempt to keep up with heating demands.

Your house is dusty and dry

Unless you live in a desert, you should expect more from your HVAC system. Frequent dust accumulation, static shocks and cracking furniture, allergies and respiratory discomfort can be caused by a lack of humidity in the air and poor air filtration.

You're constantly adjusting the thermostat

If you find yourself lowering your furnace to uncomfortable temperatures just to save energy, it's a major sign your furnace needs to be replaced. It also means your furnace is losing the ability to properly distribute air throughout your home.

Extra savings: An added incentive

Chances are, there's a huge silver lining to replacing your old, inefficient furnace with a new, high-efficiency model. To realize potential savings, consider the furnace's AFUE, or, Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating. This number tells you how much energy your furnace is converting to heat: The higher the AFUE percentage, the more efficient the furnace. For example, an AFUE of 90 means that 90 percent of the fuel used by the furnace warms your home, while the other 10 percent escapes as exhaust with combustion gases.

Now, consider this: Older gas furnaces with pilot lights have an estimated AFUE rating of 55 to 65%. That means you could see immediate and significant savings on monthly utility costs, virtually paying for the cost of your new furnace. To learn more, use our energy savings calculator.

Replacing your furnace

When it comes time to replace your heating equipment, look for a high-efficiency, ENERGY STAR-qualified model to get the most bang for your buck. A system with a 98.2% AFUE rating, for example, can save you as much as $800 each year, compared to a standard furnace—which means it can more than pay for itself over its projected life cycle.

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