Why Are Furnaces So Expensive Anyways?

We’ve been having some issues with our furnace lately.  It was a brutally cold month of February and so when the furnace would lock itself out for three hours, we would notice right away, especially when it seemed to happen most often during the morning, when it was warming the house up as we have it set to a lower temperature for the overnight hours.

The Diagnoses

We have an appliance repair plan through the energy company.    I called them to come out. They took a look and found two problems:

  • Build-up on the flame sensor – The reason our furnace was locking out is because after the burners ignite, there is a sensor that verifies that they have in fact done so, and are not instead just pouring out gas into the basement.  If the sensor does not detect flame, it locks out the furnace and tries again (or as we found out, turning the furnace off and on resets as well).  Over time, the sensor gets build-up and just needs to be scraped.
  • Cracked heat exchanger – As I learned, the basic way that the furnace builds is that the burners ignite and the gases from that are vented outside through the stack pipe that goes up and out through the roof.  This is all done within a chamber.  The actual heating is done by air flowing over that chamber, which obviously gets really, really hot.  You can’t have the airs mixing, because the burners generate carbon monoxide gas, which is lethal in large enough doses, and that’s what is vented outside.  A cracked heat exchanger breaches the chamber that contains the gases, and opens the possibility of carbon monoxide being drawn in with the other air flowing through.  So, it’s a pretty bad situation.

Just How Bad Is A Cracked Heat Exchanger

As noted above, a cracked heat exchanger allows the possibility of carbon monoxide to enter the airflow of your home.  This is bad. Carbon monoxide is lethal in large doses, and if ingested, it makes you sleepy and unresponsive.  Entire families have died because they get sleepy, go to bed, and simply never wake up. This is bad.

This is dangerous enough that a repair service contracted through the gas company is required to tag the furnace and shut it off and close the valve leading to the furnace.

So Does Our Cracked Heat Exchanger Mean We Have No Heat?

Simply put.  No.

The repair firm is not allowed to leave the house with the furnace operating.  However, the man who did this was up front. He said that the crack he felt was minimal and in his estimation was not putting any carbon monoxide in the house.  He did indicate that a functioning carbon monoxide detector would catch any problems if they existed based on the current condition.  He did indicate that in severe cases he has been known to disable the furnace completely by disconnecting the gas line and/or removing wiring from the control board.  He pointed out that he had not done so with our furnace.

There was a little bit of reading between the lines, if you couldn’t tell.  He was doing what he needed to in order to make sure he was fulfilling his contract with the gas company, but at the same time making sure we knew that I did not need to immediately subject my family to a house with no heat.

But, as he pointed out, cracks do not get smaller.  They get bigger.

What Caused Our Cracked Heat Exchanger

In talking with both companies that I spoke with, they both agreed that the following things likely contributed:

  • Age – Even the mb-2015-03-thermbest furnace will likely experience a crack at some point. Ours happened fairly early in the process which was likely in part due to the next two items.
  • Model – The model of our furnace is highly susceptible to these.
  • Sizing – The repair person that came to our house felt that our furnace was actually oversized.  Our house is one of the smaller floor plans in the sub (ours is around 2,200 sq. ft. while some homes go up to 2,700).  It’s common to see builders put the same model in all homes so that they can buy in bulk and get the best pricing.  You’d think that the bigger the better, but with furnaces, that’s actually not the case.  A furnace that’s oversized is problematic for two main reasons: First, it cycles on and off more quickly, which I’ve noticed ours does.  Ideally, a furnace should run for a longer period, cycle off and stay off for a while.  When a furnace heats a house quickly, it will shut off faster.  This leads to more frequent cycles, which wears the parts down faster.  Second, our house likely has less ducts leading out.  If there is excess heat that is not blown through the house, it retains heat in the furnace itself.  What happens to items that are overheated?  They get brittle…and they crack.

Options For Our Cracked Heat Exchanger

Option 1: Repair

The furnace we have is 17 years old.  The heat exchanger has a 20 year warranty for parts, which would cost about $1,000.  However, it does not cover labor.  The labor costs to replace this is $500.  Basically, the entire furnace has to be dismantled piece by piece and then put back together.

Pro: It’s the cheapest option.
Con: The furnace is of the age where it’s likely that other problems will come about.  I would hate to drop $500 and then have something else happen in a few months and have to pay that amount plus the new setup.

Option 2: Replace

The furnace could be replaced.  However, furnaces are very expensive.  Based on the age of the setup, I would likely get the air conditioning compressor replaced as well.  This would cost at least $7,000.  Yikes!

Pros: This would fix the problem. We’d also get devices that would have higher efficiency, which would reduce our utility bills over time.  The utility company offers rebates that would offset about 10% of the costs.
Con: It’s seven-freaking-thousand dollars that I do not have simply lying around.

Option 3: Do Nothing And Save Up

As he mentioned, and confirmed by another company with whom I’ve dealt and I trust very much, the problem isn’t severe.  The one person I talked to said that after 15 years of age, the number of cracked heat exchangers starts rising a few percent a year.  And, while there are deaths from carbon monoxide, there’s so few that it’s evident that a cracked heat exchanger is a problem that can be monitored, at least in the short term.

Pro: It gives us time to shop around, make up our minds, and determine the best course of action.
Cons: The price could go up even further.  The dealer has said that the costs of air conditioning compressors have gone up on average a few hundred dollars per year because of the cost of copper, of which there is a lot.  So, waiting could cost us more.  Also, because the furnace is tagged and, in the eyes of the utility company, should not be operational, any other problems that exist will not be covered in the present condition.  Also, our current savings rate would leave us short for a couple of years.  Who knows how long we have before the cracking gets worse and forces the issue?

For the immediate time, we are going to look at the third option in hopes that we at least make it through the winter.

I just wish that they weren’t so gosh darn expensive!

Readers, have you had to replace any part of your HVAC system recently?  Any words of wisdom are always welcome in the comments below.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

A Double Lesson In Carelessness

My phone rang around 7:30am the other morning, and when I saw that it was my wife calling, I knew that it was not good news.  Between 7am – 8am, it’s pretty hectic with two kids getting up, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, having breakfast, and one having to catch the bus, so that’s one hour of the day where there’s just not time for phone calls…unless something is wrong.

Turns out that my wife and I had both gone to bed the night before without doing a check mb-2015-02-oopsof the counter.  Had we looked around, we would have noticed that there was a couple of pieces of chicken sitting out for dinner the next day.  We normally don’t keep stuff out for too long to thaw, but a little extra boost helps things along. Unfortunately, we both missed it, and the time out was well past anything normal, so it was off to the garbage for the chicken.

Whoops.

It Gets Worse

About ten minutes later, the phone rang again.  I knew that we were still in the one hour danger zone, so my immediate thought was “What now?”

Turns out the chicken wasn’t the only thing!

After dinner, we’d left a bottle of salad dressing out on the kitchen table.  We have a lazy susan that on which keep the napkins, salt, and pepper, and we’ll often set condiments on there during dinner.  The salad dressing bottle was very small, so it simply blended in and went unnoticed.

Altogether, not doing a visual sweep of the kitchen cost us about $3 in chicken and $3 in salad dressing.  While $6 is not a huge deal, it’s wasteful enough that it definitely stung, and it was certainly worth two phone calls.

There was nothing we could do about either loss except throw the items away, but you’d better believe that we will now be checking things out a little more careful to make sure that we don’t leave stuff out to go bad.

Readers, have you ever left anything to spoil by not properly getting it in the fridge or freezer in time?  What tips do you have to make sure to avoid needless waste?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Benefits To Attending Industry Conferences

I’m a project manager by day.  Once I dedicated myself to this career path, I attained my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in 2008, and have been a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) ever since.  The certification and affiliation are, for lack of a better term, a method to show that I understand the general practices and that I know what I’m doing.

In order to keep our certifications current, members are required to earn Professional Development Units in our field, through such activities like receiving training, teaching Project Management, working in the field, or attaining knowledge of the field.

One of the areas in which you can obtain a good amount of PDUs is by attending conferences.  Here in the Detroit area there is a conference held annually where you can obtain 40% of the annual average requirements.  I debated on whether to attend this year, as I have some ‘carry over’ units from last period, but ultimately decided to attend.

Here are some reasons why I attended and why attending an industry conference can provide benefit to you and your career:

  1. Professional Credits – As I mentioned, we get credits toward required project management practice and learning by attending the conference.  Many professions require a certain amount of training to stay current, and day long conferences (or even longer) are a great way to load up on these credits
  2. Knowledge – Our conference has a variety of presentations and panels where youmb-2015-02-conf can learn about areas which are directly tied with your interests or areas of practice, or where you can learn new areas that might be of interest.  A form of project management called ‘Agile’ is one of the newer and more popular practices, and since my job doesn’t use this methodology, I could choose to learn by spending the day at various areas centered around this topic should I so choose.
  3. Networking – When you go to a professional conference, there are hundreds or thousands of people that do what you do.  This is a great way to meet people and network.  Exchanging business cards (or mobile contact information) is a great way to stay in touch with people that could help you out with projects, with information, or could even be a potential contact for a career change!
  4. Resume builder – Many employers want to see that you can walk the walk, and talk the talk.  Showing that you have knowledge based not just on experience, but from sources that go to the industry practice as a whole, can give you an edge above other candidates.
  5. They’re often a perk – Many employers will pay for your attendance and/or grant you the time off.  My employer does not pay for the conference, but my boss has agreed to provide the day so long as I give a ten minute overview to our team at a future team meeting.  That’s a whole day away from my desk and getting a break from project work for the exchange of ten minutes, plus the time to prepare my discussion.  Not bad!

Industry conferences can be a great way to boost your knowledge, give you an edge in your industry, or give you food for thought in areas where you may want to concentrate your future attention.

Readers, does your career industry provide you with the opportunity to attend focused conferences?  In what ways have you benefited from attending a conference?  Have you ever attended one that was a complete waste of time?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How To Finance Your College Education In 2015

College tuition fees rise every year, making it challenging for cash-stripped students and families to afford college costs and other expenses. But with both aware of the long-term value of a college degree, most are looking for ways to finance college education.

According to a report, the 2014-2015 average tuition rise was 2.5 percent at public universities, and 3.7 percent at private colleges. The historical ten-year rate of increase is around 5 percent. However, these figures are significantly higher than the general rate of inflation. They are also quite high compared to the average rise in individual incomes.

Even if you’re cash-strapped to pay for tuition at this point, the education you’ve been hoping to achieve is within reach – provided you do some pragmatic financial planning to finance your college education. Here are some tips to help you out:

Look for scholarships and financial education

Plenty of colleges offer discounts to students who have excelled in academics during school years. Some institutions will also offer financial aid to any student who gets admitted into their course program. However, both scholarship and financial aid are difficult to come by and quite competitive, so you’ll need good grade record and excellent performance in school to be one of the exceptions.

Another thing to remember is to apply early. Some colleges will award aid money on first-come, first-serve basis, until the allotted funds are depleted. Also, students who haven’t applied for aid while getting admission are not allowed to apply for financial aid for subsequent years. Therefore, you’ll need to act as soon as possible.

Explore student loan options

mb-2015-02-capgownIn many cases, student loans become the primary source of funding. From the nearly 20 million individuals that go to college in the US, 60 percent borrow money to help pay the expenses, according to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education. With so many people borrowing money, you might think that students are well aware of the wide variety of available options and what to expect when it comes to repayment, but this isn’t the case in reality. A remarkable number of students remain confused about their options.

Federal loans are often the first choice in the borrowing option, but private loans come into play in instances where federal loans fail to cover the full financial need of a student. While having a credit worthy consigner can help any student get a private loan, The Project on Student Debt’s research informs that private loan rates vary depending on the school attended by the student. Students and their parents can get more information here about student loan types and how to apply.

See if you can get national grants

Receiving a national grant can also pay for your entire college tuition. Identify and engage with appropriate individuals who will help you in making a grant proposal (such as teachers, collaborators, mentors, etc.). Make sure that you request support and reference letters well in advance.

And before submitting a grant proposal, get it verified and proofread to ensure it is in line with the guidelines and there are no errors. This will avert any chances of disqualification. Teachers can help students to make their proposal error-free, but students are encouraged to learn all aspects of the process to maximize chances of successful approval.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.