Spend a Little, Save a Lot

As we sit here in Portland with an unprecedented 10 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures that haven’t crested freezing in seven days, I cringe at the sight of furnace repair trucks in the neighborhood. How terrible it would be to go without heat in this weather!

Furnaces only go out at night or on a weekend when it’s really cold. It stands to reason, since that is when you are pushing them the hardest. Unfortunately, getting a repair person out at that time is shockingly expensive, and you have no room to shop around. It’s freaking freezing for heavens sake.

I don’t worry about our furnace going out. Nor do I worry about our roof leaking or my car breaking down. That is because I have Jeff. After a career managing facilities for high tech manufacturing firms and healthcare organizations, he understands the value, in money and time, of regular maintenance and replacing critical systems at the end of their useful life, before they fail.

I have to admit that left to my own devices, I would put little thought into all of the things that make my life comfortable and convenient. As a result, I would spend a lot more money on costly repairs. Hopefully I wouldn’t be quite as bad as a coworker I knew when I worked in California. She didn’t have the oil in her car changed, or even checked, for five years.  What would have been a $600 expense for oil changes over that time turned into a $6,000 expense to replace the engine.

Whether its your furnace, your car or any other appliance, regular maintenance will extend the life of the expensive things you own. The longer you keep them and the fewer emergency repairs, the more money you will save in the long run. In addition, regular maintenance is a cost that you can predict and budget, whereas an unexpected breakdown can be as financially difficult as it is inconvenient.

Take your furnace. Forced air furnaces typically last between ten and twenty years. You can ensure your’s lasts closer to twenty by following a regular tune up and filter replacement schedule. An annual tune up will keep the unit in good working order. It will also give you a heads up on parts that may be wearing, so that if you do need to replace them, you can do it during regular working hours, when it isn’t cold and the per hour cost is more reasonable.

Changing your filter regularly, every one to three months, will ensure that the unit isn’t working harder than it has to and keep your indoor air cleaner. Your furnace will last longer if it runs less, so experts recommend keeping your thermostat temperature within plus or minus five degrees of your normal temperature when everyone is home and awake. Larger swings cause the furnace to run longer, increasing wear and tear as well as your energy costs. The average new furnace costs between $4,000 and $20,000 depending on the size of your home, so you want it to last as long as possible.

When you do approach that twenty year mark, it is time to start thinking about replacement even if your furnace is still running. Even the most thorough maintenance regime won’t extend the life forever. If you plan ahead, you can research the best and most economical options for you, find a reliable contractor, and negotiate a good deal. You can also save up for the inevitable expense.

Spending a little money on maintenance can save you a lot in repairs. Maintenance is predictable in timing and cost, so it is much easier to budget for than unexpected breakdowns.  Ultimately you will have to replace, so plan ahead and do it on your own terms. The more predictable your expenses the more likely you are to stay on track for your savings goals.

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