Emergency Furnace Repairs vs Furnace Tune-ups. What’s the difference?

By Peter Wagner

As an HVAC company that has built their success around the service side of the business (going to existing installed furnaces and either troubleshooting or preemptively ‘tuning’ a furnace or an air conditioner), it is interesting to us to see how the definition of these two terms varies from one residential customer to another. We thought it might be worthwhile to share our perceptions in the hope of better satisfying our customers. Regardless, the goal is to provide our customers with heating and air conditioning systems that are reliable, efficient, and long lasting.

Let’s start with emergency furnace repairs. We define an emergency repair as a condition where the performance of the oil or gas furnace is definitely below expectations and history. If the unit is working at all (heat is being produced) this usually means that either the amount of heat the furnace is producing has dropped or some other condition exists that is preventing the home from becoming comfortable in the usual time frame. Other times the issue is a noise, vibration, sound or smell that has changed over time. Regardless, these situations require an HVAC technician with an extensive skill set to systemically identify what is preventing the furnace from performing as expected. Once identified, they need to then source the appropriate part, replace it in the unit and verify that the furnace is working acceptably again. This obviously takes time, and can be quite costly depending on the repair. However, if your furnace has stopped working in the past, you will know that it’s usually less about how much it costs to repair as it is how quickly it can be fixed.

On the other side of the service coin is the furnace tune-up. This service has also been called a furnace check-up, preventive maintenance and occasionally an inspection. The key difference between a tune-up and an emergency repair is in how the furnace is running. A tune-up is most likely to be done after the furnace has run for a period of time and still appears to be running as designed, but the homeowner has proactively chosen to have a qualified residential or commercial HVAC technician to inspect and make small adjustments to ensure that it continues running properly. Frequently, this check-up is part of a furnace maintenance plan, but regardless it is not only a requirement for keeping the warranty intact, but critical for maximizing the life of your heating and air conditioning system. Where “how quick can you get here” is the concern of an emergency customer, tune-up customers are by their very nature planners. Because they are on top of things, they generally take the time to find the most cost effective way to get this preventive maintenance done.

Parts of both of these types of service can be covered in furnace maintenance plans, but if you dig into it, you’ll find that the way to minimize your furnace costs over the years, is to get at least biennial tune-ups on your furnace and air conditioner (on their own, not as a part of a maintenance plan), and make sure you’re buying a reliable brand. While you may be able to save a few dollars in the short term, the anxiety of emergency service calls and the unexpected expenses will easily be higher in the longer term – as the saying goes “you can pay me now, or pay me later…”



– Peter Wagner is the general manager at Hogg Heating and Air Conditioning.

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