Do you need a yearly AC and furnace inspection? Maybe every other year? What about never? It’s a question we’ve been considering around here. Lisa had convinced herself that an inspection was needed every year, but I grew up with a dad who never had inspections of that sort, so I was a bit less convinced. The problem is that most of the articles online about whether or not it’s a necessary expense are written by AC and furnace shop owners or employees.

I’m sure it’s a math equation, as in the average lifespan of a furnace that is properly maintained versus the average lifespan of one that is not, and then figuring cost of each year’s maintenance. The problem is that maintenance can range from $50 to $200, with a furnace’s expected lifespan (no word on maintenance) ranging from 13 to 20 years. And then you’ve got the guys who will find something wrong each time they bother to show up and the lemons. For example, my dad probably got ten years out of one unit without a service, and if he’d used the $200 service, that would have cost $2000 (or nearly the cost of a new unit). However, maybe he could have gotten twenty years out of the heater. Or maybe he paid a lot more in energy costs because of inefficient heating.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you avoid routine maintenance on your furnace or AC. Some online sources implied oil heaters needed more frequent appointments than natural gas, and maybe electric needs even fewer (my assumption). The problem is that I’ve never been on the preventative end of anything major when it comes to a furnace or an AC--I’ve only had a fully-inspected furnace fail to make it through a winter, but I’ve never been told I just saved a thousand dollars by spending $150. Only things like my filter should be changed more often. OK, I can do that, but I also knew that already.

Lisa’s dad confirmed that yearly maintenance may not be necessary unless you’re under some kind of warranty (which we’re not). If you are, however, you better get the maintenance if you want the warranty to be honored. Now, if you have the option to pay extra for that warranty in the first place, that might be another question altogether. Remember that, in general, add-on warranties are designed to make a little extra money for the retailer, not the consumer. even if it’s nice to have insurance. He gave Lisa a list of things a homeowner could check--a list she’s probably typing up for me and that you can probably find online. Stuff like checking carbon monoxide levels and making sure there aren’t dead raccoons in the ductwork.

Why would your furnace and AC be the only appliances in the house in need of yearly maintenance? We use our dishwasher, disposal, washing machine, and certainly the water heater just as much over the course of a year, yet Lisa’s never asked me to get a water heater inspection. Does that mean that there are some gas appliances that we just allow to go bad, while others are seen as dangerous? Maybe it means there’s no money in water heater repair. But it reminds me that we have a disposal and water heater that are both more than a decade old, meaning the money we might have spent on furnace maintenance will likely go to replacement of other appliances shortly. I could be totally wrong. The AC and furnace folks want me to believe an annual checkup is like an oil change, but in all honesty, isn’t it more like an auto AC and heater tune up, which you get AFTER the AC stops blowing cold and the heater stops blowing at all? Maybe being frugal and being poor are a little different, and maybe they both do not lend themselves to consumers being smart. Right now, however, I can’t justify spending the money when nothing’s wrong. I will update this post when and if I go broke because of this attitude.