25 year old Rheem. Repair or replace?

napalm_beachJanuary 15, 2013

My home is in the Seattle area where we get winter weather in the 30's - low 40's with occasional cold snaps. It's a 2600 sq ft 2-story built in 1990 with, according to the inspection, above average insulation including insulated heat ducting.

We have a 1980's vintage electric Rheem furnace in the garage.

The house has always been difficult and expensive to heat ($500/mo in winter) and lately the temperature of the air coming through the registers has gotten quite a bit cooler, even at the registers closest to the furnace. This weekend, with temps in the low 30's, it took nearly 3 hours to raise the temp of the house 2 degrees (58 to 60). (Sidebar: we've had the windows and insulation checked and our local power company said both were fine.)

I suspect the element is bad and could probably be replaced. But I wonder if it's time to replace the whole unit?

We can't afford a new heat pump system so we'd be replacing an electric furnace with an electric furnace. Are the new models any more efficient than the furnaces from the 80's? I don't trust someone selling furnaces to give me an honest answer to his question. :)

Thanks for your help!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

A couple of questions.

Do you have a HP system or just an air handler with a heating element.

Surprised to hear you say you have had windows and insulation checked but nothing about your heating system. That would be my starting point.
Electric heat strips can fail but if you are having large electric bills, then it would suggest your heating strip is operational. You need a certified HVAC tech to check first to find out exactly what your issues are. I assume nat gas service is not available to your home.

And yes at 25 yrs age, you need to be planning on replacing your system whether HP with new matching air handler or nat gas furnace.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 5:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Replacing an electric furnace with another electric furnace is, well, dumb.

To answer your question, no. New electric furnaces are no more efficient than old electric furnaces.

I used to have one in my house. I replaced it with a HP and my bills went down nearly $100/mo in the winter. And I have colder winters.

I'm willing to state you could make your money back less than 5 yrs with a new HP system.

You did not indicate if you have AC in your house.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 2:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You don't have money because of $500 per month electric bills. If you invest in a decent heat pump your bills should be 1/3 of that. Do NOT just go with electric heat strips. Find the money for a basic 13 seer heat pump system. You will be glad you did.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 12:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Check into local energy efficiency programs. There might be some no-interest loan programs that you can use to spread out the costs.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 2:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

repair or replace?

a new minimum efficiency unit will be
much more efficient than a 25 year old
its a no brainer
pay more upfront for new
or pay every month for inefficiency
of old.

best of luck

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yep, new complete HP system. Anything less is a poor use of resources.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Guys, the OP wrote that they don't have the money for a heat pump. Let's be constructive and not condemn for financial status.

OP, is the air flow rate normal with just the temp at the duct low? Electric furnaces are pretty simple devices so it might be fixable for a low cost. You could have duct problems rather than with the furnace itself. Are you at all handy? A new electric furnace is not going to be any more efficient than the old one.

Consider some other possibilities to cut your heating costs, spot heating with small electric heaters might keep you more comfortable but you might have to turn off your main system to prevent the warm air from blowing away. You need to have relatively unloaded circuits where you need the heat too. Are you using electric blankets or mattress pads?

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

my take was the question was,
as stated in title...repair or replace.

OP, due to age of your unit...it is doing all it can.
you can seal ducts, tighten up air leakage into house
but if the unit is this old...you probably won't get
much more out of it.

electric strip is very expensive to operate.
heat pump is a much better option for replacement.
when you get to that point.

also testing house & ducts for leakage
will show you where to seal so it is
easier to heat/cool.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 3:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There have been 8 posts since the OP.

Why bother if he can't make the effort to reply to members trying to help him.



    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 4:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Two days and running. Some people are not so good with computers. They post and forget where they posted. Maybe reading email notifications, maybe did not check that box? We'll see. I think that you are right in suggesting it is time to give it a rest.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 6:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

No excuse here...

This is a prevalent problem for forums like this...


    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 6:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sorry guys, I had this post set for email notification of replies and never got any. Figured no one had anything to say. My apologies!

I live on Puget Sound, near the water. I had three contractors come out look at the situation. Not surprisingly, no one recommends repair. A heat pump is going to set me back about $13,000. A staged electric furnace with multi speed blower, about $3800.

I figure it's about 8 years to pay off the heat pump but I'm not sure we'll be here that long. We'll save some money in the winter but we'll also be tempted to use the unit in the summer when we don't _really_ need it, and that will erase some of the savings. I had a heat pump in my last home so I know how that goes.

That, and I have a kid in college so I don't want to lay out that much cash or pile on the debt. Natural gas isn't an option here either, so from all the evidence I've seen the staged electric furnace looks like the winner, although your points are well taken. If we were planning to be here longer I know the HP would clearly be the way to go.

Thank you all for your input and I am terribly sorry I wasn't back to participate sooner.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 1:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would not buy a house that relied solely on straight electric resistance heat.

You need another quote!


    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 2:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Answers to question from ionized and others: Air flow is good, just not very warm. Duct work is well insulated but not sealed. Floor has 12" of insulation, attic 20", both are well above average for around here.

One would think the furnace would be an easy thing to get checked, but the local electric company would check everything but the furnace (and did). All the heating contractors I spoke with were trying to sell me a heat pump before I finished saying hello. They didn't care much about my problem but sure had a quick answer for it.

They may well be right but I couldn't shake the feeling I was asking the fox how to guard the chickens.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 2:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Tigerdunes, you should have been standing next to me 5 years ago then. It's actually _very_ common here. Electricity is probably cheaper in the PNW than anywhere in the US, and used to be cheaper still. I live on an island with no natural gas so options are limited.

If I were to guess, I'd say of the 8,000+ homes here: 30% heat pump, 20% oil or propane, and 50% electricity ranging from baseboard junk to furnaces like mine.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 2:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I gotta ask...what are propane costs per gallon there?

I'm paying $2.85 per gallon on last fill up.
this alone was reason enough for heat pump

the jump from $3,800 to $13,000 is unreasonable.
shopping sister brands
like american standard instead of trane
could yield different results.


best of luck.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 2:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Our propane is about the same, give or take a few cents. The bids we got were for Carrier equipment, although we didn't specify them, that's just how it turned out.

I think the problem here is that we're in a small county without much competition. We can bring contractors over from Seattle but they have to take a ferry and usually don't want to.

But I can see how a HP is a pretty big project: concrete slab, electrical, copper tubing run, then all the furnace stuff, plus the freight to get the compressor to the dealer and skilled labor to make it all work. Not a simple project.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 3:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I was stationed in the area the OP lives in - mid 1970s.

I had my new home built in Silverdale, WA. Beautiful home, electric RV type furnace. No A/C.

Electricity from Nuclear and Hydro was dirt cheap. Souds like that hasn't changed.

(PS Relocated 3 years later and sold that house for 60+% more than I paid for it.)

This post was edited by saltidawg on Sun, Jan 20, 13 at 16:06

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 3:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Without knowing more details about the quote and what it included, the pricing you have received on a new HP system is absurd.

And yes, I am very familiar with your location, it's climate, and the relatively cheap hydroelectric power. Still would want a heat pump plus the added benefit of AC when needed.

You might want to see what the cost is for a two stage heat strip. Any idea of the KW size of existing? I assume it was checked out.

Good Luck

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 5:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Existing is 20kw and the new one will be a two stage heat strip with a multispeed blower. Without that I completely understand that we'd be buying a brand new 30 (50?) year old furnace. :)

FWIW, all of the bids have been close, the lowest was $11k and that was with the lowest-end Kenmore equipment. All those bids included an electric furnace, which I guess in that context is called n AHU?

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 5:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In my three years there we never once felt the need for A/C.

It will take a long, long time to recoup the $9200 difference in equipment costs - particularly with low cost electricity.

If you are currently not using any A/C, there will be no savings cost on A/C - and indeed if you do start to cool there will be an INCREASE.

If you are paying peanuts for electricity to heat, then reducing peanuts to smaller peanuts by spending and extra $9200 will take a long time.

Unless global warming has taken a toll, I'd stick with what the majority does in your area. I can't believe that a mainstream approach will hurt property values. Take the money saved and go to Alaska each summer - lol. :-)

This post was edited by saltidawg on Sun, Jan 20, 13 at 17:39

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 5:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Why not just get a staged heat strip installed in old air handler?

What size is your home?

What is average winter temp? I would expect it to be above freezing, probably low 40s.

What size is each stage of new heat strip proposed?

You realize a 20 KW heat strip is very large and yields about 69 KBTUs.

I certainly would not install a new air handler that did not at least have the high eff x-13 blower motor at a minimum.

Post back.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 5:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

With no AC I can see it being pricey. And having to take the ferry (Bremerton? Mulkiteo?) means getting the equipment there begins to cost.

When I lived there, I had a small 1bdrm apartment with baseboard heat. Coming from the East with their higher prices, I kept the heat down low for the first two months. When I finally got a bill for $12.50, I called them to ask for the real bill since this must be some kind of connection charge. No, that was the actual usage for two months.

Needless to say, I turned up the heat after that.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2013 at 4:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

IMO, replacing the entire furnace from electric to electric is not needed, don't care how old it is. The only thing that can go bad in these is the blower motor and the heating element. Replace heating element and see what happens. If you still have $500 heating bills it would be worth getting financing for a new/better furnace as others have said.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2015 at 7:41AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Thoughts on proposed HVAC system?
To start: my house is two-level (main plus upper)...
Can you vent a cooking range into a chimney?
I know you can't vent into fireplace chimney or one...
company insists on all payment in advance
Having 2 mini-splits installed, have already paid half...
HVAC billing question
Question for the pros...... So I had a faulty capacitor...
Blown in insulation vs spray foam
I am looking for advice. I have a home built in 2000...
Sponsored Products
angelo:HOME Bleeker Park Table Lamp - Red - 8567-TL
$60.00 | Hayneedle
Safavieh Indoor/Outdoor Safavieh Rugs Anatolia Silver / Light Brown 2 ft. 3 in.
Home Depot
Hamilton Black Chandelier by Schonbek Lighting
$4,125.00 | Lumens
Transcontinental Clock
| Dot & Bo
Reversible Jacquard Lumbar Pillow
Grandin Road
Luminous Rustic Ebony Finish 8-Light 25" Wide Chandelier
Lamps Plus
Grayson Heirloom Bronze One-Light Wall Sconce
$214.00 | Bellacor
Set of Two Regent Replacement Snuffers
$15.00 | FRONTGATE
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™