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When the weather gets cold, homeowners rely on their heating systems to stay warm. If the system breaks down, especially during a big chill, it can be dangerous. Plus, repairs or replacement can get very expensive.

Is your heating unit on its way out or in need of attention? The pros at Massachusetts-based 128 Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electric offer these warning signs to look out for:

Age of the system. The average lifespan of a heating system is 15 to 20 years. As a heating unit ages, it falls behind in terms of efficiency. A high-efficiency system uses less energy to run, which typically means a lower monthly gas or oil bill. Band-Aid repairs on old units can easily waste money.

Strange and unusual noises. Noises, particularly metallic or scraping sounds, can be an indicator that a service call is needed for repair. If you detect such a sound, turn off the unit immediately for inspection to prevent further damage.

Uneven heating of the home. This can indicate a number of issues, some of which you can solve on your own. Furniture blocking vents can obstruct air flow, and dirty filters can restrict flow to the entire home. However, if these are checked and the issue still exists, a service call may be needed to clear obstructed ductwork or repair the unit. When you have one room that gets too hot while another doesn’t heat, there is an unbalanced distribution of heat that could be very costly depending on the location of the thermostat.

Increasing energy bills. Once your energy costs increase without a reasonable explanation, chances are your heating system isn’t working as efficiently anymore. This is usually the case with older heating systems, but newer systems can also start to fail and become less efficient.

Increasing runtime. If your heating system runs constantly, beyond adjusting for winter temperatures, it can be an indication of loss of efficiency or a thermostat issue.

Excessive repairs. If repairs are becoming more frequent, expenses are increasing and the same problems are reoccurring, it’s most likely time to replace the entire unit. Replacing it with a current model will not only cut down on time and money spent on repairs and service calls, but also help save on monthly energy bills thanks to newer energy-saving standards.

Some issues can be minor, while others might require a full unit replacement. Of course, the best way to protect your home heating system is to have it regularly serviced and maintained by a professional.

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