Thursday, December 9, 2010

What you can do Yourself to Maintain your Furnace

Winter is in full force and while you're well aware of how well your heater is performing, let's talk about how you can keep it running in top shape. First of all, if you do not feel capable of handling any of the following steps on your own, do yourself a  favour and hire a heating and air conditioning professional. 

Preventative Furnace Maintenance - Keep it Clean!
Like all appliances and home machinery, you want to keep your furnace clean.  A build up of dirt and dust can mean a breakdown the efficiency of your heating system.  Nowadays, who can afford to waste anything, let alone fuel?  These steps apply whether you are doing gas furnace maintenance, oil or electric furnace.

There are three areas you want to pay attention to when it comes to furnace maintenance.  They are the furnace filters, the blower and the motor, and should apply if you have a Bryant, Rheem, Goodman etc.

Furnace Maintenance - Filters:
This is a critical step in furnace maintenance, but how often you clean or replace your furnace filters will depend on a few factors.  If it doesn't need to be changed yet, why do so?  Hold a dirty filter up to a burning light bulb.  If you can see a clear outline of the bulb, your filter is still good.  When it gets to the point you can't see the bulb, time for a new one.  If you have pets, or are a smoker, you'll need to change the furnace filter more often. 

You may think changing the filter isn't that big of a deal, but when your furnace's blower motor burns out because your clogged filter restricted too much air flow, you will.  A new motor is going to cost you a lot more than a filter.

Furnace Maintenance - Blower & Motor:
Clean the blower assembly.  Check to make sure the belt isn't loose or damaged.  Assuming your furnace doesn't have a sealed blower motor, put a few drops of oil in the motor.  Now the blower motor is running smoothly and efficiently, and your heating system should keep you warm this winter.

A few furnace tips worth noting.  Your heating and air conditioning vents are there for a reason.  Neither your return air vents nor your supply registers should be obstructed by furniture or anything else.  Air needs to circulate through them freely.  And that includes filters that are used at the vent.  Are they trapping lots of junk?  They're likely trapping lots of air too. Don't be surprised if a new blower motor is in your future!  If you absolutely must use thick filters of any sort, have the static pressure tested at both the return and supply vents to make sure you're getting the required minimum airflow for your furnace.  According to HVAC pros, if a better, thicker filter is added anywhere, they generally have to rework existing return vents or add new ones.  

Does your furnace room double as a storage closet?  Bad idea.  No kind of flammable material should be stored anywhere near your furnace or water heater.  And speaking of your furnace room.  Did you know that your furnace and water heater need a lot of combustion air?  Unless your furnace has a fresh air vent installed and piped to the exterior of your house--and no, that does NOT mean your chimney!--you need to have a vented furnace room.  Here's the calculation: If the volume of space in your furnace room is smaller than 50 cubic feet per 1,000 BTU/h, including both your furnace and water heater, you need to vent the room. 

"I need a Pro!"
So, have you decided you'd rather go with an HVAC (Heating Ventilating Air Conditioning) pro?  Prices for a furnace tune-up vary by area.  Of course, the services offered with your furnace tune-up may vary too, but here are some of the things you can expect done to keep your heating system in good shape:

A typical furnace tune-up:
  • check the operation of burner
  • inspect the heat exchanger
  • check the blower operation (clean if needed)
  • check the amperage (oil if needed)
  • check the fan belt
  • check the condensate drain
  • check the condensate drain wiring
  • inspect the wiring for cracks or loose connections visually inspect the heat exchanger for cracks
  • check the calibration and operation of limit controls (limit switch, pressure switch and roll out switch)
  • check the fan limit, check the high limits
  • check the thermostat calibration and anticipator
  • check the operation of the ventor
  • check for carbon monoxide near the furnace and throughout the house