EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran in October 2019.
As winter arrives and temperatures drop, you need to make sure the furnace in your home is working properly.
The furnace is perhaps one of the most important pieces of equipment in your home. It’s what keeps air flowing through the vents, keeping you and your family toasty warm through the cold winter months.
One of the most common mistakes people make in terms of caring for the furnace is skipping filter changes.
“The filter is one of the most important things,” says Jeremy Dullen, a service manager with Rhoads Energy Corporation, 624 S Prince St., Lancaster. “You should check it every month. Change at least every 30 days.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program suggests that, at minimum, the filter should be changed every three months.
Changing the filters is not only a heating season chore. Frequent changes prevent the accumulation of dirt and debris, which can reduce efficiency and lead to equipment failure.
No matter what type of furnace you have, don’t make it work too hard. If you’ve got a drafty house, your heating system is going to be overworking itself to keep the inside warm while cold air keeps coming in.
Small projects like weather stripping windows and doors, sealing and insulating ductwork, or adding insulation to the attic can help.
“Adjusting the ceiling fan to a low speed in a clockwise direction pulls the cooler air up toward the ceiling, which in turn moves the warm air down toward the floor,” says Jenna Kaufman of Lancaster Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical, 1184 Enterprise Rd, East Petersburg.
There are several things you should do to ensure your furnace stays running in peak condition when it's cold outside.
Here are some basic maintenance tasks:
Clean or replace your filter. The filter in your furnace does a crucial job in the process of delivering warm air throughout the rooms in your home. It removes all kinds of particulates, including dust, dust mites, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, spores and more.
Make sure all household vents are clean and clear. In order for your heating system to work properly, the air in your house must circulate completely throughout the system. Closing a vent down or blocking it can cause the furnace to work hard and less efficiently, eventually damaging it before its time.
Adjust the return registers. For heating season, open the lower registers and close the top registers to keep hot air in and the cold air out. Hot air rises and cold air falls. Since cold air is heavy, it will flow down to the lower register.
Remove all flammable objects from around your furnace. Nothing flammable – clothes, paint, aerosols, gasoline, boxes and other household items - should be placed in the general vicinity of your furnace or water heater.
For gas furnaces, verify the exhaust flue to the outside is clear. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide can be found in the fumes from your furnace, especially if it hasn’t been serviced in a while. If the exhaust flue is blocked and doesn’t allow air to move freely from inside the system to outside of your home, this can cause serious health problems or death. If you suspect a problem, call a professional immediately and have it checked out.
If your furnace goes out during severely cold weather, your home could be more susceptible to other problems like frozen pipes.
“To prevent pipes from freezing, install heat tape on any piping on an exterior wall or pipes exposed to the elements,” Kaufman says.
How often should a furnace be cleaned?
“We recommend annual system checks and safety inspections as per manufacturer recommendations,” Kaufman says.
A pre-season checkup by a professional is an absolute must. A heating contractor will make sure that your thermostat is working accurately and that your system is cycling on and off properly.
“It’s best to get it done at the end of summer when it’s easier to schedule an appointment because once it starts to get cold, contractors get really busy,” Dullen says.