How to Do Winter Furnace Maintenance

If you use a furnace to heat your home in the winter, it’s important to do an annual maintenance check. Having a clean furnace in good condition can save you money on your heating bills in the long-run. More than that, a furnace that is well taken care of will last a lot longer than one that has neglected annual maintenance procedures.

Without proper servicing, furnaces can build up dirt and harmful chemicals, ultimately distributing carbon monoxide throughout the home. For all these reasons, it’s important to hire a professional to run a maintenance check on your home furnace each year.

Since servicing a home furnace requires expert-level knowledge of how the unit works, it is usually easier to hire a professional to come to your home for the job. Hiring someone to check on your furnace may come with a small cost, but it’s well worth the investment compared to buying a new furnace (they can cost upwards of $1,500).

Steps For Furnace Maintenance

If you have an oil-burning, forced air furnace, as many homes do, hiring a professional to help with regular cleaning and maintenance is recommended. A well-functioning furnace mixes fuel with air to ignite a flame that heats a sealed chamber, allowing fresh, filtered air to gradually warm up. Air is then pushed through a series of ducts, and eventually enters the heated rooms of your home via air ducts.

Before getting started on a maintenance check, your professional should turn the system entirely off. The switches that need to be deactivated to make furnace maintenance safe are usually located near the burner or at the top of your cellar stairway. The fuel shutoff valve can be found somewhere near the oil tank (or gas pipe, for gas systems). Even if you’re not planning to go through the furnace maintenance yourself, it is important to know where these various shutoff options are located in your home so that you can react safely in case of a fire or gas leak.

Cleaning and Inspecting the Combustion Chamber

Once assured no electrical or fuel supply is flowing to your furnace, your maintenance professional can begin cleaning out the combustion chamber portion of your furnace. This step is key to maintaining a functioning furnace because soot can build up in this chamber, creating dangerous conditions. Most professionals use a wire brush to scrape away at the edges of the combustion chamber. After soot and debris are successfully separated from the walls of the chamber, a vacuum is used to ensure full removal of this dirt. Before moving on, the professional should check the area for any corrosion or holes that could cause additional functionality problems down the line.

Checking the Exhaust Flue for Potential Hazards

The exhaust flue of your furnace ensures that dangerous exhaust fumes flow safely out of your home, so it’s important for this piece to be in good condition. An exhaust flue with leaks or holes could subject your home to hazardous chemicals, such as carbon monoxide. As the professional inspects the exhaust flue of your furnace, he or she will probe for small holes that can be abated using foil tape. More serious problems, such as flue corrosion, may require a piece replacement. The furnace servicer may also want to adjust the barometric damper to the exhaust flue to ensure the proper amount of chimney draw is being used. If the draw is too strong, your furnace will operate inefficiently, ultimately costing more on heating and cooling bills.

Checking the Oil Filter

For oil-burning furnaces, maintenance will also involve checking the oil filter. This piece is normally responsible for filtering out impurities that could potentially clog the burner. The burner, which ignites the system and provides warmth, can shut down or misfire if it is clogged with debris. The professional servicing your furnace may opt to replace the oil filter to ensure working condition.

Checking the Air Filter

The air filter in your home furnace ensures that warmed air flowing through the vents of your home is safe to breathe. While the air filter should not be changed too often, it is an important part of regular maintenance. Fortunately, it does not require a professional’s help to successfully replace a furnace air filter.

Checking the Blower Belt

An electric motorized blower works to move heated air from its original position in the furnace, through the ducts of your home, and out the vents in each room. If the belt is too loose, the blower may function inefficiently with air moving slower than optimal. This in turn can add unnecessary costs to your heating and cooling bills.

Checking the Burner

The professional servicing your furnace will ensure that your furnace is working efficiently so that you don’t end up spending extra money on heating and cooling. By measuring the gases in your furnace’s exhaust flue, a professional can determine whether or not the furnace is working properly. The air gates of the burner will be checked and adjusted to ration the right amount of fuel, which ensures that fuel and air entering the chimney has been properly burned first.The oil nozzle may need replacement, depending on the condition it is in and how efficiently the furnace is working. Checking the flame to see what shape and color it has can be a clear indicator of how well fuel and air is combusting before moving through the rest of the system.

Whether your furnace system makes use of floor vents or wall vents, it is important to clean out the area just behind the grate. A professional can help you do this by removing the outer piece of the vent and vacuuming the space to free it of debris. Keeping the vents clean allows your furnace to perform more optimally, driving heating costs down overall. More than that, you and your family won’t be breathing in pet hair, dust, and other allergens as you heat your home.

With a professional’s help to carry out these steps, you can be sure your furnace is working safely and efficiently this winter and rest easy knowing that you won’t overpay on heating bills.

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