With the first blast of cold weather, most people have their home heating systems up and running. but just how well is your furnace, boiler or heat pump working? And is it working safely?
Home heating experts recommend having a professional service your furnace to keep it in good running order and prevent it from failing when you need it most. Two seasonal inspections and service will prolong the life of the system, save energy and decrease health risks. There should be an inspection and cleaning for the heating season and another for the cooling season.
Some HVAC experts say up to 75 percent of no-heat calls in the winter are related to a lack of maintenance. Left unserviced, a furnace can stop working suddenly, leaving you and your family in the cold.
It can also be a health hazard. Technicians say a furnace inspection can reveal carbon monoxide leaks, which are hard to detect because the gas is colorless and odorless. Carbon monoxide can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea and even death. An estimated 500 people die each year, and 15,000 people are taken to emergency rooms, because of exposure.
Not maintaining your furnace — whether it’s gas or electric — can cause it to run less efficiently, making it work even harder, therefore increasing your monthly energy bills, experts say.
If you have a company out to do an inspection only, you may have to pay a small trip charge or service fee. Ask if that amount will come off your bill, if you have work done. If your inspection includes a furnace tune up, sometimes known as a furnace cleaning, that typically costs an average of about $60 to $85.
A winter heating check should include:
- Checking the thermostat settings to make sure the system is properly running.
- Inspection of electrical connections and testing voltage on the system components to prevent any component failure in the future.
- Lubricate and adjust blower motors, belts and other moving parts if necessary.
- Inspect the condensate drain so it’s not obstructed.
- Check the system start-up and shutdown controls for proper operations.
- Change the furnace air filter.
- If the furnace burns natural gas, propane or oil, the combustion chamber and burners should be inspected for rust, cracks and other deficiencies.
- A furnace with a chimney should be inspected for cracks and leaks that allow combustion fumes to remain in the house, or combined with circulated air used for heating. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be serious and in many cases, fatal.
Another energy savings tip, HVAC professionals say, is using a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat can save you up to 10 percent on energy bills, if you dial it down seven or eight degrees from the normal temperature setting — the U.S. Department of Energy recommends a setting of 68 degrees — for eight hours a day, whether it’s during the work day or at night, according to DOE.
Even newer systems need to be inspected twice a year. In many cases to maintain a warranty on a new furnace or air conditioning systems, manufacturers require regular system maintenance and documentation that it’s taken place. Many manufacturers require you to have regular maintenance and to have a record of that. If you would ever have a warranty claim, that manufacturer has the ability to ask you for those service records. It makes sense if you have a warranty, you want to make sure you keep it intact.