larry-tseng-RT4xKOKYDas-unsplashThe onset of subzero temperatures brings us an influx of phone calls regarding problems with furnaces.  As temperatures drop, we begin to demand increasingly more from our furnaces, but unfortunately many aren’t up to the challenge.  Since we still have several months of cold weather ahead, this is still a good time to make sure that your heating system is in good working condition and prepared for the workload ahead.  (Much of the following information can be addressed by a licensed HVAC technician; however, if you wish to have more than just your heating system evaluated, our Maintenance Check-up is an excellent idea).

For most of us, regular care of a furnace isn’t a top priority – until it stops working.  The first step in ensuring that that doesn’t happen is to find out when the unit was last serviced.  Was it done recently?  If not, the blower and inducing motors may need servicing.  These components can become dirty, work themselves loose, or the bearings can deteriorate.  Listen to the furnace while it is running; you can often detect odd noises that might indicate whether one of these situations is developing.  Fixing a problem in its early stages can save your furnace, not to mention your wallet.

A closeup of an ignited home furnace burner

Another key component of your furnace is the filter, which removes excess particles from the air as it enters the unit.  It is generally recommended to change your filter once a month, especially in summer and winter when the blower is working excessively.  There are different types of filters on the market, including high-allergen filters (often listed as MERV 9 or above); however, we do not recommend the allergen filters because they are so thick that they can place excess strain on the furnace.  Instead, we recommend the more inexpensive filters with a lower MERV rating, replaced a bit more frequently.

With freezing temperatures comes dry air.  Our humidifiers are therefore working on overdrive as well.  Humidifier pads can develop calcium build-up from water sources, which blocks the flow of water and diverts it to areas it shouldn’t be going.  A common example is when humidifier water is diverted into the furnace itself, causing rust, damage, and eventual furnace failure.  If you haven’t changed the pad in a while, inspect the area around the furnace.  Look for water dripping under the humidifier or onto the furnace; these are signs that the unit is blocked and water is being misdirected.  A general guideline to follow is to change your humidifier pad once each year, so if you haven’t changed it yet, now is a good time.  It is easy to do, but you can have an HVAC technician do it, especially if you have one coming out for general servicing already.

Female hand sliding a new air filter into a furnace.

A new furnace filter slides right into place

Changing your own furnace filter and humidifier pad is relatively easy, and you can find both at most Big Box and hardware stores.  Look for the name and model number on the side of your furnace unit, so you can purchase the appropriate size filter and pad.  If you can’t find this information, you can pull the cover off of the humidifier and measure the pad, or simply take a few pictures that you can show to a salesperson at the store.  The furnace filter location depends on the model, and can be a bit more difficult to find.  It may be located on the side, bottom, or top of the unit, either easily accessible on the outside, or inside the unit where it is difficult to access.  However, they should generally be located in the area where the return air duct connects with the main furnace unit.  A professional technician can show you where your particular components are located.  But, if we have performed an inspection on your home in the past, you can luckily call us for help!

Again, an HVAC technician can do all of these things for you, and this regular check-up should be done on an annual basis.  An added benefit to hiring a professional is that, if you have a company come out to service the system every year, when a problem does come up (like your furnace shutting down on a below-zero night!) you’ll likely be near the top of their priority list versus a new client calling for the first time.

Lastly, if you have other concerns about your home in addition to your heating system, our Maintenance Check-up is an excellent service to provide you with peace of mind.  The Check-up is identical to a pre-sale home inspection, providing you with an objective and utterly thorough analysis of all of your home’s systems – areas such as the roof, plumbing, electrical system, foundation, and everything in-between, including the furnace.

To read more about our Maintenance Check-up, click here.