How to Maintain Your Furnace for the Winter

Winter is a miserable season for most of the country, but doubly so for families who fail to maintain their furnace ahead of the frigid days and nights. Staying ahead of furnace maintenance not only helps avoid problems but also extends the lifespan of your furnace.

Here are some steps to help prepare your home furnace to operate efficiently without wasting energy or risking harmful emissions.

Start Your Maintenance Early

If your furnace is going to fail you, it’s likely to do so at the worst possible time, such as the very apex of a brutal winter storm. You can prevent this calamity with a proactive approach that approaches furnace maintenance before the heating season begins. If the unit cools as well, a second maintenance check in the spring will help identify problems before warmer weather arrives.

Perform a Visual Inspection

First, it’s time to give your furnace a visual once-over, inside and out. Inspect the visible sections of ductwork, heating registers, and vents. The venting pipe should be securely fastened and angled properly. Inspect the blower belt for cracks. Turn off the power to the furnace at the main circuit breaker first. You can then use a screwdriver to take off the steel cover of the air handler. The blower belt is the largest rubber belt you can see.

If you do find cracks in belts, dust blowing out of registers, poor connections or significant leaks in the ducts, you should consider calling in an HVAC professional because the problems that you can see in the furnace or ductwork suggest similar problems in places that you can’t see.

Finally, take a moment to smell the system’s gas flex. If you can smell the aroma of rotten eggs, it means that the furnace has a gas leak and needs professional attention.

Change the Furnace Filter

No matter what size furnace filter you use, they need to be replaced regularly. A dirty air filter compromises the entire system and drastically reduces the lifetime of the system. A dirty filter can also help spread harmful allergens throughout the house.

To check an air filter, hold it up to the light; if you have trouble seeing through the filter membrane, replace it. While some professionals recommend replacing the air filter every month, you can save yourself some time and hassle by upgrading to a better filter, such as a pleated filter, HEPA filter or electrostatic filter, which can be replaced every three to six months and provide better air quality in your home than traditional filters.

Clean the Furnace

Dirt and dust are the enemies of a well-functioning furnace. A dirty furnace burns more fuel than it normally needs, which increases the energy bill on a house. Regular cleaning of the motor, blower, and filter will increase efficiency and help drive down those high energy bills. You may also need to lubricate moving parts in the mechanical components of your furnace. Follow the recommended instructions for your specific brand and model, or contract with an HVAC professional for a furnace tune-up.

Learn to Program Your Thermostat

Unfortunately, like DVD players, learning to correctly operate a modern programmable thermostat is sometimes not an intuitive process. It’s worth digging into that operating manual and learning how to do it, though. According to Energy Star, a programmable thermostat can save you ten to thirty percent off your home utility bill. Program the thermostat so that it automatically lowers the temperature while you are asleep or away from your home to achieve real savings on your energy bill.