Check your furnace!

by Dan Krell

As we head toward the winter months, our thoughts turn towards our home furnaces. Regular furnace maintenance by a licensed heating professional can save you money and keep your family safe.

Having a qualified and licensed heating professional service your furnace is highly recommended due to the nature and complexity of the system. Having your heating professional conduct an annual furnace check can ensure that your furnace is clean and operating safely and efficiently. An annual thorough assessment of your furnace includes (but is not limited to): looking at the burner and pilot assembles; checking the heat exchanger for cracks; looking at the pilot thermocouple; examining the filter; checking vent piping; testing gas piping for leaks; testing the electronic ignition; testing the fan; adjusting the burner for efficiency; testing the limit switch; measuring the manifold gas pressure; measuring the temperature rise; checking for carbon monoxide; setting the heat anticipator; checking belt/tension; examining the draft diverter and lubricate the fan motor.

Although, having a licensed professional check your furnace is highly recommended, your heating professional can provide you with a list of items that you can check regularly. The list of light maintenance items may include: changing filters, installing a carbon monoxide detector, clearing the area around the furnace, looking for soot, and looking for vent leaks.

Replacing the furnace air filters every month, as well as ensuring the area around the furnace is free of dust and debris can help increase efficiency by as much as 3%. Dust, dirt, and household debris (such as pet dander) can clog the furnace blower, thus reducing efficiency and eject particulate in the air.

Changing the air filter can help maintain your health too! Keeping dirt and debris out of the furnace and changing the air filter regularly can reduce particulate in the air you breathe. The American Lung Association ( recommends using filters with a high MERV rating; the American Lung Association also recommends a higher frequency of filter changes when family members have asthma and allergies.

If your furnace uses a combustible fuel, you should have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home. Never operate your furnace without having a working carbon monoxide detector installed. Carbon monoxide can be produced by the combustion of fuels in your furnace. Normally, carbon monoxide is vented away safely. However if your furnace is operating properly, carbon monoxide can escape into your home causing illness or death.

Unfortunately, many of us use the areas around our furnaces for storage. Heating professionals recommend that the area around the furnace be clear of combustibles and other items because they may ignite or block air flow.

Soot on or around your furnace may be a sign that your furnace is not operating properly- you should contact a licensed heating professional immediately.

Leaks in duct work can cause a significant decrease in furnace efficiency. Regular checks of your ducts can help maintain your furnace’s peak efficiency. Heating professionals recommend leaks be sealed by a ductwork approved tape (usually foil).

Having a clean and efficient furnace will not only safely warm your family during winter, but may possibly save you money in heating costs. If you are unsure about your furnace’s maintenance, always consult a licensed professional heating contractor.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of October 20, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.