Proper maintenance of your forced-air heating system will prevent costly repairs, extend the life of your furnace and maximize efficiency. Fortunately, a do-it-yourself heating system tune-up is simple.
Change the air filter regularly.
If your home has a furnace that blows warm air through vents on the floor, wall or ceiling, it also has an air filter. The filter might be inside the furnace, but often it's located in the cold air return duct near the furnace. Filters are typically 16 inches by 25 inches (approximately 40 cm x 63 cm) and can be from 1 inch to 4 inches thick (25 cm x 10 cm). Most are disposable, but some can be cleaned and reused.
Filters have an extremely important role in the proper functioning of your furnace. A furnace's air filter enables proper air flow throughout the home. A dirty air filter dramatically reduces efficiency and prevents it from evenly distributing the warm air. A clean air filter is also important to your home's air quality; it prevents dust, dirt, pet fur and other debris from being distributed throughout the air breathed by you and your family. A clean filter can also help to protect your furnace's fan motor, fan blade and other internal components.
Air filters should be replaced a minimum of every three months. If the furnace is used daily, or if you live in a dusty environment or with several pets, you should replace it monthly. Consult your furnace owner's manual as well as the filter manufacturer packaging for additional recommendations.
There are many different types of furnace filter. However, there are two key differences: disposability and filter media. There is not much choice for a reusable filter; most are designed in a similar way. However, disposable filters tend to be rated according to the size of the particles they can trap. There are several choices. The most basic is a fiberglass media filter which does an adequate job. A more expensive filter that traps smaller particles is a better choice for those with allergies. For both types the dimensions will be the same; only the filter media will be different. However, it's important to note that the higher the filter quality, the more often it may need to be replaced. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Periodically check to make sure all heating system vents and registers are obstruction free for proper air flow.
Make sure that all flammable materials are moved at least three feet (or about one meter) from your furnace.
Relocate chemicals such as cleaning products, solvents and paint to other rooms away from the furnace.
Clean out the furnace.
Follow your furnace owner's manual for proper instructions on removing your furnace's access panels. Use your vacuum cleaner to remove dust and debris that may have settled inside of and immediately surrounding the furnace.
Inspect ductwork for air leaks.
Seal with foil duct tape designed for furnaces; you'll find this at hardware stores. Note that this differs from common, gray duct tape.
Hire the pros for an annual checkup.
Furnace manufacturers recommend a professional inspection annually. In the winter months, many heating and cooling companies heavily market inspection services. The thoroughness of these inspections varies widely so be sure to ask for details. An annual checkup should include testing and inspection of major components such as thermostat operation, heat exchanger, gas connections, blower, etc.
Every two or three years have the furnace inspector also check the ductwork to see if there is dust buildup; hire professional ventilation cleaners to remove the dust, dirt and other impurities from your ductwork. This is particularly important for people with allergies.
Pay attention to appearance and performance.
Though furnaces are generally located in low-traffic areas, make a point to pay attention to your furnace's appearance and performance. If you find any combustion residue or soot on or around the furnace, or if the burner flame is any color other than blue, call a heating and cooling technician as soon as possible. If there are changes in furnace performance (i.e. noise or the amount of time the furnace runs), check out our free troubleshooting and repair help information.
Remember to install and regularly test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Mark battery replacement on your calendar and always, always do it.