Check Out Your Heating System Before Winter

Have your home heating system inspected annually before winter. Some tasks such as cleaning or replacing the filters you can easily do yourself.

If you’re like many people you probably don’t give much thought to your home’s furnace … until winter comes and the snow flies.

But if you wait until that first real cold spell you could find that local heating and cooling contractors are too busy to visit your home, so why not plan ahead a little and take care of your furnace now?

Call in an HVAC Pro Annually

Most HVAC companies will visit your home and perform a 20 point inspection for between $100 and $200. Especially if you have not had such an inspection done in the last 12 months, call for an appointment now! It’s a small investment compared to the cost of running your heater all winter in less-than-optimal condition or having to make major repairs to your heating system down the road.

Be sure you hire a contractor who is licensed to perform heating and cooling system maintenance in your state and who is trained and authorized by the manufacturer of the brand system installed in your home. If the company completes the inspection and finds major problems or suggests your system needs a complete overhaul or replacement you should consider getting at least one other company to inspect the system so that you have another opinion; while most HVAC contractors are honest and legitimate, you could end up with that one shady character!

When your HVAC contractor performs this inspection, be sure to follow the steps being completed, ask questions and take notes. This way you’ll know what tasks are important and which you may be able to do yourself and what things to look for when inspecting the system yourself between annual maintenance.

What’s involved with Servicing a Central Heating System?

A large percentage of suburban American homes have central HVAC (heating and air conditioning systems) that use ductwork to vent warm or cool air throughout the home as needed. Most of these central systems burn either oil or gas, but the basic service procedures are similar and should get an annual checkup.

Failing to perform a yearly cleaning and inspection can reduce the life of your heating system and reduce its efficiency or worse; a blocked HVAC system could cause carbon monoxide to be pumped into your home, creating unsafe living conditions, or your system could fail altogether.

Most central HVAC systems have fairly standard components and if you are handy with basic tools and home maintenance tasks you can do at least part of the work yourself. Basic heating system maintenance you can perform yourself includes:

  • Before the first cold spell of the season, test your heating system; check that the thermostat and fan switch operate properly and that warm air flows freely from all vents.
  • If your system burns natural gas, check the pilot light. The flame should be clear and blue; if the pilot light flame is orange or yellow you may have a problem and should call a professional.
  • One of the most important tasks you can perform yourself is to regularly clean or replace all filters in your system, something you should do every 60 to 90 days or at whatever interval your system’s manufacturer recommends. Clean filters allow air to flow freely, enabling your heater to run at optimal efficiency and extending the useful life of your heating system.
  • Always be sure that heating vents are clear of obstructions such as furnishings, draperies, etc. While you may not like the way vents in your floors, walls or ceilings look, you do not want to block the air flow!

Before you work on your home’s heating or cooling system, you should take these steps:

  • Check to be sure your system has power; check the circuit breaker or fuse. Some systems will also have a reset button and/or a separate power switch; be sure you know the location and operation of these features. If you aren’t sure, ask your HVAC contractor or technician during the annual inspection and make notes for future reference.
  • Check the settings on the thermostat; set it five or so degrees warmer that the current temperature inside your home when testing it for proper operation just to be sure the system comes on.
  • Be sure your system has plenty of heating oil if your system burns oil. Otherwise, if your system burns natural gas, check to be sure the gas supply is on and the pilot light is lit.

Always follow your HVAC manufacturer’s instruction manual and take safety precautions when performing system maintenance:

  • Before you begin work on any heating or cooling system, check that you have turned off all power to the system. Trip the circuit breaker or remove the fuse that controls power to the system at the main service panel or, if you’re not sure which circuit runs the system, trip the main circuit breaker or remove the main fuse to shut off all power to your home. In some cases, the furnace will have its own separate service panel; if so trip the breaker or remove the fuse there.
  • If the circuit trips or the fuse blows repeatedly when you try to turn on the system, you may have a potentially serious electrical issue and should call a professional HVAC technician to inspect the problem.
  • If you ever smell natural gas or heating oil in your home, don’t attempt to shut off the fuel source or turn lights on or off; get out of the house immediately and call your gas company or fire department and report a leak.

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