Check Your Furnace Before Cold Weather Hits

So far the weather has been mild as we head into winter, but as anyone who has spent time in Kansas City in the winter knows, we won’t escape bitter temperatures for long and they will be here sooner than we’d like. Before you turn on your furnace for the season, it’s important that you inspect it to make sure it is operational, safe, and energy-efficient.

It is best to have your furnace inspected by a professional, such as Overland Park Heating and Cooling, at least once a year before the start of heating season, but there are some things you can do yourself to ensure your furnace is running optimally and ready for use while you wait for a professional tune-up:

  • Change the furnace filter. It should be changed at least once every three months, more often if it gets dirty quickly. Check it after every 30 days of operation to see if it needs to be replaced. Also, if you have a flat filter, consider upgrading to a pleated filter, HEPA filter, or electrostatic filter, which will increase the energy efficiency of your furnace and improve air flow.
  • Clean your air vents and ducts by removing the covers and using the extension hose of your vacuum to remove any accumulated dust or debris.
  • Test the thermostat by switching it from cooling to heating and make sure it is working properly. Consider replacing an older thermostat with a new set-back thermostat that will save energy and money.
  • To minimize the risk of fire hazards, remove any items that are stored within three feet of your furnace or that are sitting on top of or in front of your air ducts and return vents.
  • Make sure that registers throughout the house are in the open position, even in unused rooms. This will ensure optimal efficiency for your heating system.
  • Make sure you have carbon monoxide and smoke detectors installed and operating. Install fresh batteries into each unit.

Different types of furnaces have specific steps that need to be taken to ensure proper operation:

Gas or propane furnace
Start by checking to see if the filter needs to be changed. It should be checked every 30 days and replaced at least once every 3 months. You can determine the efficiency of your furnace by checking what type of flue it has. If you have a metal flue, your furnace is likely an older, inefficient unit. If the flue is metal but the furnace has a draft-induced fan to force fumes out through flue, you likely have a mid-efficiency unit. If your furnace has a PVC plastic flue, you have a high-efficiency unit, also called a condensing furnace.

If you are able to access the burner area of your furnace, inspect it for metal fatigue, cracks, rusting, or flaking. With the burners on, check the color of the flames. They should be blue, not yellow, and should be steady rather than moving around. With a condensing furnace, the burner it usually sealed but still visible through a glass window. Check it for signs of rusting inside the burner compartment but make sure you do not touch the condensate water as leaks inside a condensing furnace can be acidic and the water cause skin burns and cause the metal compartment to rust.

The metal flue pipes should have a positive rise from the furnace to the chimney or main flue connection. Look for rusting or holes on the metal flues and replace them if needed. The flue on a condensing furnace should drain back toward the furnace. A water heater flue should be connected to the chimney or main flue above the metal flue pipe from the furnace. The PVC flue will vent by itself to the exterior of the home.

Electric furnace
As with a gas furnace, your first step should be to check the filter to ensure that it is clean. It should be changed every one to three months, depending on the usage. Check it after every 30 days of operation to see if it needs to be changed. Next, set your thermostat to emergency heat if you have a heat pump or just to heat if you do not have heat pump. Increase the temperature so that the furnace comes on and use a thermometer, a candy or meat thermometer will work, to check the temperature of the air exiting a register close to the thermostat. If it is operating properly, the temperature should rise to 100 to 120 degrees. If you have a heat pump, turn the temperature down until the unit stops running. Next, set the thermostat to the heat setting and turn the temperature back up until the furnace kicks back on again. Use the thermometer to check the temperature at the register once more. With a heat pump, the temperature should be at or above 100 degrees.

Ensure that the power and the water to the unit are turned on. Check for any signs of a leak at the burner area, valves, pipes, circulating, pumps, and radiators. Also check inside the burner for signs of metal fatigue, rusting or flaking that could block the burners. If you have an expansion tank, tap on it to make sure it is not full of water.

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces
The flues or chimney liners for a wood stove or fireplace should be inspected by a professional chimney sweep twice a year. This should be done before using the wood stove or fireplace for the first time each season. Any combustible material should be kept at least four feet from the wood stove, although some wood stoves require a greater distance. Check your wood stove for the recommended clearance.

Addressing problems
If you find anything that indicates there is a problem or that repairs are needed, contact a trained HVAC professional, such as Overland Park Heating and Cooling