Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Angie Hicks
Fall is the time to schedule an inspection and tuneup to make sure one of the home’s most complex systems works.
Here’s a hot tip for fall: Take action now so that a furnace problem doesn’t leave you in the cold.
An inspection and tuneup will help ensure that your heating system is winter-ready, safe and efficient.
Our consumer-services researchers found that the price of a furnace inspection can start as low as $65 to $85. But the cost of neglecting furnace maintenance can be high, not only in terms of cost, but in convenience and safety.
Heating pros tell our team that 75 percent of emergency winter calls can be attributed to lack of maintenance. A neglected heating system may break down when you most need it. It can also lead to higher energy bills. In the worst-case scenario, an untended furnace may emit colorless, odorless but deadly carbon monoxide.
Our researchers found that during a thorough heating-system inspection, a technician will:
• Check electrical connections and test voltage, to make sure system components aren’t likely to fail any time soon.
• Lubricate moving parts. Insufficient lubrication can decrease overall efficiency and create early wear and tear.
• Make sure the condensation drain for your home’s air conditioner, furnace or heat pump isn’t clogged. An obstructed drain can cause water damage, high humidity and mold or bacteria growth.
• Check startup and shutdown controls. The start and stop cycles, usually based on thermostat settings, should be checked to make sure the system is operating properly and safely and heating as programmed.
• Check, clean or replace the air filter.
• Inspect exhaust outlets. Improper exhausting may cause a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide or other gases. During a seasonal maintenance tuneup, the chimney flue or vent stack should be checked to ensure there’s no corrosion, leaks or back drafting.
• Check fuel lines and connections and burners and heat exchangers. Leaky or disconnected fuel lines or connections present a safety risk and lower system efficiency. Burners with accumulations of soot and cracked heat exchangers also compromise a system’s energy efficiency.
Aside from scheduling an expert inspection and tuneup, there are several things you can do to improve your system’s efficiency:
• Replace filters regularly. Experts recommend changing them at least every three months, but your system may require more frequent changing. A clogged air filter will restrict air flow, causing the unit to work harder. This reduces its lifespan and raises your utility bills. If you’re unsure how to deal with the filter, ask for help from your HVAC contractor during the routine maintenance visit.
• Install a programmable thermostat. These can save you up to 10 percent on your energy bills, since they allow you to avoid overheating your house when nobody’s home, for example.
It’s important to hire a well-trained and properly licensed professional to keep your furnace in tiptop shape. Heating and cooling systems comprise one of the home’s most complex systems. Also, many states require heating and cooling professionals to be licensed.
When hiring a company to maintain your furnace, ask for and check references. Also, confirm that the company is appropriately licensed, insured and bonded.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.