As much as we may hate to admit it, fall is here. As the days get shorter and the air gets colder, the time of year when we switch from cooling our homes to heating them is upon us. However, before you switch your furnace on and start getting your winter blankets out of storage, it is wise to perform a routine inspection and maintenance of your furnace. You don’t want something going wrong in the middle of winter when you need heat more than ever. You can spend money to have a professional come and perform the inspection and tune-up, but you can also easily perform the task yourself.
Step 1: Inspection
Before anything else, give your furnace an inspection. Check to make sure that all the vents and tubes are properly fastened and sealed, and look for any soot or residue near the burner. If you see these you should call in a professional to get the problem fixed, but if there aren’t any, you can continue your inspection. You should also take the time to smell the air around the furnace’s gas tube. If you smell rotten eggs it means there is a gas leak, which you should have fixed immediately. Once you have finished your basic inspection, you should turn on the furnace and check the burner flame. A blue, steady flame is a sign of good furnace health. If the flame is yellow, orange, or flickers, that means there is poor combustion, which needs to be fixed. With the furnace on, you should check the vents throughout the house to make sure warm air is flowing through them. You should also check the cold air return that feeds air back into the furnace. If you don’t feel any airflow through a vent, that can be a sign of a blockage in the pipes. With the inspection finished, you should turn the thermostat down and let your furnace cool. While it is cooling, clean the area around the furnace to make sure there is nothing flammable. For maximum safety for the next step, you should also turn off the circuit breaker that powers the furnace.
Step 2: Cleaning
Once the power is off and the furnace is completely cool, you should take the sides off and look inside. Double-check that the furnace wires are firmly attached and tight, and then move on to cleaning your furnace out. Use a soft brush, like a paint brush, to brush the dirt and dust off of the interior of the furnace, then use a vacuum to clear everything out. You can also use a damp rag to clean the blades of the blower fan, if you can access it. Some blower fans need oil applied to containers near it called oil cups. If yours does, now is a good time to do that. During this step you should also remove the flame sensor and carefully clean it with an emery cloth, making sure to hold it from the bottom instead of the top, and then replace it. During the cleaning stage you should also change your furnace filter. Manufacturers recommend changing your filter every month in order to prolong the life of your furnace and reduce energy use.
Step 3: Repair
While you have your furnace open, you can check the internal components like the fan belt. If you see any problems or damaged components you can fix or replace them yourself, if you are very handy, or call in a professional to fix the issue.
Step 4: Reassembly
Now that you have finished inspecting, cleaning, and handling any repairs your furnace needed, it is ready to go for the winter. Put the sides back on, turn on the breaker, and rest easy knowing that you are ready for the cold to hit.
Furnace maintenance is an important part of being a homeowner, but by following a few simple steps you can make sure your furnace is running smoothly and safely when you need it most. If you are not comfortable with performing the maintenance yourself, it is worth the cost to hire someone to do it. Better spend the money to hire a pro now, then have your furnace break down in the middle of winter.