Fall Furnace Care Check List

Posted by Van Purser on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 at 12:47pm.

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With fall now here and winter just around the corner it’s time for a annual check up on your heating system.  A typical annual check up is both necessary and cost effective.  It saves the system unnecessary wear, keeps it working efficiently and avoids the hazards of polluting the indoor air, especially with deadly carbon monoxide.  Therefore, the annual check-up should be considered more vital to your family than to the operation of the furnace.  Since all the indoor air is essentially passing through the furnace, it is imperative that the potential for air contamination be minimized and safeguarded on a regular basis.

Let’s consider a possible furnace maintenance routine, most if not all of it to be carried out by a heating and air professional.

Step 1:   Shut down the system
Homeowners should always know how to shut down the system in the case of an emergency.  All furnaces should have a service disconnect switch and homeowners should know where this switch is.  Usually located next to the furnace it should be clearly marked in the event of a fire or other emergency.  For this discussion it makes sense to turn the system off before performing any other routine.

Step 2: Inspect the combustion air intake
Many furnaces draw air from inside the home to use for combustion. Therefore the furnace closet must be properly ventilated for adequate supply of air to the combustion chamber.  An improper amount of combustion air can lead to the production of deadly carbon monoxide gas.  Homeowners have been known to block air intakes to reduce noise or heat loss inside the home.  This can be a potentially deadly mistake.  Check to make sure there is a clear source of combustion air flow to your furnace.  I would also highly recommend a carbon monoxide detector be installed near the unit for added safety.

Step 3:  Clean the combustion chamber
This is the chamber where the action takes place. Fuel mixes with the inlet air and the mixture is ignited to generate heat. But it also generates some soot, water vapor and carbon monoxide. Soot is scraped off with a wire brush and all loose debris ( rust ) is removed with a shop vacuum. The chamber is inspected for holes, cracks or signs of corrosion.  A crack in the combustion chamber ( heat exchanger ) is a serious safety concern which will require the replacement of the furnace.

Step 4: Inspect the flue pipe
The combustion products are directed through an exhaust vent pipe to the exterior of the home. Holes, cracks and rust in this exhaust pipe are a potential safety concern.  Small openings which could leak carbon monoxide and more, can sometimes be patched with foil tape. If ever in doubt, have them check out. Corroded flue pipes must be replaced. 

Step 5: Change the air filter
Just imagine all the air a family breathes in at home during the winter passes through the hvac filter.  That’s a big job except the filter is adequate only for the furnace and never for the family.  Nevertheless, you cannot change our hvac filter too often, at least several times a year is mandatory. If not done, dust and dirt can work their way into the blower and coil assemblies, reducing efficiency and slowly ruining the motor. Apart from service maintenance calls, this typically  accounts for half the calls of a furnace technician.

Step 6: Adjust the burner and test for efficiency
This is probably the most technical step in the maintenance procedure and almost certainly demands some professional expertise. A combustion analyzer is use to examine the gases in the exhaust flue pipe.  This reflects the efficiency of the furnace itself and the fuel / air ratios can be optimized for maximum efficiency.

Step 7: Check the condensate drain
The furnace produces water vapor which condenses into a drain pan which allows the water to drain out easily to contain the humidity level. If the drain is plugged, improperly attached or just sitting there, damp with debris, corrosion , accumulated dust or the like, then it becomes a breeding ground for mold and mildew.  The spores and more are dispersed throughout the home by the blower and ductwork which can create breathing and health concerns.

Step 8: Clean the supply and return registers
Dirty registers are a sign of a dirty filter.  But; what about the ducts themselves? It would like a good idea to have the ducts professionally cleaned, but this is the only controversial step in the maintenance schedule we have just recommended. In principle it seems like a good idea but the question of duct cleaning remains somewhat in dispute and that’s the next source of indoor air pollution that we will address.

Until next month……enjoy the fall weather and schedule your heating and air professional to service your furnace.

For fast professional HVAC service call Allgood Heating & Air.  We have worked with them for over 20 years.  Ask for Angela or Wayne.  770-922-1845 or tallgood@bellsouth.net.

Steve Sheffield is a full time home inspector with certifications through ASHI, American Society of Home Inspectors, and the IRC, International Residential Building Code.  He has completed over 1500 inspections since starting Hometown Inspection Services, LLC eight years ago.  Prior to starting Hometown Inspection he was in the lumber / construction supply business for over 30 years. He can be reached at:  steve@hometowninspection.com or 770-789-1463.

Van Purser and his wife Jeanne are a licensed Real Estate Brokers in Georgia.  Since1984 they successfully purchased and renovated over 400 homes.  Their expertise is in representing Buyers or Sellers as an advocate; which means always ensuring their best interest.  Additionally, they represented hundreds of clients over the years as an Associate Broker with Metro Brokers, RE/Max and now with his own firm.  He and his wife, Jeanne, have been married since 1977.   Van or Jeanne can be reached at 770-623-3313, or by email at vanpurser@vanpurser.com or jeanne@vanpurser.com

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