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Prepping Your Furnace for the Winter Months

Your furnace may need some TLC before starting it up this winter. Here are some tips on what to do to get your furnace prepped before the cold months arrive.

Prepping furnace for the winter iStock

Turning on a heater after a long time can yield an unwelcome surprise. Imagine it’s the season’s first wintry day. It’s chilly enough in your house that you turn on the heat. After about thirty minutes, you realize that you’re still cold. You check your thermostat, only to find that the heat is on, but there doesn’t seem to be anything happening. The day’s forecast calls for even colder weather to come, and the thought of being without heat has you in a frenzy.

Of course, you could call an HVAC technician for an emergency house call but considering that others invariably have the same problem, you may not get help for quite some time. To avoid this uncomfortable scenario, it’s a good idea to perform some annual furnace maintenance in advance of winter. Here’s how.

Start By Making Sure You Have a Clean Filter

Plenty of dust can collect on the furnace’s filter during use, and one of the easiest ways to ensure your system’s optimal performance is to replace the filter. So, before you turn your heat on for the winter, choose one of the best furnace filters and swap it out for the old one. Experts recommend that you replace your filter at least once every three months. But for maximum efficiency and to prevent thick dirt buildup on your filter, it is a good idea to check it monthly and replace it as needed.

Run Your Heat Briefly in the Fall to Check for Issues

Another good idea for winter furnace prep is to ensure that your heating system runs. The best test is to turn your system on in the fall and run it above your home’s room temperature. Once the system starts, listen for unusual noises and check for strange odors. Initially, you may detect a burning smell, which could be something as simple as burning dust that’s found its way into the system. It will go away after running the heat for a while.

Odors that aren’t normal are those that smell like burning plastic or electrical wiring. In such instances, getting an inspection by a professional is a good idea. An expert can also perform an extensive furnace cleaning on more intricate parts of the system.

For dust on the surface of your furnace, you can wipe it away with a damp microfiber towel.

Install a New Thermostat

Another consideration as you prep your furnace for winter is to get rid of that old thermostat and replace it with an energy-efficient one. You can choose a programmable thermostat or upgrade to a smart thermostat.

Both kinds of thermostats give you greater control over your home’s energy use. With a programable thermostat, you can set temperatures and times. Then, throughout the day, the thermostat will control your home’s heat levels overnight and while you’re away at work. A smart thermostat will do what a programable one will do, but the advantage is that you can control it from your smartphone or even a smartwatch. So, if you forget to program your thermostat while on the go, you can remedy the problem, so you won’t have to come home to a cold house.

Check for What’s Not So Obvious

Sometimes problems with your furnace can be simple to fix but not so obvious to detect. Here are some things to check for that may not be readily apparent.

Look for a pilot light

One problem with your furnace may be that your pilot light isn’t lit. Solving this issue may be as simple as relighting it with a flame or pressing an ignitor button. However, if you smell gas or can’t figure out how to light the pilot, it’s best to call in a pro.

Examine the circuit breaker

Another not-so-obvious problem may lie in your power supply. Before you panic and assume your heating system needs repair or replacement, check the circuit box. Someone may have turned this switch off, particularly if you’ve recently had repairs done in your home. Or the circuit may have shut off for some other reason, possibly even be a short in the wiring. In such instances, your problem may not be your HVAC system at all and you’ll have to call an electrician.

Hire a Professional to Perform an Annual Inspection

You can do a few things to get your furnace ready for winter. However, it may be ideal to hire a professional to perform an inspection on your system to ensure it is functioning and ready for winter use. Here are a few essential tips when calling in an HVAC pro.

  • Start by checking reviews online
  • Find a nationally certified HVAC contractor
  • Ask friends, neighbors, and colleagues for references
  • Discover how much the inspection will cost
  • Check for special offers to save money
  • Interview the companies you’re considering hiring
  • Get an estimate in writing

If you hire a professional, they may determine that you need a new furnace. New furnace costs, including the new unit and labor, could run between $1,500 and $9,500, depending on the type of furnace you need. If a new furnace is outside your budget, some companies offer pricing plans that allow you to finance the purchase of a new system.

Check All Fire and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Since a faulty furnace can cause a fire or release carbon monoxide into the air, it is a good idea to ensure that your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working. Start by replacing the batteries in them, and consider upgrading to newer models if they’re outdated.