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This page is dedicated to the questions and inquires I receive concerning home maintenance and repair.     Ask the inspector

How do I take care of my furnace in anticipation of winter?

A little maintenance goes a long way toward keeping your furnace working properly. Start by replacing the filter. With forced-air furnace systems, air returning to the furnace's blower first passes through an air filter designed to catch dust and debris and help clean the air before it's recycled to your home.

A good furnace filter can help reduce allergens but isn't designed to significantly improve air quality in your home. For that, you'll need a special air filter or use a filter prep spray. End Dust works very well for this - just spray the incoming side of the filter lightly.

When filters become clogged with dust and debris, they cut down on a furnace's efficiency, cause the heat exchanger to overheat and, over time, can cause parts to wear out faster. Change filters monthly. If you have air conditioning, change the filter in the summer months too. Pleated fabric or paper filters are a good, inexpensive choice for reducing dust and allergens. If you spend more than $2.00 on a filter you have spent too much.

If you have a reusable plastic or metal filter that is designed to be cleaned, I recommend throwing it away.

Here's how to change a replaceable filter:

1) Turn off the power to the furnace. There should be a “service switch” within three feet of the furnace, if not turn it off at the thermostat.

2) look for the door or panel that conceals the blower; sometimes this is marked "Filter." Lift this door or panel off of its holding hooks or unscrew its retaining screws to remove it. Some filters are housed in the cold air plenum along the side of the furnace and will have a sliding sheet metal door.

3) Standard filters are mounted next to or under the blower motor. Slide the filter out. Check to see whether it is a disposable filter or intended to be cleaned and replaced--this should be marked on the filter's edge, along with directions for cleaning if applicable. If it's a disposable filter, its size should be printed on the frame's edge. Make a note of its size.

4) Buy a replacement and slide it back into place, noting that arrows stamped on the side indicating the proper direction of airflow; be sure you place the filter in the proper direction. The arrow always faces towards the furnace.

A simple reminder to change your filter comes in the mail every month; it is your energy bill. Changing your filter every month keeps your furnace from working too hard and decreases this bill.

Now that you are in the habit of changing the filter let’s discuss thermostats. If you have a digital setback thermostat, do not set the temperature differential more than 3-5 degrees. Any more than this will cause the furnace to work harder to bring the home to temperature and defeat the whole purpose of having a setback thermostat. If you do not have a setback thermostat find a comfortable setting and leave it there, or better yet go buy a setback thermostat. It will pay for its self in the first year.

The next thing you can do for your furnace is have it cleaned and serviced every two years by a professional HVAC company. (The newer high efficiency furnaces have components that are best left to the professionals). This is also a good way to determine if your furnace is approaching its end of life. Typically a furnace has a life of between 17-20 years and just because it heats the house does not mean it’s safe to continue using. With this in mind, if your furnace does fall into this age category, please buy and install CO (Carbon Monoxide) detectors within 15 feet of any sleeping area and as close to the heat registers as possible. It is also recommended to have one on every floor of your home. CO is odorless and colorless and is known as the “silent killer”. If your furnace should fail and start producing CO a detector is cheap insurance and your life is well worth the investment.

The information contained in the article should be considered the opinion of the author and nothing more.





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