What to do before turning on your furnace


As brisk fall weather approaches, many people are preparing to shut their windows and fire up their furnaces. But turning the dial on the thermostat before a proper checkup could lead to health and mechanical problems, heating and cooling experts say.

Mark Patrick, project manager at Henson Robinson Co. in Springfield, Ill., said furnaces tend to be out of sight and out of mind for the average homeowner six to eight months out of the year. But during that time, dust piles up, critical parts of the furnace malfunction and pipes sometimes rust, which can lead to the unit breaking down or even emitting carbon monoxide into your home.

“The average person forgets about it before it quits,” Patrick said. “In particular with gas (furnaces), whether it’s natural or propane, it’s imperative that people get their furnaces checked out by a qualified contractor to take a look at heat exchangers and (the) venting system to make sure they work properly.”

Leigh Pettus, service manager at Mike Williams Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Springfield, Ill., said manufacturers recommend having furnaces inspected yearly. She said professionals can use infrared cameras to help determine potential problems.

Patrick said homeowners also can take several steps to help ensure their furnace is operating efficiently. The easiest and most important thing people can do is clean and replace filters regularly, he says. Residents with pets, small children or older furnaces should do that monthly, while newer furnaces can last up to six months before changing.

Finding the correct filter is also critical. Patrick says homeowners with older furnaces need to be careful not to purchase thick filters because the blower may not be powerful enough to pass air through the filter. In addition to cleaning and changing the furnace filters regularly, cleanliness in and around the furnace is a top priority.

Residents should clean the heat coil, make sure boxes are not stored nearby and remove flammable materials from the area before activating their furnaces this year.

“Cleanliness is the key to anything lasting longer,” Patrick said.

Inside your house, checking to see if the majority of vents are open is vital. Several closed vents will not hurt your furnace, but having more than that shut could cause a problem.

Pettus says double-checking the battery life in the carbon monoxide detector is also a good idea. If your carbon monoxide detector beeps after igniting the furnace, call a professional to determine where the leak is.

Another benefit to getting your furnace tuned up is saving money. Pettus says residents, on average, can experience a 16 percent drop in utility bills if everything is clean and working properly on their furnaces.

Both Patrick and Pettus say late September to early October is a good time for a furnace checkup.