Homeowner’s Furnace Maintenance Guide
Here is your copy of the official Homeowner’s Furnace Maintenance Guide.
It was written to help homeowners like you to take care of your home furnace. Although your furnace is a complex machine, with the help of this article you’ll be taking care of it like a pro.
As an added bonus, because you’ll be more familiar with your furnace, you’ll be more aware when your furnace develops an issue and you need to call in your service provider.
As an even greater bonus, if a shady mechanic tries to hoodwink you with a bogus repair bill, you’ll be better prepared to reject his advice.
Why Should I Maintain My Furnace?
You will save money!
Keeping your furnace well maintained will help it to run well and to use less energy.
Also, well maintained furnaces last a lot longer. If they are dusty and dirty the parts start to clog up and overheat and fail.
How Often Should I Maintain My Furnace?
At an absolute minimum, four times per year. If your furnace is running during the winter it should be maintained every month!
Changing your furnace filter once a month during the winter is a really, really good idea.
Actually, maintaining your furnace all of the time is a really good idea. After all, it provides heat for your family and prevents the water pipes from freezing, no?
I realize that most people aren’t actually going to maintain their furnace all of the time…
If you do manage to do basic maintenance once a month you’ll be way ahead of most people. And basic furnace maintenance only takes about ten minutes of your time.
When Should I Call In A Service Provider?
Don’t confuse your basic maintenance and upkeep of your furnace with tuning and repairing your furnace.
Only a professionally trained HVAC mechanic can do that. If you notice any unusual sounds or smells coming from your furnace it’s time to call a pro.
By the way, if the term HVAC confuses you, here is a great description of the acronym for you.
Who Should I Call?
A great place to start to answer that question is your furnace manufacturer.
If you go to your furnace manufacturer’s website, they will help you find a qualified repair company.
For example, if you own a Trane furnace, you will find a link for emergency repair services right on their main page. Have a look for yourself right here.
Enough with the blah blah already! Let’s get on with the tips to help you maintain your furnace!
Furnace Maintenance Tips
Tip # 1.
Change your filter.
If your filter is so clogged up and dirty that air cannot flow through it, your furnace will begin to overheat.
When your furnace begins to overheat, your heat exchanger will begin to suffer from metal fatigue.
When your heat exchanger suffers from metal fatigue, it will begin to crack.
If your heat exchanger cracks, the products of combustion can combine with the breathing zone air in your house. This is a bad thing because the products of combustion can kill you.
Carbon Monoxide is very dangerous. It is a poisonous, colorless, and odorless gas and can kill you at only 400 parts per million of air volume.
Luckily for us, an engineer somewhere thought about this possibility and installed a safety device to prevent this from happening.
It is called a high limit switch and it looks like this
or like this
The purpose of the high limit switch is to shut down the furnace if it gets too hot, thus preventing the aforementioned overheating issue.
However, if your filter is clogged and preventing airflow, the furnace heat exchanger will get too hot from lack of airflow. The high limit switch will sense this condition and shut off the furnace.
When this happens, your house will be cold and uncomfortable and you will not be able to enjoy your favorite Netflix show. All because you didn’t change the furnace filter…
Change your furnace filter. Every month.
Bonus Tip! Get yourself a black felt marker and record the date on the edge of the furnace filter when you install it (i.e. Jan 29, 2020). Thirty days later you’ll know exactly when you installed the last filter and you’ll know its time for a new one.
Tip # 2.
Do not over-filter your furnace.
What the heck does that mean, you ask? Furnace filters are rated in MERV’s.
MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value which was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers, or ASHRAE. MERV values vary from 1 to 20. The higher that the MERV value is the more efficient the filter will be in trapping airborne particles.
It’s a fancy way of saying the higher the number the better the filter traps dust from the air that the furnace is blowing around your house.
That’s a good thing, right? It depends.
Although a filter with a higher MERV rating is better at trapping dust, it also limits airflow. This can and will start to cause over heating issues with your furnace (see tip # 1).
What you want is to achieve a balance between airflow and dust control.
Furthermore, if there is excessive dust blowing around from your furnace, the filter isn’t the problem.
What you really need is to get your furnace ducts cleaned by a reputable furnace duct cleaner. Then you won’t have to buy the quadruple hemispherical ultrasonic bio-HEPA filter for $273.71, the basic MERV 8 filter for $12.95 at the hardware store will do.
Take away: Stick with the more basic furnace filters that don’t cost a ton of money and limit air flow. Just get a lower cost MERV 8 filter that you won’t mind throwing in the trash bin every month. Because you’re going to start changing your furnace filters every month now, right?
Tip # 3.
Clean your furnace.
A clean furnace is a happy furnace. If your furnace is full of dirt and dust and spiderwebs, all that crap will find its way into the air cooled motors and the switches and clog them up. They will suffer horribly and die prematurely because of the dirty conditions they had to endure.
But if you follow my advice it’s easy to avoid these problems and add years of life to your machine. All that you have to do is…
- Turn off the power to your furnace. There will be a power switch to do this, or you can locate and shut off the circuit breaker for the furnace.
- Open the covers on the furnace. They might just slide up and off, or there might be some goofy looking knobs that you have to rotate to get the covers off.
- Get a vacuum cleaner with a hose and a soft bristle brush.
- Vacuum the crap out of your furnace.
- Put the covers back on the furnace.
- Turn the power back on to the furnace.
- Make a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Do not vacuum / brush your furnace so fiercely that you accidentally damage components, pull wires loose, or remove paint from the frame of the appliance. Be gentle and kind with your furnace. Be especially careful with the circuit control board as the solid state transistors may be sensitive to the electrostatic charge created by the vacuum cleaner. If you do not heed this cautionary advice you may end up cursing at me later because your house is cold and you cannot enjoy your favorite Netflix show.
Alternately, you could pry open your wallet once a year and hire a reputable furnace & duct cleaning company to take care of this for you (see tip # 2).
Tip # 4.
Do not store paint / chemicals / gasoline next to your furnace.
Yes, I know, this really isn’t a maintenance tip per se, but I have actually walked into customers houses and found paint and chemicals and gasoline stored next to the furnace.
The best thing that you can do is to not store anything that can readily burn near your furnace.
The benefit that you will gain from this advice is that it will be more difficult to burn your house to the ground when a flammable substance isn’t stored beside the fuel burning appliance that fires up automatically three times an hour.
Tip # 5.
Get your furnace tuned up on a regular basis.
Wait! Didn’t I say this is the Homeowner’s Furnace Maintenance Guide? Isn’t this all about saving some money? Yes it is.
If you follow the previous tips for maintaining your furnace, you are going to save money because you are performing the tasks that should be completed on a regular basis. These maintenance tasks often get overlooked and your furnace suffers because of it.
However, the maintenance that you are performing on your furnace does not eliminate the need to have your furnace looked at by a professional HVAC mechanic.
There are a lot of test tools that furnace mechanics carry that most homeowners don’t own. For example, a combustion analyzer, which typically costs $2000 dollars +.
Chances are pretty good that you do not own a tool like this, and even if you did own one, chances are pretty good that you would not be able to interpret the readings that this analyzer would give you.
A tool like this will give an experienced HVAC mechanic a great insight as to what is happening inside of your furnace while it is running. It also allows the technician to tune your furnace very well so it is operating safely and efficiently.
- Change your furnace filter every month.
- Do not use a filter rating higher than MERV 8.
- Clean your furnace and your ducts.
- Do not store chemicals and flammable material around your furnace.
- Get your furnace tuned up once a year by your service professional.
It is a fairly straight-forward list. I promise you that if you follow this advice, your furnace will last longer and rarely if ever break down when you are watching your favorite series on Netflix on a cold winter night.