Your furnace is key to keeping your home a comfortable and healthy environment. It also probably represents your largest utility bill. For these and other reasons, it’s important to properly maintain your furnace.
Good maintenance improves efficiency and the efficiency of your furnace can make a major difference in your energy bills. Heating accounts for approximately 30 percent of the energy used in a typical U.S. home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A well-maintained unit can run efficiently for 15-25 years, but keep in mind that newer units are vastly more efficient than models manufactured before stricter regulation went into effect in 1992.
There comes a time when the cost of fueling an older unit should be weighed against the cost of replacing it with a more efficient model. Some signs that your furnace may soon be ready to go include:
- Soot streaks around the furnace cabinet
- Excessive moisture condensation on windows and cold surfaces
- Signs of moisture on metal flues and pipes
- Moisture at the base of vents or flues
Meanwhile, keeping up with regular maintenances is the key to getting the most efficient operation possible from your furnace. Make yourself familiar with tips for increasing efficiency, and make sure that your unit gets the care it needs. Annually, start-of-season service by a professional can be very inexpensive –often under $100- and will extend the life of your system.
Heating systems have 3 components: the source of heated air, distribution (blower), and control (thermostat). Dirt and grime can inhibit the performance of all of these; so much of the maintenance involves cleaning parts.
One of the most effective ways to improve efficiency is to change the air filter. This is a quick, cheap, and easy job that homeowners often do themselves. It should be done at least once a year, but can never be done too often. For units that see heavy use in the winter, it can be a good idea to replace the filter monthly. This helps your furnace run more efficiently and also improves the air quality in your home.
You can easily clean the system’s registers as well. Just remove the cover and vacuum the duct opening.
Other parts of the furnace benefit from regular care, but are not as simple to access. These are most often left to a professional. Here are recommended steps for gas furnace maintenance.
- Shut down the system
- Clean the combustion chamber
- Inspect the flue pipe
- Check the blower belt’s wear and tension
- Vacuum out burner and blower cavities
- Clean the flame sensor
- Lubricate bearings
- Seal leaks in ductwork
Don’t forget that adequate insulation can help to boost your system’s efficiency too, and will save energy costs. Adding insulation and weather-stripping can be an ongoing effort, and some is always better than none. So you can make those improvements a little at a time with little expense in terms of time or money.
A great benefit of regular maintenance is that it keeps you aware of your equipment’s condition. That way you’re prepared when the time comes to replace it. A new furnace can represent a sizable investment for most of us, with average prices for equipment and installation around $5000, ranging up to $8000-$10,000, so it’s nice to have a little notice rather than an unexpected breakdown.
The good news is that with energy savings you’ll recoup your investment in a new system fairly quickly. To calculate that time, follow these steps:
- Determine how much you already pay annually for heating costs.
- Calculate the price of your furnace including installation. Be sure to subtract any government incentives or rebates.
- Check the predicted annual energy usage for your new furnace to determine what it will cost you to run.
- Subtract the cost of operating your new furnace for a year from the cost of operating your old furnace for a year to see what you’ll be saving.
- Divide the total cost of your new furnace by the energy savings it will provide to see how long it will take for the furnace to pay for itself.
Even where major home systems like the furnace are concerned, it can be easy to forget about them until something goes wrong. When maintenance is neglected, breakdowns are practically guaranteed, no matter how excellent the equipment. Making a relatively minor investment in preventative maintenance helps you avoid the stress, inconvenience, and expense of equipment failure, and it saves energy costs every month to boot. It warms the heart to think of it.
For more on “How to Maintain” various items in your home, check out our list of popular blogs below:
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