How to Maintain a Furnace

Do you know how to maintain a furnace? Taking care of your furnace is essential to getting it up and running properly before the cold season begins. It's best to clean and inspect all the components in the fall so your home can be warm and toasty when it's freezing outside. Having a clean, energy-efficient heating system can help prevent allergies and costly utility bills in addition to keeping you and your family comfortable. These maintenance tips can help you keep your furnace in working condition.

Why Do You Need to Maintain a Furnace?

Taking care of your heating unit is necessary for keeping your home warm in the winter. In particular, here are some of the ways annual furnace maintenance can benefit your property:

  • Prevent costly emergency repairs: Your furnace contains multiple components that can break down when you need heat the most. When you check your heating unit at least once a year, you can look out for wear and tear on the various parts and replace them as necessary. Otherwise, you might need to call a professional to repair your unit, and they may charge you more for an emergency repair service.
  • Extend your unit's life span: The typical furnace can last about a decade or two, especially if you maintain it often. The longer your heating system works, the less money you'll have to spend to get a new one in the future.
  • Save money on your energy bill: Some furnace components can wear down more quickly than others, so the heating system may have to work harder to provide a comfortable temperature for your living space. The filter can also get clogged with dirt and other debris, which puts more of a strain on the unit. When you clean your furnace and replace the faulty parts, you can increase its energy efficiency and reduce your monthly utility expenses.
  • Keep you and your family safe: Gas furnaces burn fossil fuel, potentially emitting harmful carbon monoxide and other toxins into your home. Breathing in carbon monoxide could lead to serious health consequences, such as dizziness and confusion. Annual preventative maintenance ensures the heating system properly carries the contaminants through the flue system and out of the house.
  • Breathe cleaner air: Your furnace may release dust and other allergens into the air that get stuck to the ductwork and filter. When you clean the heating unit, you can maintain better indoor air quality for your family, relieving allergy and upper respiratory symptoms.

What Are Some Safety Tips to Consider Before You Start Working on Your Furnace?

As you begin cleaning and inspecting to maintain a furnace, consider which type of heating system you have so you can take the proper safety precautions. Electric furnaces can expend a significant amount of energy, but they're dependable and low maintenance because of their ability to prevent overheating. Gas and oil furnaces are cost effective and energy efficient, but they have a higher chance of breaking because of their various components.

When you examine your heating unit, keep in mind that the surrounding area should be free from debris, dust and dirt. Remove any flammable items, such as cardboard boxes, and sweep or vacuum the outside of the furnace so you can safely and efficiently inspect it.

Unless you're checking to see if an element of the furnace works, make sure you power it down. Turn off the switch along with the power system and any circuits that connect to it. You also may want to inspect your unit for gas leaks. They can be dangerous or even fatal to touch. If you notice any leaks, you should immediately contact a professional to help you fix the issue.

Remember, if you aren't comfortable or technically capable of performing maintenance on your home HVAC system, you should not do so. A local professional will be glad to perform this maintenance for you.

What Are the Steps for Furnace Maintenance?

You'll want to familiarize yourself with the furnace parts and processes you'll be checking before you perform your maintenance. If you do not feel confident performing one or more of these steps, ask an expert to conduct the maintenance. Ensure you are abiding by all manufacturer warranty requirements and your local codes. The following are steps commonly taken when performing annual furnace maintenance:

1. Inspect Furnace Burner Flames

The burner provides the heat your furnace needs to make your house warm and comfortable. You can activate the burners by adjusting your thermostat to a higher temperature to see if they're working correctly.

The fire coming out of your heating unit should be even and blue. If the flame is yellow, try cleaning the burner after you've turned it off because it could be dirty. Since oxygen could also turn the flame yellow, you should avoid breathing directly onto the fire. You can make adjustments to the burner depending on the manufacturer's instructions if it's not producing a blue, even flame.

2. Clean Burners

Before you clean the burners, remember to turn off the power and gas to your furnace to avoid gas leaks or electrocution. You can then take a vacuum with a hose attachment and clean up the dust and debris around the heating unit's burners and base. To reach the far back of the burners, tape a half-inch drain line to your vacuum hose to give it a little extra length.

Clean your burner by getting rid of all the dust near it to provide an adequate gas flow throughout the unit. Since you've opened it up, you may also want to take a flashlight and examine the heating system for soot. This fine black powder is usually a signal of incomplete combustion, low combustion or an inadequate airflow of toxins out of the area. You should also lift the blower door and vacuum the blower compartment.

3. Clean Blower Blades

The blower, usually located near the air filter, provides the furnace's air movement to heat the house. It helps to take the blower out of the unit to remove the debris the air filter might have missed. If there's a control panel blocking the way to this component, loosen two of the screws and let it hang for a moment. You can then use a socket and ratchet to remove the two bolts holding the blower in place and gently take it out of the unit.

After you've removed the blower, you can use a vacuum and small brush to clean its blades. Be careful not to put any stress on the wiring or counterweights on the fan blades, or you could end up breaking it. Thoroughly remove the dirt and dust from the blower with a damp cloth and the vacuum to prevent the component from becoming off balance. Along with the blades, you'll probably want to clean the pulleys and belts that may have accumulated debris.

4. Clean or Replace Your Furnace Filter

The furnace's filter is supposed to keep the dust and other allergens out of the heating unit. However, if you don't replace this component often enough, it could accumulate too much debris and spread contaminants throughout the system and the rest of your home. Standard filters usually aren't that expensive, but you might want to invest in a high-efficiency option that can accommodate your system if people in your family have allergies.

Consult the manufacturer about how often you should change out this critical furnace component. If it's not due for a replacement yet, you can use a vacuum to clean out general debris and warm soap and water for stubborn contaminants. If you have a cheaper filter, it might make more sense to change it out instead of cleaning the thin fibers. While simple, this is one of the best things you can do to properly maintain a furnace.

5. Perform Air Duct Cleaning

The furnace ducts send the hot air throughout your home, but they could lose their seal and start to leak air out of the unit over time. They could also collect dust if the air filter isn't working correctly. To allow the air to flow freely and cleanly, you can use a high-powered vacuum to remove the debris inside your ductwork. After cleaning the ducts, you can protect the airflow throughout them by sealing any leaks or gaps with high-temperature silicone or special metal tape.

If you have a gas furnace, it also helps to perform a backdrafting test and check that the combustion gases travel up the flue system. Since you're inspecting the unit, connect the power to the furnace. Adjust the thermostat to activate the burners, hold a small flame next to the draft hood and make sure the smoke goes toward the hood. If it doesn't, combustion gases could be leaking into your home. The flue system will need to be repaired to prevent potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

While checking this component once it's cooled down after the backdrafting test, you should also inspect the exhaust vent pipes on your water heater and furnace. If you notice any white powdery residue, a sign of corrosion, you may want to consult a professional to get them replaced. Since corrosion weakens metal parts, the exhaust vent pipes could deteriorate and leak harmful gases from the system into your home.

6. Clean Furnace Vents

Gas furnaces and central heating systems connect to a venting system that use ductwork to blow hot air throughout your home. Along with ductwork and exhaust pipes, you also need to clean the furnace's vents. This will ensure they're in working condition.

Before you turn on the furnace, it helps to walk around your house and check each vent throughout your living space. You might want to make sure these vents are accessible, and that they don't have pet hair, scraps of paper or other obstructions in their path. If any of these contaminants get inside the vents, they could travel throughout your ductwork and into the air.

Take off the registers covering your vents and use a vacuum to clean up the debris. It's especially helpful to clean these components if you've recently done a home improvement project or you haven't cleaned them in a while. After they're free of debris, you should make sure to keep furniture off of them. Heavy chairs or a couch could put extra pressure on the system and block the flow of air.

7. Clean Flame Sensor

The flame sensor is an important safety feature on your furnace. It tells the system that a fire is present when the gas valve is open. If the unit continued to emit gas without something to ignite it, that's not good. The result would be a dangerous buildup of unburned gas and a potential for an explosion. When the system activates the burners, the flame sensor detects the flame quickly to keep your unit safe.

After wear and tear, the flame sensor may develop a coat of carbon residue. This could prevent your furnace from turning on the burner. To clean the carbon off this component, follow these steps:

  1. Take the flame sensor out by pulling it out of the bracket. You can lightly wipe the surface with fine emery cloth.
  2. Carefully wipe the metal rod with very light sandpaper to make sure it can read the flame properly.
  3. Use a paper towel to wipe away any dust that accumulated from the sanding.

8. Check Furnace Fan

It helps to check the furnace fan components — such as the belt, motor and blades — for dust and signs of wear and tear. Some furnaces come with a motor that you'll also need to oil so it continues to run efficiently. You also need to confirm that this component isn't overloading by turning it off and pressing the reset button after about a half an hour. Repeat this process until the unit is in working condition again.

After confirming your motor works adequately, you can apply a few drops of oil based on what the manufacturer recommends. Be careful not to over-lubricate it, or else the oil can overflow and stain the floor.

9. Inspect Belts

If you have a belt-driven blower, check the belts for tears or cracks. That will help you determine if they need an adjustment or replacement. A new belt only costs a few dollars, so it makes sense to replace a worn belt quickly. If the component is intact but loose, you might only need to tighten it.

When you install the new component, increase the tension to run according to the manufacturer's instructions. Though you can do this step at any time, it may help to examine the felt belt while you're cleaning out the filter. If your unit doesn't come with a belt-driven blower, you can skip this step.

10. Monitor Thermostat

The thermostat activates your furnace based on your desired temperature for your home. When you have a faulty system, even if you set the temperature to a high level, the room could still be cold. If that's the case, you probably have an issue with your thermostat, especially if you've had it for a few decades. It could've stopped working, so you might need to replace it.

Before the cold winter months hit, you might want to check that the thermostat is in good condition. It doesn't have as many components as the furnace itself, but proper thermostat care is critical. Besides system failure from old age, you may have problems with your thermostat because of improper installation. There could also be corrosion from loosened switches or dirt buildup.

Contact Us to Speak With an Expert

At Ingram's Water & Air, we specialize in gas and oil furnaces, and our professionals are here to help you select your next heating unit. We also supply electric ductless split systems that provide comfort all year long. If you need help with your furnace, we offer lifetime tech support on our products.

Contact us today to speak with one of our experts about your heating unit. You can ask about how to properly maintain a furnace, or any other HVAC topic important to you.

0 comments (view/add)

* All fields required.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by our moderators. Comments may be edited for clarity.