If you have a furnace, there are things you can do to prolong its life and save yourself some serious money! Read here to learn 12 furnace maintenance tips.
We’ve all been there: that awkward moment when you walk into your house and it’s imitating the Arctic Circle. That’s not fun, but what’s even worse is getting stuck in the cold paying for a major furnace maintenance issue.
Replacing a motor can cost between $400 and $1,500, depending on the size and sophistication of your furnace. Other replacements can also get expensive, especially for emergency repairs.
Here are 12 furnace maintenance tips to save money, so you can focus on more than just counting blankets.
Preparing Your Furnace for Winter
1. Safety First
Every small child learns this mantra. It’s still important for your furnace maintenance routine.
Before you do any maintenance work on your furnace, shut off all power to the system. The easy way to do this is to go to your main electrical panel and either trip the circuit breaker or remove the fuse that sends power to the furnace.
If the circuit trips repeatedly or the fuse blows when the furnace turns on, call in a professional. If you find that your furnace is always running except when you cut power, there’s an issue with the furnace, thermostat or your home air seal.
Not sure what the heck we mean by tripping a circuit or removing the fuse? Don’t flip switches in your electrical panel. We have a 24-hour emergency service that can take over your furnace maintenance needs from here.
2. Get At That Motor Dirt
You can jam to Nine Inch Nails on your own time, but keep empires of dirt out of your furnace motor and fan. And all the other dirt for that matter.
Dirt is a major efficiency drain on your furnace, which means it costs you money. And it affects all three basic components of the furnace: the motor, the blower, and the filter, so it’s important to make sure dealing with dirt is part of your furnace maintenance routine.
The easy way to deal with dirt is using a tool you already have: your home vacuum cleaner. Put on the long hose attachment, open the furnace door and vacuum out all sections of the furnace including the base, gas burners and crevices.
3. While You’re At It, Ditch the Dust
Seriously: cleanliness is akin to godliness. Respect your furnace.
For the fine-grained gritty stuff that your vacuum can’t pick up, go to town with a dust rag. It seems like a simple task, but it goes a long way for furnace maintenance money-saving.
4. Bring in the Cleaning Pros
We’re all about dirt cheap, but when furnace maintenance dirty deeds are involved, bring in the pros.
It’s a good idea to have your furnace and ventilation system checked by professional cleaners once a year or so. Signs it’s time to get the pros include: recent renovations, pest infestations, mold growth or twelve months since your last inspection.
Your oil bearings, that is. It keeps the motor running cool.
If your furnace has permanently sealed bearings, this isn’t something to worry about. If your furnace doesn’t, or if it’s older, add oiling to your list of furnace maintenance tasks.
First, you’ll find the oiling caps, either at each end of the motor or the bearing shaft. All you have to do is remove the caps and go from there. Don’t go crazy though – a few drops of light household oil in the spout below the caps will do the trick.
6. Replace Your Air Filter
Let your furnace breathe easier – it costs less money when you do.
During the heating season, it’s especially important to check, clean and change your air filter regularly – even monthly – as part of your regular furnace maintenance. Checking is simple: take out the filter and hold it up to the light. If it looks clogged or dirty, replace it, no matter how long it’s been used.
It’s important to replace your filter with the same size and type of filter. There are four main types.
Spun Fiberglass Filters
These are the least expensive variety of filter, and they’re disposable. Many manufacturers recommend spun fiberglass filters for minimum protection, but if you’re concerned about filtering tiny contaminants, stick with a different filter.
Pleated Disposable Filters
If you need a step up from spun fiberglass, try pleated disposable filters. They can cost four to five times more, but they also provide four to eight times the filtering capacity – and catch smaller particles.
Washable Electrostatic Filters
As you can guess by the name, these filters are reusable because you can clean them. They’re also a bit more expensive right out of the gate, but keep in mind that better quality washable electrostatic filters can last up to eight years.
Consider these the high end of furnace filters. These filters offer superior filtration, but they also require modification to your ductwork during installation (which should not be considered a DIY project.)
Seriously, bring in a professional to install and maintain an electric filter.
Don’t Know Your Filter?
Don’t mess around. Let the pros take over the furnace maintenance from here.
7. Check Your Pilot Light
Your pilot light isn’t like a plane pilot – it won’t talk over an intercom when it needs something. Check in with it.
If you’ve got a gas furnace, it depends on a controlled flame called the pilot light, which is fed by a small gas line and ignites when the thermostat signals that temperatures have gone below the thermostat’s setting.
Relighting the Pilot Light
Relighting the pilot light is fairly simple furnace maintenance task once you know what you’re doing and what to look for. Here’s how to do it.
- Turn off power to the furnace. Always and completely.
- Your pilot light will have either a red reset button or a knob. Turn the gas valve from Off to Pilot with the button, or turn the knob from Off to Pilot.
- Use the tip of an ignited lighter while pressing or depressing the button (or the knob) as needed to maintain gas flow to the pilot light. This will help get the thermocouple hot enough to switch open the main gas valve.
- Once the pilot stays lit, slowly release the knob or button and switch it to the On position to ignite the burners.
- If the burners don’t ignite, the thermocouple may not have gotten hot enough. Wait a few minutes and repeat steps 1-4, this time holding the button or knob for 45 to 60 seconds.
- Once the burners are lit, adjust the thermostat as desired.
Other Pilot Light Issues
If the pilot light won’t cooperate with relighting, you may have other problems at work. For example, if the pilot light won’t stay lit, it’s a problem with the thermocouple, another component of the pilot light. A weak flame is a separate problem altogether.
8. Don’t Forget the Flame Sensors
If you don’t know what the flame sensors are, you don’t want to find out when it’s time to pay your furnace repair bill: replacing an ignitor during emergency service can cost between $300 and $400 (more if there are after-hours fees.)
Oh, and there’s the flame sensors.
Before you get too worried, the flame sensor is basically what it sounds like – it’s a simple metal rod in the burner assembly that tells the system that the flame is burning whenever the gas valve is open. No fire, no heat.
Cleaning the Flame Sensor
Like the pilot light, maintaining the flame sensor is a reasonably straightforward process. Here’s how to go about it.
- Shut down the power to the furnace. It’s like looking before crossing the street: the first thing you do every single time.
- Remove the sensor. It’s a metal rod held in place by two sheet metal screws and a bracket. Simply remove the screws and drop the sensor box.
- Clean the sensor by scrubbing it with emery cloth or steel wool.
- While you’re at it, check the burner for any signs of corrosion.
- Reattach the sensor box.
Some furnace models won’t allow you to remove the sensor box. You can (and should) still clean the flame sensor, but this may call for a bit of an awkward position to reach the sensor.
9. Check the Registers
No, not the cash register.
The furnace registers are what filter heat throughout your home from the furnace – not to be confused with air vents. It’s a grille with moving parts which can open or close to direct airflow.
What are you checking them for? Simple: dirt and dust. (You thought you were done with cleaning, didn’t you? Nope.)
Your furnace could be working fine, but if the registers are blocked by dirt, dust or even furniture and rugs, the furnace will have to work harder to maintain the temperature of your home.
And the harder your furnace works, the more expensive it gets.
The next time you do furnace maintenance, take the time to go around your house making sure the registers are clean and unobstructed.
10. Get In Tune
It’s not just for pianos – your heating system needs tune-ups as part of furnace maintenance.
Before heating season (better known as Alberta winter) turn on your furnace and thermostat. Take the time to make sure that everything’s working properly.
This is also the ideal time check your house for drafts. It’s not just an annoyance – gaps in your home let heat escape, which forces your furnace to work harder to maintain a consistent temperature. Use the expanding foam to fill any gaps around your home’s exterior to help retain heat indoors.
This is also the time to invest in duct tape and check for air leaks in your ductwork. Caulking and weather stripping that’s old or a bit holey should also be replaced and strengthened.
Checking your heating system before winter also saves you on later furnace maintenance costs – emergency maintenance costs, or your furnace having to raise your home temperature after a significant drop, will all be more expensive than a regular tuning.
11. Get in Touch with Your Thermostat
Repeat: your thermostat is your friend. Use your regular furnace maintenance to treat it like one.
Take the time to get acquainted, especially if you set your thermostat and still feel like the temperature hasn’t changed in the room. This means the thermostat probably needs to be replaced because it isn’t telling the furnace when to adjust the temperature.
Sudden temperature changes (imitating the Arctic Circle or the Sahara desert, for example) can also be signs that you need to replace your thermostat.
Not sure what type of thermostat you have, or what to do with it? Check out this list of types of thermostats and how they work.
12. Store with Care
You wouldn’t store your grandma’s good china in your three-year-old’s bedroom, right? Your furnace needs the same level of storage care.
If you have to play Twister just to reach your furnace, furnace maintenance will be difficult. Make sure the space around your furnace is clear so you can reach the furnace easily.
Also, keep in mind that the furnace is a heating system which involves gas and open flame. Don’t store anything flammable near your furnace, and don’t hang laundry on the furnace to dry. Aside from the potential fire hazard, your furnace may not be able to ventilate well.
Remember: the harder your furnace works to keep your house warm, the more you have to pay.
Furnace Maintenance with Worry-Free Plumbing
Your furnace shouldn’t have to work harder, and neither should you. Rest easy, and let Worry Free Plumbing and Heating Experts take care of the rest.
A less experienced plumber may fail to locate the problem, which will cost you time, money and patience. Our crew has years of experience and can diagnose and solve your problem easily to get your maintenance schedule, whether it’s furnace maintenance, plumbing or sump pumps, back on track.
We’re here to solve your heating and plumbing problems, 24/7. Contact us with your emergency – we’re always fully stocked and ready to help.
Got plumbing questions? Check out our list of common plumbing problems.