We've all felt the pinch of the rising cost of heating our homes. In fact, the average American family spent between $1200 and $1500 in 2005 to heat their home, so anything you can do to reduce that number is obviously well worth the effort. One thing that can help minimize your heating costs is ensuring your furnace is working efficiently, by giving it a tune up.
A typical home heating (HVAC) system
Home heating systems basically consist of three parts. A heat sensor, or thermostat, measures the temperature in your home and determines when it needs to be raised. When the air temperature drops, the thermostat signals the heater and the blower to turn on. The combustion in the heater creates heat, while the blower moves air over the heat exchanger, raising its temperature and distributing it throughout the house by the heating ducts. Cooler room air is returned to the furnace through return ducts where it is warmed. The warm-air-out, cool-air in-cycle continues until the desired temperature is reached and the thermostat signals the furnace to shut down.
So, how do you tune up a furnace system?
HVAC systems are mechanical, so like all mechanical systems they do need to be maintained. A thorough professional tune up will cost you $100 or more and is definitely something you should do every few years. However, you can do an annual tune up and maintenance process yourself, and save some of that money.
1. First take a look at your furnace. There shouldn't be any black soot or combustion residue on or around the furnace. Next, turn up the thermostat so your furnace comes on. Check the flames in the burner. They should be blue and steady, not yellow or orange and flickering. Soot build-up or yellow flames are an indication of poor combustion, and if you see any signs of either, call a professional technician to fix the problem.
2. Next, turn the thermostat back down and let your furnace cool. For extra safety, turn off the circuit breaker that powers your furnace. When the furnace is cool, remove the sides of your furnace and using a vacuum with a long nozzle, get rid of any dust that may have accumulated. Use a damp rag to clean the blades of the blower fan and any other areas the vacuum couldn't reach. While you've got the sides off, check to see if your blower fan has oil cups at the ends of the central shaft (some are sealed units and don't need oiling). If there are cups there, give them a few drops of oil.
3. An electric motor and a fan belt drive many blower fans, while some are direct drive and don't use a fan belt. If your blower does have a fan belt, check its condition and tension. The underside should be free of cracks, but over time, age and heat will dry out the rubber belt and cause cracks. If there are cracks in the belt, replace it with one of the same size. Checking the tension of the belt is as simple as pushing down on it. There should be about 1/2 inch of play in a properly adjusted belt. If you have more or less movement than that, adjust the tension by loosening the electric motor mounts and moving the motor to create the proper tension.
4. Reattach the furnace panels, and turn the circuit breaker back on.
5. Finally, changing your furnace filter once a month during heating season is a good maintenance practice. So when you're doing your furnace tune up, get ready for the season by installing a fresh filter.
Now your furnace is ready for "Old Man Winter."
Combustion creates Carbon Monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly. Normally the CO produced by the combustion in your furnace is exhausted up the chimney and out of your home. However, a furnace that is out of adjustment can leave CO in your home. You can help protect yourself from CO poisoning by installing a Carbon Monoxide detector in your furnace room. If the detector indicates any build up of Carbon Monoxide at any time, have your furnace professionally inspected immediately.
While doing your own tune up will help keep your furnace running efficiently, a professional inspection and tune up every few years is a good investment. The pros are the people who have the skills and equipment to ensure that any parts that might degrade over time are still functioning properly in your furnace.
Homeowners are creatures of comfort, and with colder days ahead, now is the time to ensure your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are in tip-top shape to provide a comfortable indoor environment all winter long.
Ongoing maintenance and simple tune-ups can ensure your system runs properly and efficiently, helping to reduce costly energy and repair bills. American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning offers the following tips for ensuring consistent indoor temperature, humidity and air quality in the winter:
Arrange proactive maintenance
Schedule regular appointments with a heating and air conditioning dealer to come out and service your system before winter and again before summer.
Change the filters
Heating and air conditioning system filters should be changed every 30 days, or as often as recommended by the manufacturer. To help save on replacement costs, some manufacturers, such as American Standard, have cleanable filters that can be rinsed and vacuumed.
Check for leaks
Windows and doors are prime suspects for air leakage. Check around every frame for cracks, gaps and poor-fitting fixtures and seal leaks with caulking or weatherstripping.
Use the proper insulation
Check to make sure your home is insulated with materials that have the proper "R-value." An R-value is the measurement of how well insulation resists heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the insulating power. HVAC experts recommend using R-30 insulation in the ceilings and R-13 in the exterior walls.
Program the thermostats
Save energy by installing a programmable thermostat that adjusts the temperature during the day. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, by turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours, you can save 5 percent to 15 percent a year on your heating bill -- a savings of as much as 1 percent for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.
Upgrade to two-stage heating
Most furnaces have single-stage heating systems, which deliver a blast of warm air followed by an off cycle and then another full blast of warm air, causing very noticeable temperature swings in the winter. Gain efficiency and comfort by upgrading to a two-stage system such as the American Standard's Freedom 80 or 90 Two Stage Furnace -- the first stage runs more than 80 percent of the time, and the second stage switches on only as needed to provide more heat.
Control the humidity
Static electric shocks, dry nasal passages and parched skin are signs that your home's humidity is too low. A humidifier can be attached to your furnace to add moisture back into the air during the cold winter months. American Standard offers whole-house humidifiers with integral sensors that can be set to automatically control humidity levels within your home.
Ensure cleaner air
Believe it or not, the air inside your home can sometimes be more unhealthy than what's outside, causing potential problems in your family's health. American Standard's air cleaners can be attached to the furnace and help remove unwanted particles from the air in every room of the house.
Energy Usage Lowering Tips
• Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable.
• Keep the temperature fairly constant, as frequent changes will utilize more energy by causing unnecessary cycling on and off. Setting back the temperature at night, however, is recommended.
• Clean or replace furnace filters once a month or as needed.
• Oil-fired boilers should be professionally cleaned and tuned once a year. Gas-fired equipment needs to be checked every other year.
• Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they are not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
• Keep draperies and shades on south-facing windows open during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
• Close the door to an unoccupied room or area that is isolated from the rest of the house and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heat for that room or area.
• Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans wisely. Turn these fans off as soon as they are no longer needed. In about 1 hour, these fans can pull out a house-full of warmed or cooled air. They can also pull dangerous furnace combustion gasses into the house in some situations.
• Check your ducts for air leaks. First look for sections that should be joined but have separated and then look for obvious holes.
• Do not use duct tape to repair leaky ducts. Standard duct tape has been shown unreliable. Various mastics or non-cloth-backed tapes are preferable.