Tuning Up Your Furnace For Winter
When we were growing up our very most favorite Saturday morning TV hero was a marionette puppet named Howdy Doody. Howdy had several human friends that included Buffalo Bob the cowboy, Clarabell the clown and a bunch of youngsters who got to sit in their own special place known to kids all over America as the Peanut Gallery. Howdy also had puppet friends. The oldest was named Mr. Bluster who always seemed to be complaining about something. We didn’t realize until years later that Mr. Bluster’s name matched his personality. Why the thoughts about Howdy Doody and his friends? Well a person who blusters is one who gloats or brags. But blustery also defines a less than comfortable weather condition and so you can probably imagine why we Careys often tend to reflect on our childhood memories of crabby old Mr. Bluster when it gets stormy or gusty.
Later in life we learned how blustery weather affects our pocket books. Stormy weather brings chilly temperatures and the need for a well heated home. And it doesn’t take Howdy Doody or any other hero to figure out what that means when you have to write the check for this month’s heating bill. That’s why it is important to make sure that your furnace is properly maintained so that it is in peak operating condition.
Overall, the most cost efficient heating system (given that gas is available in your area) is gas fired central heat. This takes into consideration installation, operating and maintenance costs. But even the best system must be properly maintained to operate at PEAK efficiency. Furnace maintenance is easy and involves cleaning, oiling and drive-belt tensioning. Ducting also should be clean and all connections should be solid and well sealed.
Caution: Before proceeding with any type of furnace maintenance make sure to shut off the gas and power to the unit.
Cleaning a furnace can be as simple as vacuuming. But, if rust buildup exists on the burners they should first be wire-brushed and then vacuumed. Be careful not to bend or otherwise damage igniting wires and tubes that make up the pilot light system. Also, do not adjust air baffles unless you know exactly what you are doing. This adjustment determines the air-gas mixture for an optimum flame. If the flame in your furnace is orange the baffles should be adjusted so that the flame burns blue. Many public utilities have a free service that will do this for you or at least advise you if an adjustment is required. All interior areas of the furnace should be completely free of dust, debris, spider webs, etc. A household type vacuum cleaner is all that you will need for this job.
The filter should also be clean. Paper filters should be replaced — not cleaned. Non-paper filters that can be cleaned should be washed with warm water and a mild detergent, air dried and returned to the system. It really is important to be sure that the filter is replaced so that the arrow on the frame of the filter is pointed in the direction of the air flow. Placing the arrow in the wrong direction will reduce the effectiveness of the filter.
With the chambers, filter(s) and burners of the furnace completely clean it’s time to oil moving parts. A central gas furnace uses gas flames to heat air in a chamber which is then distributed to supply ducts by an electric fan. The fan rests in two bearings — one on each side of the furnace. Without proper oil the fan bearings will quickly wear out. As the bearings begin to wear resistance increases and the motor must work harder to turn the fan. So, as you have probably already surmised, oiling the bearings will not only cause them to last longer, but will reduce operating costs as well. A few drops of a light weight oil such as SAE 20 is recommended for most furnaces. Check manufacturer’s instructions to be sure. Also, be careful not to overfill oil ports. Doing so can prove to create a real dust and dirt catcher.
There is an adjustment that you can make that will improve the operating efficiency of the blower system. Adjusting the fan belt will prevent fan blade slippage, and in some cases, will eliminate noise too. You will probably need a screwdriver and a pair of pliers or a wrench to make the adjustment. A bit of slack in the belt insures that there isn’t too much pressure on the bearing but that it is tight enough to do the job without slipping. Again, refer to your owner’s manual to determine the proper amount of slack.
Finally, use duct tape to insure that all duct connections are sealed air tight. It doesn’t make sense to heat the attic or subarea if no one will be there to enjoy the comfort.
You can actually reduce the cost to heat your home by properly maintaining your furnace. And we know that during blustery days of winter you would rather be thinking about Howdy Doody than your heating bill. And, good luck!