Winterizing your home with a furnace maintenance checklist will maximize the efficiency of your temperature and help curtail HVAC expenses by reducing heat loss.
Many homeowners choose to hire a trusted HVAC company to prepare their furnace for the winter months, while others take the do-it-yourself approach.
We recommend an annual service check by a professional to ensure your system is ready for peak performance. However, if you're planning to take some maintenance steps yourself, the following checklist will help you successfully prepare your furnace for the winter season.
Heating and cooling account for about 48% of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes. [source]
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Reduce Heat Loss and Lower Your Monthly Bills
1. Set Your Thermostat Back 7°-10°F for 8 Hours to Save Money
You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.
To do this easily, buy a programmable thermostat. By lowering the temperature for 8 hours a day, you save approximately $83 dollars a year.
Going on vacation? You can set it lower to 55 degrees (without worrying about your pipes freezing).
Turning the heating temperature down at night and then back up in the morning saves a significant amount of energy.
"Mathematically speaking, the amount of energy required to keep a house warm is equal to the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures multiplied by the time that this difference is maintained." [source]
2. Properly Calibrate Your Thermostat
If your thermostat isn't properly calibrated, you could be overspending on energy. Your thermostat can lose its calibration if dirt gets inside or if it gets accidentally bumped. Have your thermostat checked and calibrated annually, or install a computerized thermostat for the best fuel and cost efficiency.
ABC Home and Commercial offer step by step instructions on how to calibrate your thermostat properly.
3. Replace an Older Furnace with a High Efficiency Furnace
According to Jill Murphy, senior product marketing manager, residential heating, Lennox Industries Inc., "Replacing an older furnace that is 60 percent efficient with one that is 98 percent efficient can save homeowners up to $11,469 over the life of the system." [source]
Furnaces use either gas, oil or electricity for fuel. Efficiency is measured as an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating.
Modern furnaces can have ratings as high as 98.2% (which means only 1.8 % is exhaust).
If you are replacing an older furnace with a high-efficiency (90%+) furnace, you should see savings on your heating bills of 25% - 30%. [source]
4. Inspect, Clean and Adjust Your Furnace’s Burners
Energy efficiency is gained or lost at your furnace’s burners.
“Be sure to look for any type of rust or corrosion that may have accumulated on the burners due to a condensate leak that might have gone undetected at some point during the life of the furnace,” says Brian Vinsant, product support specialist, residential heating equipment, Rheem Mfg. Co.
5. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans and Cut Your Heating Costs
Reverse your ceiling fans to force warm air downward, keeping your home more comfortable. This home maintenance task makes rooms with high ceilings more comfortable.
Switching to a clockwise rotation pushes warm air that has risen to the ceiling back down into the living space. This can cut your heating costs as much as 10 percent, according to Popular Mechanics.
6. Inspect and Boost Your Insulation
Adequate insulation will help keep your home warm in the winter. And if your insulation is insufficient, your heating system will have to work overtime this winter.
By adding some insulation to your attic, walls, and crawlspace, you can save money on heating costs. Insulation is one of the best ways to save energy and reduce cost.
7. Check and Seal Your Ducts
Studies show 10 to 30 percent of heated (or cooled) air in an average system escapes from ducts. [source]
Ducts that leak air into an attic or crawl space can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. [source]
The duct work that transports the heated air throughout your home will often become damaged with age. When this occurs, you are opening your indoor air up to microscopic air contaminants that can aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms and negatively affect your overall well-being.
These cracks, tears and other damage will also reduce the furnace’s performance. The best DIY approach is to use mastic sealant or metal tape to fix the damage and then insulate the ducts.
8. Allow Sunlight to Enter Your Home
During winter, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows. [source]
9. Seal Air Leaks
Sealing air leaks can save up to 10% in heating bills. [source]
Most leaks can be fixed with a simple caulking gun.
Improve Indoor Air Quality
HVAC units get dirty quickly. When this dirt and debris isn’t cleaned from the unit, it is reintroduced into your home, lowering your indoor air quality.
10. Change Your Furnace Filter to Avoid Trouble
You may have changed it at the end of the heating season, or then again, you may have forgotten. A new filter costs so little, while a furnace costs so much, why risk damaging it?
Replacing the filter (or cleaning a permanent filter) is easy and puts you well on your way to preparing your furnace for winter. Using old filters puts more stress on the compressor and can lead to mechanical failures over time.
- Filters and coils should be cleaned so the dirt inside doesn't circulate in your home. Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as recommended.
- Dirty filters make your furnace work harder. At a minimum, you should replace a disposable filter every six months (winter and summer) or your manufacturer's recommendation.
- Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed. Make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
Keep the area around your furnace and all areas free of dust. Use an ordinary vacuum to clean the room where your furnace works hard to keep you cozy.
Gently vacuum electrical connections to keep them dust-free, and keep the floor clean so "dust bunnies" are not stirred and lifted onto the furnace.
Maintenance, Inspection and Action
12. Maintain Performance Record
Write down the model numbers of all your products. It's good to have them listed in a file for easy access. Keep a regular log of furnace performance. This will help you identify problems as they occur, and provides you with an accurate method of tracking furnace efficiency.
13. Test Your Detectors Every 6 Months
You'll want to check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Buy a carbon monoxide (CO) detector - save yourself, possibly your family, and your pets by investing a few dollars in a carbon monoxide detector.
You can install it around 15 feet away from the furnace. Remember that carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, tasteless and invisible, making it extremely dangerous.
14. Listen for Unusual Sounds or Pay Attention to Strange Smells
- High-pitched squeal? It could be a slipped or frayed blower belt. Loud sounds can be an indication of a mechanical problem. Listen for banging, popping, rattling, and screeching noises.
- Nose around. Sniff the furnace room. Smells like rotten eggs? It could be a gas leak. Musty, grimy smell? Check for any oil leaks. Metal or iron smells? It could be an indication of your furnace motor starting to have trouble. (source)
15. Check the Electric Ignition or Pilot Light
If these are faulty it will reduce the heat getting in your home. A "flickering or yellow pilot light could be a sign of excess carbon monoxide in gas furnaces."
16. Turn off Kitchen, Bath, and Other Exhaust Fans
Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing.
When replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
17. Test Safety Features
Deliberately tripping and resetting safety controls ensures proper shut-off in the event of a real emergency.
18. Clean Your Flue and Chimney
You may feel comfortable doing this by investing in a chimney cleaning kit (brushes and fiberglass handles). However, you may be better off hiring a chimney sweep if you are unsure of what to do (although it is not hard, and only a little messy).
Your furnace flue ventilates toxic gases, so it must be clean and free of obstructions such as squirrel and bird nests or heavy deposits of soot.
19. Inspect and Lubricate all Moving Parts
A little light lubrication in all the right places can add years of service to your furnace.
20. Inspect the Electrical Connections and Systems
Loose connections can cause sparks or trip safety systems.
21. Make an Appointment Early in the Season
The last part of your work to prepare furnace for winter is to call your helpful HVAC service company for a season appointment.
Consider having a technician perform a thorough inspection and service your system. Our 21-point clean & tune inspection includes:
While most of the do-it-yourself furnace maintenance tips will go a long way to ensure your unit is functioning the way it was designed, you should not overlook the importance of a professional tune up and preventive maintenance plan.
A well-trained and trusted HVAC technician has the knowledge to spot potential problems before they occur - something most homeowners cannot do, and can keep your furnace functioning at its peak performance.