Make sure your furnace is ready for winter

By Chuck Kajer

The New Prague Times

Normally by mid-October, household heating systems have had a good workout in anticipation of the winter season.

While this year's fall weather has been unseasonably warm, the cold weather is sure to come and homeowners are advised to be ready by making sure their furnaces are in working order.

That advice is especially important for those who rely on natural gas to heat their homes. Homeowners should have a safety and energy efficiency check of their furnaces performed by a qualified technician.

A short, thorough check-up can help lower a customer’s energy bill and reduce the possibility of a malfunctioning gas heating system when it is needed most.

The heating systems in many homes - especially older homes - have dirty filters, leaky ducts or other minor problems that can reduce the efficiency of the unit, causing home energy usage to skyrocket. And at a time when natural gas prices are nearing record highs, that can add up to a lot of money.

More importantly, having your furnace checked by a professional can save your life. A furnace that is not running at peak performance can be deadly. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is a product of the combustion used in the furnace to produce heat. If the furnace burns the gas cleanly and efficiently, the small amount of carbon monoxide produced is vented and dissipates quickly. However, if the furnace is dirty or for some other reason doesn't burn the gas efficiently, or if it is not properly vented, it can kill quickly. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include flu-like symptoms, disorientation, confusion, and death.

It is especially important for older furnaces to be inspected. Newer gas furnaces are equipped with features that shut the furnace off when a problem is detected. Older furnaces have no such devices. Over time, furnaces can develop small cracks in the combustion chamber. While these cracks may not be visible to the naked eye, they are large enough to allow carbon monoxide to seep through them.

A heating professional will look for the following when inspecting a furnace.

— Look for cracked, rusted, misaligned, or clogged vents.

— Inspect for soot in the burning area and vents – this can be an indication that the gas burner is not properly adjusted and requires servicing.

— Clean all dust and lint near the burning chamber… But make sure the thermostat is in the off position prior to cleaning.

— Make sure the flame is blue – a yellow flame may be a sign that the burner could be out of adjustment.

— Securely fasten the door that covers the pilot light and burner area.

— Do not store or use combustible materials or liquids near any gas appliance.

— Clean or replace your furnace filter and make sure the blower door is properly secured.

— Check ducts for leaks and have them properly insulated.

— Look for cracked or frayed blower belts.

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