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Furnace Maintenance

It happens every year in our house. We wake up to the first cold morning after summer and everybody refuses to get out of bed until I get up and start the furnace. Well, this year I’m going to get the furnace going early so I won’t have to do the job before my morning coffee or while dressed in slippers and a bathrobe.

Also, because I’m not waiting until the last minute, I can give the furnace a really good once-over looking for ways to make it work cleaner and more efficiently.

Make your mornings a whole lot easier this season. Take these simple steps to prepare your heating system.


Dangerous Leaks

First, remove all the access covers and look for cracks and excess corrosion, especially in the heat exchanger — the place where air circulates through the combustion chamber. Fuel is burned in the combustion chamber and if any carbon monoxide leaks out it could be drawn into your home. If you suspect that this might be happening, call a professional to test for the gas and/or install a carbon monoxide alarm in your house. The alarm, available at most home centers, looks and installs much like a smoke alarm.


A New Type of Filter

Next, clean out any dust and spider webs in the furnace with a vacuum and remove the filter. Instead of replacing the filter, you may want to install a new electronic air cleaner. This new filter uses static electricity to keep out many more particles and is very energy efficient.

Installation requires some custom-made ducting but it is otherwise simple to do. Proper air-filtering has been shown to prevent what is called “sick-building syndrome.” There are many causes for this, but symptoms include more frequent allergy attacks and even colds and flu.


How Chimney Fires Damage Chimneys

Masonry chimneys: When chimney fires occur in masonry chimneys – whether the flues are an older, unlined type or are tile lined to meet current safety codes – the high temperatures at which they burn (around 2000′ F) can “melt” mortar, crack tiles, cause liners to collapse and damage the outer masonry material. Most often, tiles crack and mortar is displaced, which provides a pathway for flames to reach the combustible wood frame of the house. One chimney fire may not harm a home. A second can burn it down. Enough heat can also conduct through a perfectly sound chimney to ignite nearby combustibles.


And a New Thermostat

In the interest of saving energy, think about installing one of the new programmable thermostats. They may look complicated, but they hook up to the same wires as old thermostats.

Once installed, you program the times you usually turn the furnace on and off. The energy-saving idea behind these thermostats is that people often forget to turn off the furnace or, in order to heat up the house quickly, they overcompensate and run the furnace full blast. By having the thermostat anticipate temperature needs you save energy.


Check for an Even Burn

With the thermostat off, light the pilot light and fire up the furnace. After letting it burn for a while, look at the flames to see if they are burning evenly and with a nice blue color.

If the flames are dancing around with more yellow than blue, you may need to adjust the air/fuel mixture. Different furnaces adjust this mixture in different ways. If you do not have the instructions for your individual furnace, have a professional do it. A furnace that is not working efficiently will waste fuel and take longer to heat up.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas produced when any carbon-based fuel is burned. It is colorless and odorless; therefore, you may not be aware of its presence. CO can collect in enclosed spaces (including homes, offices, and workshops) without the
awareness of the occupants.
According to the National Safety Council and the Center for Disease Control, approximately 500 to 1000 people are killed in the home each year by CO. Nearly 5,000 people in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for carbon monoxide poisoning. It is believed that many other people are made ill by exposure to elevated CO levels, but are either misdiagnosed or untreated.
What are some common sources of carbon monoxide in the home or workshop?
Most carbon monoxide produced in homes comes from combustion of fuel for heating and cooking. CO may accumulate in the home when a blocked chimney, broken chimney flue, or damaged furnace heat exchanger allows gases to enter the home. It can also enter the home from the garage when an automobile, lawn mower, or other engine is in operation. Backdrafting chimneys and flues (common when ventilation fans are used in tightly sealed homes) may allow combustion gases, including carbon monoxide, to enter the home.
Gas stoves and ranges can produce CO, which can present problems if the appliances are used for prolonged periods or if they are not operated properly. Gas ranges are not intended to be used to heat the home.

Some other common sources of carbon monoxide
include un-vented fuel burning space heaters and indoor use of charcoal for heating or cooking. (Note: charcoal should NEVER be burned indoors.)
What are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide bonds to hemoglobin in red blood cells, interfering with the capacity of the hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout the body. Common symptoms of CO poisoning include nausea, dizziness, weakness, muscle aches, vomiting, and a
general weakness or sleepiness. Because the symptoms may resemble the “flu” or food poisoning, carbon monoxide exposure may be mistaken for these common illnesses. Carbon monoxide usually affects all occupants of a household at the same time (which
may help distinguish carbon monoxide poisoning from the flu.) Higher dosages of CO can cause impaired judgment, confusion, paralysis, coma, and death. Victims of CO poisoning must be removed from exposure as quickly as possible. They
require prompt medical attention. Symptoms may not disappear immediately after the victim is removed from exposure to the gas; in some cases symptoms may recur days or weeks later.
How can you protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning?
Regular inspection and maintenance of all fuel-burning appliances (stoves, furnaces, water heaters, dryers, etc.) should be conducted by a qualified technician. Metal flues and heat exchangers should be inspected for signs of rust or cracking. Follow recommendations in owners’ manuals to ensure proper use of all appliances. Gas ranges,
ovens, and clothes dryers are not intended to be used to heat the home. Do not use “outdoor” appliances (such as barbeque grills or construction space heaters) indoors. Garages and workshops are “indoors”; they are enclosed spaces in which combustion gases may accumulate. Carbon monoxide detectors carrying the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing are recommended. CO detectors meeting UL standard 2034 can detect long-term, high-level CO concentrations and short-term, low-level CO concentrations. CO detectors should be installed on a wall or ceiling near a sleeping area.