Before you need to turn the furnace on full blast to combat the winter cold of Chicago, having it cleaned and check is a vital fall task. A gas furnace is comprised of a fan, blower, and motor, plus other components, but it is these three areas that need annual maintenance to ensure that your heating system not only functions properly but also last a long time.
A professional cleaning is best, but cleaning a furnace can be a do-it-yourself project. First and most important is to turn off the furnace and turn off the gas to the it. Once that is done, unscrew and remove the panel. Using a vacuum with a tube attachment, remove the dust and debris inside the unit and around the fan and its blades. If accessible, remove any dust on the fan blades with a small brush. Make sure to clean around the motor so that it doesn’t have to work so hard generating air.
Similar to a vacuum cleaner, there is a belt on the furnace motor for rotation. Check the fan belt for tension; if it is loose it will need to be replaced. Make sure there are no loose wires or connections. If you note any, call in a professional.
Just as vital as keeping the furnace unit clean, it is important that the registers are also clean and unobstructed. Professional duct cleaning is a process that entails a high-powered suction cleaner being attached to the main feed of the furnace. The technician then goes to each supply and return duct and cleans each branch. Keeping the ducts clean minimizes the dust in your home, cuts down on allergens, ensures high pressure of air forced through the duct, and eliminates mold. Yes, mold can get trapped in the ductwork, grow and spread. Each time the unit blows air, mold spores are pumped through the entire home. While dust in merely a nuisance, mold is a serious health issue that can cause severe structural damage to a home as well. Don’t worry this is not a common occurrence, but if you have recently purchased a home that had been vacant for an extended period of time, cleaning the ducts is a more than a good idea.
In between professional duct cleaning appointments, vacuum the vents while cleaning the rest of the room. A regular vacuum works well, but if you own a shop vac, use it instead. A wet/dry vac is more powerful than a standard household vacuum and will suck up more dust.
Finally, the furnace filter must be changed often and sooner depending upon the lifestyle you lead. For those who smoke or have pets, the filter must be changed more often than in homes of those who do not smoke or are not pet parents. Write the date on the new filter before installing it. Make sure that the filter is installed properly with the arrows facing the direction of the air flow.
Set your programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature of your home for energy savings. During working hours set the temperature lower. Most units include a return setting – program this an hour before family members arrive home for a warm welcome. Another idea is to keep the temperature lower while sleeping since you are under the covers. A wake setting will turn the heat on to make the mornings more comfortable.
If your home has radiant heat, then the maintenance is a little easier. Inspect the each radiator for leaks. Then each unit should be bled or drained of excess air. There is special key that fits into the pressure gauge, turn it counter-clock wise and leave open until only air comes out.
A little care and maintenance will make winter as pleasant a season as possible.
By Eugenia Orr