One of your long-term responsibilities as a home owner is taking care of your furnace. Winter is on its way. Don’t wait for below-zero temperatures before checking the furnace. If it breaks down in subzero weather, you could end up at the bottom of a list of many service calls for repair. Aside from functioning properly, you also want to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning that can come from a faulty furnace. Following a few simple tips will help keep your family safe with regular furnace maintenance. It’s not as tricky as it might seem.

Regularly check the furnace pilot light in old furnaces. In old furnaces, the pilot light is one indicator of how well your furnace is working. The flame should always appear blue. A yellow flame or any other color is a bad sign. It can mean an over production of carbon monoxide—an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly. Keep an eye on this light periodically to prevent dangerous problems. Modern furnaces have an electronic ignition instead of a pilot light, which usually uses a specific color light or flashing light to indicate problems. Check the Owners Manual or consult with your HVAC professional for more detail on your own model.

Change air filters and keep the furnace clean. Dirty filters make the furnace work harder to keep air running through the system. When the furnace has to work harder, it expends more energy, causing a higher utility bill. Check the filter regularly and put in a new one when it’s full of dirt. Changing it every 4 to 6 weeks during winter is a good rule of thumb, unless you use high efficiency filters that go as long as three months. The outside of your furnace should also be free of dust and debris. The blower is the second place air goes (and is next to the filter). It can get as dirty as the filter and needs to be cleaned as well. Your furnace manual should indicate exactly where the blower is located. Usually a damp cloth does the job.

Pay attention to strange noises. If you hear grinding, banging, clunking, or huffing and puffing from your furnace, it’s time to call a professional technician for service. You could have an electrical problem or a cracked belt. An unusual noise usually means there’s a problem.

Clean vents throughout your home. Most modern furnaces are hooked up to vents, the openings where warm air is forced out into the rooms of your home. If your vents are clogged with dirt and dust, this affects the effort your furnace makes to heat your home. Usually you can just pull off the vent cover and wipe it down, as well as vacuum out the wall duct. This also cuts down on the spread of dust throughout your home.

Schedule yearly inspections. Many HVAC companies offer regular maintenance deals or coupons for service inspections. Have the furnace checked yearly by a qualified technician. Keeping your furnace inspected and maintained could ward off more expensive repairs down the road. The older the furnace, the more critical the maintenance is.

Use carbon monoxide detectors. These detectors will sense higher levels of carbon monoxide in your home. Ideally they should be placed on each home level, including the outside of bedrooms. Additional detectors are recommended five to twenty feet from a furnace or fireplace. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal.

Follow these “don’ts” for furnace safety. Don’t store combustible materials such as paint thinners or gasoline near your furnace. Don’t close off more than twenty percent of your vents as this can cause unnecessary heat build-up in the furnace. If your furnace breaks down, never use a gas oven to heat your home. This poses a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Always know how to properly maintain your furnace. If you don’t have a manual or you own either an old or high-tech furnace, it’s best to hire a service technician. Ask what you need to do to keep it functioning properly. There may be cleaning and maintenance issues you’re comfortable handling on your own in the future, as well as things that you’d rather hire someone else to do.

Real Estate Term of the Week

Bioaerosol: A tiny, airborne particle (such as a fungal spore, pollen grain, endotoxin, or particle of animal dander) that is composed of or derived from biological matter. High concentration of bioaerosols in indoor air can cause respiratory problems and disease. Maintaining proper humidity levels and installing advanced filtration devices can help reduce bioaerosols.

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