We seem to take somethings for granted in Canada. The flicking of a light switch, the turning of a water tap and the soft humming noise of our furnace. The appliance that keeps the temperature exactly where our thermostat is set. It’s a luxury and one that needs to be regularly maintained.
In Canada, the nationwide average for forced air furnaces is 56%, this goes up to 76% in Ontario. Almost half of households use natural gas across the country, and in Ontario that number increases to 62%. This means there are a lot of furnaces working hard out there to keep us warm, and they deserve proper love and care in return.
Machine maintenance is regular work that keeps things running smooth. It can include scheduled service, routine checks, and emergency repairs. Preventive maintenance looks for worn, damaged and dirty parts, proactively fixing before major problems occur. This applies to all machines, from your car to manufacturing machinery, and the furnace heating your home.
Recommendations across the board and from most warranties is once a year by a HVAC professional. Homeowners should change furnace filters every 2-3 months but without training they should leave the rest to licensed experts. Cost will vary from $100-$200 depending on what a company offers. Its best to check and compare to see what you’re actually paying for (we break down a good list below). Prevailing thought is a check up once a year can prevent bigger problems before they arise, saving you money and a potential emergency in the middle of winter.
Most HVAC experts, heck any mechanic will say, regular maintenance is good problem prevention. When you ignore those little tune-ups that’s when disaster happens. Top four bad results from ignoring your annual furnace maintenance are…
Full breakdown: HVAC professionals agree a whopping 75% of “I have no heat” phone calls are a direct result of neglected furnace maintenance. Once you’ve hit this stage you’re guaranteed in for a big repair bill.
Filthy filters: A dirty and dusty filter forces your furnace to work much harder to heat your home. It struggles, its inefficient and it will eventually cause your furnace to breakdown.
Pilot light plights: Pilot lights can get dirty too, and if there is a clog in the pilot opening or if the button isn’t fully pressed, the gas valve isn’t completely open. A good professional will clean the pilot light, inspect the button, set the flame higher and open the gas valve to make sure the pilot light is working.
Cracked heat exchanger: If your heat exchanger is cracked this is a very dangerous issue, with the potential to leak toxins like nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into your home. If undetected and large quantities escape, these toxins can affect your family’s health and safety. Any HVAC expert worth their salt will inspect the heat exchanger during an annual servicing.
What does a good annual maintenance service cover?
If you hire a good professional, annual maintenance should clean and inspect the important parts like the air filter, fan, pilot light and heat exchanger. Here is a more comprehensive list if you’re hoping for a full inspection and tune-up.
Visual and draft inspection of your venting system to check for blockages.
A full combustion analysis to ensure there is no carbon monoxide leaking into your home. On this note investing in a good carbon monoxide detector can give you some peace of mind.
A close examination of the heat exchanger for cracks.
Testing of all safety switches to prevent overheating and potential fires.
Check ignition, flame capability of pilot light/burner.
Inspect the combustion blower, fresh intake grills and louvers for blockages preventing airflow.
Confirm the blower access door makes a tight seal at the furnace.
Check blower wheel for debris. If needing to clean, blower wheel must be removed first.
Conduct amp-draw test on the blower motor and compare to what’s listed.
Clean and inspect the drainage system – this is required. This includes hoses inside the furnace.
Clean condensates drain and trap. Replace water in trap.
Check the wiring for connections and corrosion.
Examine the gas pressure and furnace’s temperature rise.
Proper installation of furnace filters.
The benefits pay off.
Save $$$: By investing in an annual check up and ensuring a hired professional does the preventative maintenance listed above, you will protect yourself from costly and often avoidable expenses. Catching issues when they are small before they become big problems can save you money and a lot of stress. Chances are that furnace breakdown will happen during a holiday or in the middle of a cold winter night when the temperatures are at their lowest. You could be looking at many long hours of discomfort before a technician is able to come by and then paying high emergency service rates.
Improve performance: You want your furnace running in tip top shape, so it heats your house as efficiently as possible. Energy bills are soaring and the last thing you want is your furnace to work more than it should. When your furnace runs efficiently, it uses less energy, which means you’ll spend
less on monthly bills.
Increase longevity: A well oiled machine will last longer than its rusting, neglected cousin. When your furnace is clean, blockage free and loved, it can last for many years. After all, it’s much cheaper and smarter to maintain a furnace than it is to completely replace one.
What if despite regular maintenance, religiously changing the filters every three months and naming your first born child Lennox, your furnace still breaks down? And its cold. And it’s a holiday, and you can’t get a hold of anyone. How do you stay warm? How do you keep your house warm enough, so the pipes don’t freeze, so your family and pets don’t freeze? Not to worry, we’ve gathered a tried, tested and true list of ways to keep you and your family warm.
Start adding heat. If you have a fireplace that’s gas, electric or wood-burning you have a source of heat. You can also run space heaters. These are good for warming up small spaces like bedrooms. Be sure to follow these simple safety tips for space heaters.
Go electric. All those plug in heating pads and blankets can do wonders to warm a bed, a couch or to make your kids into burritos!
Keep the cold out. Close the drapes, hang blankets over doors, and use towels or rolled up blankets to block the draft coming in at the bottom of doors and windows.
Pick a room. Gather the troops, stay in one room where you can focus your heating efforts. If you have a fireplace this would be a good place to be. Close the doors or block entrances with blankets to keep the heat you generate in that space.
Layer up. Now’s the time to pull out those long johns and turtle necks to add another layer to your outfit. Double up on socks, wear a hat to keep your own body heat in, and add as many layers as you can to stay comfortable.
Pile on. If you’re trying to sleep, extra blankets and sleeping bags piled on top of you will add weight and warmth to keep you nice and toasty.
Stay active. Fortunately, our human bodies have their own built in furnaces and when we keep moving we generate heat.
Ingest warmth. Literally, eating and drinking warm things will warm you up, from the inside out of course. And if you used the oven to make that food, when you’re done turn it off and leave the oven door open to let the heat escape into your house.
Unroll the rugs. If your home is all ceramic tile and hardwood floors that can be cold on the feet. Area rugs can help keep heat escaping from your floors, so gather up those rugs and put them in your declared warm room.
Check off the laundry! Your dryer will output heat when its running. So, if you’re bored and want to add a little warmth to the house, you can bang out your family’s laundry in one day.
Well, we’ve learned that if you don’t get an annual inspection, you run the risk of: breaking your warranty, damaging parts, having your furnace run inefficiently, risk leaking carbon monoxide, causing a full breakdown, and reducing the lifespan of a very expensive and necessary appliance. You will also increase your utility bills, and add expensive repairs if not a full replacement of your furnace. Never mind, the very real possibility of ending up freezing in the dead cold of winter for a couple of days.
For the sake of a phone call, and on average $150 per year, it seems a safe bet to have peace of mind, a warm house and humming furnace in your basement.