Your home heating system is easily one of the most important components of your home during the chilly fall and frigid winter months. There are many different types of home heating systems, but one of the oldest and most common is the furnace. Furnaces themselves vary in design considerably and may be powered by electricity or fueled by oil or natural gas. All furnaces, regardless of how they are powered, function in a fundamentally similar way. Understanding how your furnace works and what you can do to maintain it can help to keep your house warm and save you costly repair bills in the future.
Understanding Your Home Furnace
The basic theory of operating a home furnace is relatively easy to understand, and most gas furnaces will contain the same general components. The two most important items in your furnace are the burner and the heat exchanger. The burner mixes gas and air to create a flame, which heats the air that moves through the heat exchanger. The metal body of the heat exchanger then warms up the surrounding air, which is distributed through ductwork to the rest of the home. A flue pipe exhausts combustion gases from the heat exchanger to the outside.
Of these components, the heat exchanger is generally the most expensive single item to repair or replace. Since combustion gases are contained within the heat exchanger, it is also the item that poses the greatest risk should it crack or otherwise fail.
Why Is Furnace Maintenance Important?
The reliability and longevity of your furnace depend in part on how well the furnace is maintained. Proper airflow is necessary to keep the heat exchanger from becoming too hot and potentially cracking, and there are many possible points of failure that can impede airflow through the ductwork. Performing routine maintenance allows you to deal with these issues before they become major and potentially dangerous failures.
Basic Maintenance Checklist
Home heating specialists can help you come up with an annual maintenance plan for your furnace and heating system in general, but there are steps you can take yourself to keep your furnace going. When working on your furnace, always be sure that power to the furnace is off. Once the furnace is safe to work with, there are several items that you can check yourself:
Air Filter. The furnace air filter should be checked once a month and replaced as often as necessary. In general, you should expect to replace this filter about once every 3–4 months. A clean filter is necessary for proper airflow, so if you only perform one routine maintenance task, this should be it.
Blowers. If your heating system uses belt-driven blowers, then the blower belts should be checked at least as often as you replace the filter. If the blower belts appear frayed or cracked, then they should be replaced to guarantee proper distribution of warm air to the rest of your house.
Heat Exchanger. If it is easily accessible, regularly check your heat exchanger for cracks. Even small cracks may be leaking harmful exhaust gases into your home, so any damage should be dealt with immediately.
In addition to these basic do-it-yourself maintenance steps, you should schedule an inspection of your furnace with a heating expert at least every other year. Residential heating services can perform a more thorough inspection of your furnace and help you solve any problems that may be developing.