Now that fall is here, it’s time to think about the heating season ahead. So here’s my annual reminder to get the furnace checked at your house. This is a vital procedure to keep your family safe during the coming winter. Every heating system — whether forced air or hot water boiler — should be checked out by a licensed heating contractor. This is a good annual habit to establish even for newer homes, because theoretically any furnace can fail at any time. Plus, a well-adjusted furnace will use less fuel and save you money over our long heating season.
I’ve seen advertised special prices for this checkup for as low as $69, although the average is probably closer to $100 or so. Interview your company to make sure — at a minimum — that they will vacuum out the cabinet, adjust the burners if needed, check the electricity loads, inspect the heat exchanger, look at the blower motor, do a carbon monoxide output check and provide a new filter.
If this check results in a scary conclusion — like a bad heat exchanger — you have more work to do. The constant flexing, expansion and contraction of this component, as it heats and cools thousands of times each winter, can produce cracks. So then more than just heat gets exchanged; the gas fumes can get mixed in with the room air, and those fumes can contain carbon monoxide. Some technicians have been known to, er, shall we say, over-diagnosis this condition. They are anxious to sell you a new furnace, and may use this ploy to frighten you into an immediate decision. If you’re advised to install a new furnace, get a second opinion from another contractor. If the two evaluations agree, then you have a sounder basis for your decision.
A busy heating contractor doesn’t need to sell you a new furnace to stay in business, and they will respect your decision to call in another company. I’m amazed at how many radio listeners have told me that the second company has given them a clean bill of health.
So as long as your carbon monoxide detector isn’t alarming and your family and pets aren’t suffering from unexplained flu-like symptoms, you have time to step back and evaluate your need for a new furnace, armed with that second opinion. Of course, if you suspect carbon monoxide is in your home, you must take immediate action! Take the family to a neighbor’s and call the fire department or the gas company.
If you’re purchasing another home, the home inspector you hire won’t perform the exhaustive check of the furnace that you’ll get from a heating contractor. The inspector will do a visual check of the system and maybe a fume test of the room air, but since they are unlicensed they’re not permitted to take the furnace apart.
Speaking of winterization:
It’s a good idea to shroud the outside air conditioning condensing unit. It will stay prettier…