How to Prepare Your Furnace for Winter

November 29, 2018

Before winter sets in, ensure that your furnace and/or electrical fireplace is fully operational, safe, and energy-efficient. Since these appliances lie dormant during the summer, it is fairly common for a furnace to unexpectedly experience some technical issues when you need it most. The last thing you want to happen when winter arrives is to discover that your heating system is not working properly. If you’re a homeowner, learning a thing or two about the furnace can help you understand how it works and identify potential problems before they arise. Read on!

How Furnaces Work

Older furnace models were powered by coal and wood, while modern furnace systems use gas, propane, or electricity to produce heat at high levels of efficiency.

No matter what powers your furnace, it runs and operates using the principle of forced air heating. During the combustion process, the heating system draws in outside air through a separate vent, then warms the air to an appropriate temperature. The furnace then distributes the heated air throughout the house through the ductwork. However, outdoor air requires filtration to remove fine particulates before they enter the plenum (main air chamber) of the furnace.

There are various types of furnaces to warm your living space throughout the cold months. However, there are also important factors to take into consideration. If you’re having a new home built or considering a new type of heating, think about which type works best for your needs. These factors include heating requirements, insulation and ductwork, the size of your home, and budget.

Fuel Furnaces

These are the four types of furnace, based on the type of fuel used to create heat:

Gas Furnace – This type uses natural gas (methane), which is piped in from municipal lines. Some gas furnace systems also use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), propane, butane, or a combination of propane and butane to generate heat. The type of gas used to run the furnace is determined by availability. Most homeowners use a natural gas furnace to heat their homes because of its benefits, which include:
- Efficiency in producing and distributing even heating
- Easy and inexpensive to maintain
- Does not break down easily after months of dormancy
- Natural gas is more cost effective (compared to fossil fuels)
- Burning of natural gas has less impact on the environment

Oil Furnace – This type of furnace is ideal for homes that do not have access to natural gas. It is commonly used in places with extremely low temperatures because old furnaces are great for providing more heat and produce more British Thermal Unit (BTU) compared to other types of furnaces. However, the use of oil has diminished over the years due to its increased pricel. Although an oil furnace is relatively easy to maintain, the buildup of soot and dirt necessitates additional cleaning. Homeowners are required to change filters and clean the chimney on a regular basis to prevent the risk of fire.

Electric Furnace – Electric-powered furnaces are a great alternative for homes that do not have a natural gas line. Even if natural gas is available in your area, it could still be costly to install and run pipes to the municipal line. Since most homes have ready access to electricity, electric furnaces make a great choice for people on a tighter budget who want to keep their home warm. Electric furnaces do not produce toxic fumes or potential carbon monoxide leaks that can harm the health of residents. Moreover, recent electric furnace models are designed to be far more efficient.

Wood Furnace – Relying on wood as fuel source can be a smart economic choice. Wood furnaces are reliable for heating certain spaces in a house. With the increasing prices of various fuel sources, wood furnaces provide the ambience of a real fire (sometimes with a cooking surface on top), and savings. Higher-end wood furnaces merely require yearly maintenance. Keep the furnace free from creosote and rust to keep it working in optimal performance. Since it produces smoke during combustion, have an exhaust system professionally installed to reduce the risk of smoke inhalation.

Coal Furnace – This type of furnace heats your home without depending on electricity, oil, or natural gas. Coal furnaces are less likely to break down or require costly maintenance and repairs because they come with few moving parts. Modern coal furnaces heat an the entire home without releasing harmful soot and smoke. Anthracite coal is often used to fuel the furnace without producing any smell or billows of black smoke.

Getting Your Furnace Ready for Winter

Although sitting by the fire and sipping a pumpkin spice latte may be enjoyable, you do not want to rely on your fireplace as the only source of heat during frigid winter months. To protect your home freezing temperatures, prepare your property’s heating unit to keep it functioning optimally:

Clean the Furnace – After months of being unused, the furnace could be covered with dust and cobwebs. Vacuum the heating unit thoroughly to remove any dirt and make the pilot lights visible. Relocate items placed against or near the furnace to prevent the risk of fire.

Replace Filters – Inspect filters before using the furnace. While some people change their filters every three months, some experts suggest replacing them monthly. Replacing the filters regularly prevents dust and dirt from entering the HVAC system, improves indoor air quality, and helps preserve its lifespan.

Test the Thermostat – To test if the thermostat is working, turn the temperature up high enough to turn on the heat. If a battery-operated thermostat fails, replace old batteries with new ones. Check the blower, fan, or heat pump of the furnace. If the thermostat working properly, switch from cooling to heating and adjust the temperature a few degrees higher than the current temperature. If not, consider having an HVAC professional replace the thermostat.

Clean the Ducts or Vent – The heated air generated by a furnace is distributed through ducts or vents — that is why it’s vital to keep them clean and free from any blockages. Wipe the surface of the vent exterior thoroughly and remove any objects inside the vent that could potentially stop air flow.

Check the Fan Belt – Check the tension of the fan belt (or blower belt) and inspect for signs of wear. A furnace with a loose belt usually takes more time to produce heat, requiring additional power or gas. Unscrew the air handler to access the belt. To tighten the belt, the attachment bracket should be loosened first. Move the motor assembly to increase the tension on the belt and then tighten the attachment bracket back in its place. If these instructions seem like a foreign language to you, call a professional heating company to handle maintenance.

Lubricate the Bearings – Most old furnace units come with various moving parts with bearings that require lubrication. Without adequate care, these bearings will wear out quickly, affecting the heating performance of the furnace.

Regardless of your furnace type, keep it in optimal working condition, hire a specialist to perform a thorough inspection of its components’ condition and replace or repair parts when necessary.

At Align Heating, our top priority is to provide optimal indoor air quality and make your home or office a comfortable place to be. Call us at (647) 217-9601 to schedule an appointment with one of our certified heating contractors in Mississauga. Our team of specialists are available 24/7, because we understand that emergencies can happen anytime. We also can get your gas fireplace ready for winter.