How to Maintain Your Home Heating System?

How to Maintain Your Home’s Heating System?

Extreme temperatures can be the worst possible time to find out your home’s heating system isn’t working properly. A polar vortex brings temps as low as 31 degrees below zero (looking at you North Dakota). Imagine in the midst of a sub-zero spell, you go to turn on your thermostat and nothing happens. Maintaining your home’s heating system is a vital step in preparing your home for winter weather. Here’s a few tips to ensure your heating system is ready when the temp drops.

I like to MERV it, MERV it

If your home's heating system is a furnace, your furnace filter is the most important component in keeping the system clean. Heating filters are rated 1-20 based on the MERV scale (minimum efficiency reporting value). The best filters, rated 11 or higher, block particles bigger than 0.3 microns. There are 25,400 microns in an inch, so those are some teeny tiny particles. As a point of comparison here is how efficient filters are at blocking different sized particles based on their MERV scale:

Particle Size (microns) MERV Scale Blocking Efficiency
Dust Mite 100 1-4 65%-80%
Sanding Dust 62 1-4 65%-80%
Textile Fibers 10 1-4 65%-80%
Pollen 10 1-4 65%-80%
Red Blood Cells 5 5-8 80%-90%
Iron Dust 4 5-8 80%-90%
Cement Dust 3 5-8 80%-90%
Mold Spores 3 5-8 80%-90%
Anthrax 1 9-12 90%-95%
Auto Emissions 1 9-12 90%-95%
Yeast Cells 1 9-12 90%-95%
Fiberglass Insulation 1 9-12 90%-95%
Asbestos 0.7 13-16 95%-99%
Bacteria 0.3 13-16 95%-99%
Lead Dust 0.3 13-16 95%-99%
Most Smoke 0.3 13-16 95%-99%
Carbon Dust 0.2 17-20 99%-100%
All Smoke 0.1 17-20 99%-100%
Virus 0.005 17-20 99%-100%

As these contaminants build up on the outside of the filter, it becomes harder for your furnace to pull fresh air through. This reduces your system’s efficiency and can become a big problem if a filter becomes blocked. 

Most furnace filters are located inside the blower compartment. If you have discarded your furnace manual or never received one, look up the serial number for your furnace online and there may be a manual. Otherwise, a professional will be able to help.

Depending on your home’s HVAC usage and the type of filter you buy, furnace filters can last anywhere between 1 to 12 months. Furnace filters can cost as low as $0.93 and as high as $250, depending on your MERV. Your furnace filter packaging should include a recommend replace period. 

The U.S. Energy Star program recommends that you change your home’s air filter every 3 months, citing that this one simple task can cut your annual energy bills by $115. At minimum, most HVAC professionals recommend that you change your furnace filter before the winter season starts. This is a great practice as furnace filters are much cheaper than the cost of repair.

Inspect your home’s ductwork for blockages, cracks, and holes

A hole or crack in your ducts can allow for debris to collect and cause blockages in your HVAC system. Carefully inspecting your heating system ducts will prevent any major damage as a result. 

After inspection, most cracks can be sealed with duct tape to prevent anything else from getting in there. In extreme cases, you may need to replace your duct altogether. Duct material can be found at your local hardware store at a fairly low price, and as always is much cheaper than the cost of future furnace repairs. 

Make sure that your heating vents are opened and clear

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your home’s heating system is doing its job is to make sure that all of your vents are free and clear. Covering vents with rugs or furniture can place unnecessary stress on your heating system, reduce efficiency, and lead to more serious issues long-term. 

Before running your heating system for the first time, take a walk around your house and check that all vents are open and cleaned. It is a good idea to clean the grilles while you’re at it. These can be removed with a screwdriver and cleaned with a hose outside. If you can’t remove the grille, you can simply take a duster, a cloth, or even a vacuum hose to try to remove some of the dust and dirt collected there. 

Know when to call a professional

While we all love a good DIY project, it’s important to know when it’s time to call a professional. Even the best do-it-yourselfer can have difficulty replacing a furnace heat exchanger or ductwork. Nothing beats a licensed professional to troubleshoot and fix your home’s heating system for you. After all, your furnace has a lot of moving parts, some containing gas or flames. The cost of repair is never worth more than the cost of your safety

The average cost of installing a new furnace in the US is about $4,000. Regular maintenance not only keeps repair costs down, but can also help to maintain your home’s energy efficiency. The average life expectancy of a furnace is 16 to 20 years, depending upon usage and upkeep.

Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to maintain your home’s heating system throughout the year to guarantee that it stays functional for years to come. The best way to ensure your home is ready for the cold is to have an HVAC specialist thoroughly inspect your system before the heavy use hits.

At your service,
Young Alfred