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Furnace Tune-up

Who wants to think about the heating system when it’s warm and sunny outside? But winter is never that far away, and having a heating system service done now will ensure that the heat will come on when it is finally needed.

Q: When I called a heating and air contractor to fix my 17-year-old furnace, he told me it was beyond repair and quoted me a “special” price to have it replaced, if I signed his contract that day. I don’t like being pressured into making a decision, especially one that involves thousands of dollars.

A: Unfortunately, we are hearing more and more stories of high pressure and even scare sales tactics these days, which is totally unnecessary when someone is offering a valuable product or service at a fair price. Of course, you should always get competitive estimates on costly home improvements. Contact another heating and air company, describe the problem, tell them the make, model, size and efficiency ratings of the new unit the repair person is trying to sell you, and see what they say. In this case, you probably would save money by replacing a unit that is over 15 years old, but you certainly need more information and options to make a wise decision with which you can feel comfortable.

Q: Last year when we turned on the furnace for the first time one morning, it

smelled so bad we were worried it was carbon monoxide or something else was wrong. Is this normal?

A: The odor is normal because dust collects on the heat exchanger over the summer, and turning it on for the first time simply burns the dust off. Carbon monoxide is odorless, so you could not smell it. Homeowners should install a good carbon monoxide detector to make sure none of this deadly poison is present in their homes.

When you turn on your furnace for the first time leave the windows open to dispel the odor quickly. This is also the ideal time to schedule a maintenance appointment to make sure your furnace will work properly when you need it.

Q: What does a furnace maintenance check-up consist of?

A: We perform the following steps:

* Inspect thermostat for proper operation.
* Inspect filter and change or clean as needed.
* Check all electrical components and controls.
* Oil motors as needed.
* Inspect heat exchanger for possible cracks. A crack in the heat exchanger will introduce carbon monoxide into the living space.
* Check air flow. If diminished, it may be necessary to clean the evaporator coil.
* Check air fuel mixture, where appropriate.

Q: Is there anything a homeowner can do to assure proper operation and safety of their furnace?

A: Yes. The first thing to check before turning on your unit is to make sure nothing flammable has been stored next to the furnace over the summer (we frequently find lawn mowers, gas cans, etc. stacked against the furnace in the garage!) Use the following as a guide:

* Run your heater for a few minutes now, before you need it. If you wait until the first cold morning to discover is isn’t working, you’ll find yourself on a waiting list before a heating and air specialist can come to fix it.
* Change the filters regularly. Dirty filters restrict air flow, reducing efficiency and worse case, can cause the heat exchanger to overheat. Disposable fiberglass filters should be replaced. Electrostatic or electronic filters need to be washed regularly.
* Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place.
* Be sure the thermostat is set in the heating mode. Just setting the dial above room temperature will not activate the heat if it is still set in the air conditioning mode.

Q: The home we just purchased has a heat pump and it doesn’t seem to warm up as quickly as our previous house which had a gas furnace.

A: A heat pump is simply an air conditioner with the ability to reverse the flow of refrigerant (freon), and gas furnaces are simply more efficient than air conditioners. If your thermostat is set at 70-degrees, your heat pump will discharge air at approximately 20-degrees above thermostat setting while a gas furnace produces approximately 40-degrees hotter air, naturally warming the area much faster.

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