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Simple tips to keep your home heating and furnace working through winter

Updated on May 26, 2014
Make sure your heating is working before winter snows hit
Make sure your heating is working before winter snows hit | Source

When winter hits the last thing you want is a malfunctioning furnace, or worse yet, one that just stops working altogether. The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep your heating system working efficiently and safely this winter.

Jobs you can do to maintain your home furnace and heating

The following list identifies some ways you can help maintain the efficient operation of your home furnace this winter. Take care to turn off the electricity and close the gas valve before you attempt some of these jobs:

  • Vacuum burner and blower cavities to remove dust, and dust the hot surface igniter (taking care not to touch it)
  • Remove dust from the pilot
  • Vacuum blower blades and brush off
  • Check air ducts and seal any leaks
  • Inspect the air filter and change when necessary
  • If you have an oil filter change it regularly to keep fuel flowing into the furnace cleanclean
  • Check any chimneys or outside vents for blockages such as birds nests or leaves
  • If you have a hot water system bleed air from radiators at least once a year. You'll need a special key for this but it will keep radiators working at optimum levels

Home oil furnace
Home oil furnace | Source

Change air filters regularly

Dirty filters cause pressure on your furnace and reduce its lifespan and efficiency and changing the filters is a fairly simple job. Air filters need to be checked and changed regularly, depending on type. During winter months a clogged air filter will reduce air quality in the home. If you have inexpensive fiber glass filters you'll need to change them every month or so, pleated filters will need changing every three months and permanent filters should be rinsed and cleaned every month.

Fall furnace maintenance

Routine maintenance of your furnace in fall should help prevent it dying when it's needed most. Your home furnace maintenance routine should only take a couple of hours and does not need expensive tools or any special skills.

If your furnace has a belt-driven fan you may need to adjust the belt and another job you may need to carry out is adjustment of dampers in ducts.


If your furnace has a pilot light that is continually alight you could save up to 5 percent in gas costs if you turn off the gas to the pilot once the winter season is over. Re-lighting the pilot is generally an easy matter and will be covered in your furnace handbook, or on the instructions provided on the furnace gas valve.

Replace thermostat with a digital and programmable thermostat to save energy and costs.

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and is a gas that is often produced by gas, wood or oil burning appliances. This gas has no odor and is colorless, if it should be leaking from your furnace into the home environment in large quantities it could prove fatal. Install carbon monoxide alarms on each level of your home and test the batteries regularly to ensure they are working properly. Installation of carbon monoxide alarms could be a lifesaver for your family at any future point.

When to call professional HVAC services

If you cannot sort out problems with your furnace before the onset of winter you'll need to call in professional help. The types of symptoms that need professional HVAC services include:

  • short cycling, where your system only runs for a few minutes at a time and then shuts down
  • irregular flame, burners should have even looking flames, if flames lean to one side or the back and are uneven you should call professional heating experts to look at the furnace
  • soot deposits, this is a sign that combustion is incomplete and shows the furnace may need some major maintenance
  • rumbling noises at odd times, noise isn't usually a problem with hot water or steam systems but there should not be any apparent noise with forced air heating
  • chronic headaches or symptoms similar to 'flu could be a sign of gases leaking from the system. Call a heating professional to check your furnace even if carbon monoxide alarms are not alerting you to the presence of gas in the home.

Resources with guides and photographs

Check out more simple DIY heating and furnace maintenance tips

Check these step by step instructions and photographs on how to do the simple furnace maintenance tasks described above

Energy.GOV provide resources and tips on furnace and heating maintenance

Bleed radiators regularly to maintain heat in the home
Bleed radiators regularly to maintain heat in the home | Source


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