With the heating season upon us, it's important for the more than 63 million American households heated by natural gas or propane to have their gas appliances checked now. In fact, GAMA, the national trade association representing manufacturers of appliances used in residential space heating, recommends that homeowners have their heating systems inspected by a qualified HVAC contractor every year prior to the heating season. When a furnace operates properly, it is more efficient. That means it saves consumers money and provides safe and reliable comfort during the winter.
However, there are a number of steps that consumers can take on their own to help their heating systems operate optimally. Consumers should inspect the duct work and venting of their heating systems. Look for cracks or openings around the flue or vent pipes. If you find signs of rust, it may be the result of excessive condensation inside the flue or vent which can be caused by an improperly adjusted burner. In this case, call a professional to have the burner adjusted and to make any repairs.
Any heating system inspection by a consumer should include checking the blower motor and fan as well as examining the blower belts, if any, for signs of wear. A qualified repairperson should replace them if they are cracked or frayed. The burner chamber and pilot also need to be cleaned.
When homes are cleaned, GAMA advises that dust, lint, animal hair, etc. be vacuumed from all registers, vents and baseboard heaters. While working with registers, remember that heat will rise up through the house so upper floor registers can be closed in the winter and opened in the summer to allow cool air to descend. If ceiling fans are used, reverse the cycle from summer, and point the draft upward to improve the circulation of warm air in the room. You can also clean and adjust thermostats for a change in season. Also, check the chimney for bird or squirrel nests, leaves or loose brick, which can obstruct its air flow and prevent proper venting of the gas appliances.
With rising heating costs, GAMA recommends that consumers also take simple weatherization steps that can save money. Caulk around windows and door frames, and add weather stripping to doors and windows. If the house has unheated seasonal rooms, the doors need to fit tightly and should be kept closed. If the house doesn't have a thermostat, install one that automatically sets itself at night and when you are gone for a long period of time.
If heating equipment is old and needs to be replaced, call a contractor who is properly licensed. It's always advisable to ask for a NATE-certified (North American Technician Excellence) technician. If you cannot find a contractor, call your local utility company or the Better Business Bureau.
Keep a copy of the contract, warranty and pertinent receipts in your home file for easy reference and make sure you are given an owner's manual for all gas appliances.
To find out more about furnace efficiency and other gas appliances, go to www.gamanet.org, and click on Consumer Education.