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September 21, 2012

Fall means it’s time to fire up the furnace

Local experts say doing it now could pay off later

By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer

With school back in session and a chill creeping into the mornings, it won’t be long before it’s time to turn on the heat.

But before then is the time to make sure your furnace is in tip-top shape, according to local experts.

Rob Steusloff, a manager at Ace Hardware in Macomb Township, said homeowners should start getting their furnace ready for winter early.

“Fire up your furnace before the season begins, just to monitor any noises, unusual sounds and even check the flame pattern on the furnace,” he said. The pilot light should look “blue and smooth. That’s what you want. You don’t want a really staggered flame pattern.”

He recommends furnace filters be replaced each month and said buying six at a time means they only have to be purchased twice a year. Homeowners can discover what size filter to buy by looking at the existing filter.

“It makes your furnace run as efficiently as possible,” he said.

For those who have high-efficiency furnaces, outdoor vent pipes should be checked for overgrown shrubbery or other plant life blocking the outlet.

“You want to make sure that those are open and clear,” he said. “It will make the furnace shut down, believe it or not, if those are plugged.”

Humidifier pads should be replaced once a season, and Steusloff said another thing to check is that the humidifier is filled with water when it is turned on for the season.

Dan Turowski, general manager of Aladdin Heating and Cooling, said they recommend a furnace tuneup every year.

“We check the heat exchange for any crack or any wear or tear, because if the heat exchange fails, that’s what ultimately lets carbon monoxide (escape),” he said.

During the tuneup, they also test all the safety features of the furnace, most of which will shut off the furnace if there’s something wrong to “save your house from burning down.” They’ll also check electrical connections, turn on and test the humidifier, and run other specialized tests.

Turowski said the test, which costs about $89, is needed each year to keep the furnace running safely and efficiently. Another option offered by the company includes a combustion analysis on the exhaust. That usually costs $119, but Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are offering $50 rebates, which will make it cheaper than the regular furnace tuneup. Turowski said Aladdin would even do the rebate paperwork for the customer.

“We find a lot of things that are going bad (or) marginally operating,” he said. “They more than likely will break in the middle of winter. We find those before you have a no-heat situation.”

He said modern furnaces can last anywhere from 18 to 30 years.

Having a carbon monoxide detector installed is a must, said Steusloff.

And for those looking to do as much as possible themselves, he said it’s important to help your furnace work as little as possible by caulking windows, filling in cracks, checking for drafty doors, and replacing the threshold on doors and the weather stripping on windows, if needed. Plastic sheeting helps keep out drafts from older windows, he said.

“Most everything … even humidifier replacement parts, you can buy” from a hardware store, Steusloff said.

Furnaces aren’t the only source of heat in need of maintenance this time of year — gas fireplaces should also be checked, Turowski said.

“If you have a vent-free fireplace, it should be inspected annually,” he said. “There’s no chimney with those, and the draft goes into the house. We have to make sure the safety devices on them are working … and are burning clean.”

For more information, contact Ace Hardware in Macomb Township at (586) 786-9040 or Aladdin Heating and Cooling in Warren at (800) 762-0079.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at kdemske@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1041.