How to properly maintain your own furnace in Ontario

Preventive Maintenance for Furnaces in Ontario not only improves the furnace’s efficiency, increases the life of the furnace and improves the environment that your family lives in – when you do it at the right time of year and aren’t afraid of getting your hands a little dirty – you can have greater piece of mind and save a little money too!

D.I.Y. tips

Changing Air Filters

Like most preventive maintenance there are some components that people can easily do themselves and others that require licensed professionals. Most of the ‘cleaning’ parts of preventive maintenance can be done by the homeowner’s family. Obviously, the changing of the air filter at the appropriate interval is a big step forward. Not only will this keep dust and allergens out of the air that your family breathes, but done at the right intervals, ensures that your furnace is working effortlessly moving and heating the air in the house. How frequently should this be done? Like most things in the heating and cooling world, the answer is a little more complicated than what you think. The right answer depends on a number of different things – how often the furnace is running, what kind of filter is in your furnace, do you have pets, are the floor coverings primarily carpet or hardwood/tile, how sensitive are people to allergens and asthma? Unfortunately, most people change their filter once a season. While this may be the right answer, homeowners should understand how they decide the frequency.

How much is the furnace running?

Most houses only run the furnace when the temperature inside the house needs to be raised (or lowered during Air Conditioning season). This means during fall and spring the furnace will run much less frequently (and for shorter periods) than in winter and summer. When the furnace isn’t running, there isn’t any air being circulated, which means the air filters are not catching all the airborne particles they’re designed to catch. So instead of changing the filters every 3 months, they should be changed more frequently during winter and summer, and less so during the shoulder months.

What kind of filter is in your furnace?

Recent trends have people buying higher efficiency air filters for their furnace. What this means is that they will catch more stuff in the air when it circulates through the furnace. While it’s great that the air will be cleaner, it also means that the filters will clog up sooner (shorter life). So as the efficiency of the filter increases, the frequency of changing the filter will as well. Technically speaking, the life of the filter is related to how much surface area of filter media is in the filter. On one end, a flat filter has the same surface area as the filter size. If the media is an ‘accordion’, then the surface area is quite a bit larger – meaning the filter won’t need to be changed as frequently. At the extreme end of this are the 5” (Merv 10/11) filters. The surface area of the filter media is well over 6 times the size of the opening so by extension, the filter needs to be changed 1/6 as often.

Pets, carpet, asthma, etc.

Once you think about this, its obvious. The more things that can be airborne, the more the filter will catch. Dog hair, cat hair, feathers, etc all will eventually make it into the duct system – and get trapped by the filter. If you don’t notice it, it’s a good sign. That means the filter has been changed at the right interval! Conversely, if you’re noticing dust bunnies in corners, chances are your filter needs to be changed.

On the other side of the equation are sensitivities. We all know that some people are vulnerable to colds, sneezing, and breathing challenges. While changing your furnace filter won’t cure you, it does reduce the things that can make people sick – so if you’ve got allergies, go to a hi efficiency filter and change it frequently.

Vacuuming out the furnace / cleaning the blower wheel.

This is where it starts getting less clear. There is nothing wrong with opening the door to the blower wheel and vacuuming out dirt, dust, and anything else that might be in there. It would be difficult to damage anything but you need to be careful that you don’t disturb the electrical connection to the blower motor.

Electrical and Gas components.

Unless the homeowner is a licensed technician we highly recommend that you call a professional. The work itself is not that difficult, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you may make your house unsafe. The good news is that you can usually smell a gas leak right away and turn off the gas. The bad news is that you won’t have any heat until the leak has been fixed. The same goes for the electrical components. Most of it is straight forward, but if someone does something wrong, you’ll need to wait until a professional gets there to fix it. What’s even worse, you may not realize you’ve changed something.

What time of year is best to do this?

The most important thing is that preventive maintenance is done at appropriate intervals. The timing of the actual maintenance is not that important, but from a homeowner perspective – there are advantages to doing it early in the fall. The actual heating part of the furnace will not have been working for 4+ months so you can pre-emptively confirm its ready to go for the winter. Secondly, a trained professional can identify potential causes of breakdown and proactively suggest replacement of those parts. Finally, the cost of doing this is around 35% cheaper in the shoulder months than if you have to repair something in the middle of a cold snap.

Frequency of Preventive Maintenance

Furnaces should have preventive maintenance done annually. Not only is this a pre-condition for warranty, it will keep your furnace running at peak efficiency, prolong its life and keep it reliable and hassle free. Our experience shows us that furnaces that have annual maintenance last twice as long as those that don’t. There obviously are exceptions to this (we service some oil furnaces that have been going for 20+ years and don’t appear to have had very much preventive maintenance), but after installing over 5000 furnaces and servicing another 20,000 we can tell you how quickly furnaces can die if they don’t get some simple maintenance.

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