Did you know that broken furnaces contribute to many property insurance claims each year? If your furnace dies or isn’t properly operating in cold weather, your home’s temperature can drop and cause frozen or burst pipes, resulting in damage. Keeping your furnace in good repair can save you money over the long term and protect your home.
Types of Furnaces in Alberta’s Homes
Most Albertans have forced-air central furnaces heating their homes. These work by heating air and blowing it through ducts throughout the home. Different fuels heat the air, including:
- Electric – Very efficient, quiet and small furnaces; they’re cheaper to install but the cost of electricity can be higher than other fuels.
- Natural Gas – The most popular fuel for furnaces in Alberta as natural gas is relatively cheap and plentiful.
- Propane – A less popular alternative to natural gas.
- Oil – Found more in rural Alberta; oil is more expensive and requires a storage tank, but oil furnaces can last longer if well maintained.
Boiler furnaces are very similar to forced-air furnaces except they circulate water through radiators rather than air through ducts.
No matter the type, furnaces should last 15 to 20 years but do require regular maintenance.
Maintenance Schedule for Furnaces in Alberta Homes
Regular maintenance helps ensure your furnace is running properly and can extend its lifetime. Not only will this help keep you warm during cold spells, but it will also save you money on utility bills and repairs.
Here are regular maintenance tasks you should carry out:
- Ensure all vents in your home are open and not blocked by furniture or other items. Keep these openings clean and clear (you can vacuum them if they’re dusty).
- Replace your furnace filter every 30 to 90 days.
- Pleated or polyester filters can be replaced every 90 days, unless you smoke in the house or have pets – replace it every 30 days if this is the case.
- Fiberglass filters should be changed monthly.
- If you have a permanent or re-usable filter, follow the manufacturer instructions to clean it.
- Use the correct size of filter, as the wrong size will reduce filtration and cause the filter to get dirty more quickly.
- Dirty filters can limit airflow, put strain on the blower motor and reduce filtration.
- Turn off your furnace’s power and fuel supply to clean it at least once a year.
- Use a vacuum or small brush to remove dust from the exterior of the furnace, the blower motor blades, belts and pulleys.
- Use a straw to remove dust around the pilot light and an emery cloth to clean the flame sensor.
- Inspect the furnace at least once a year.
- Check for soot as this indicates poor combustion.
- Ensure the combustion air opening isn’t blocked in any way.
- Look for any corrosion or leaks around the furnace, especially the flue pipe and drain lines.
- Check the drive belt for any frayed or cracked edges.
- See if any panels are loose.
- Check the thermostat batteries and adjust settings for the season.
- Get a professional tune-up once a year.
- A professional will test your furnace’s operations, ensuring it operates safely and efficiently.
- They’ll also take care of the regular maintenance items such as replacing the filter and cleaning the furnace.
- This usually costs around $100.
You can also help your furnace by taking care of other home maintenance items such as:
- Properly insulating your home, especially in the attic.
- Sealing ductwork.
- Sealing up cracks and holes.
- Weather stripping around windows and doors.
Common Issues with Furnaces in Alberta
Here are some indicators when there is an issue with your furnace and what to do about them:
- The blower motor keeps running – turn the thermostat down slightly and make sure it isn’t set to continuous fan. If the problem persists, call a professional.
- Clicking, grinding, popping or squealing noises – usually indicate a bigger problem and you should get a professional out to take a look.
- Changes in the pilot flame – if the pilot flame has changed colour or is weak or flickering, you should get a professional out as soon as possible.
- Cold spots in your house – can indicate areas that have poor insulation or a crack or hole; it can also mean your thermostat is in the wrong location or your furnace can’t keep up with heating your home. Also check that the thermostat is set to heat, and your furnace filter isn’t dirty.
- Corrosion on or around your furnace – you should get your furnace inspected.
- The furnace isn’t responding to the thermostat – check the thermostat’s power source or if it’s dirty and check the furnace filter. If none of these causes are the culprit, get a professional out.
- High utility bills – if your utility bills increase for an unknown reason, check your furnace’s filter and replace it if necessary. If the filter isn’t the issue, you should get your furnace inspected.
- Increased dust in your home – your filter may need to be changed. If you’re having to change filters more regularly than usual (and this isn’t caused by the introduction of a new pet or smoking in your home), you should get your furnace serviced.
- Increased humidity in your home – this can be a result of poor airflow or an issue with the furnace. Check that your vents are all clear and open and check the filter. If this doesn’t solve the problem, call someone to inspect your furnace.
- Not turning on at all – check that your thermostat has power and your furnace is turned on. Call a professional if this doesn’t solve the problem.
- Re-starting – if your furnace is shutting down and re-starting frequently, the flame sensors may be dirty, or a burner isn’t igniting properly. Clean the sensors; if this does not fix the issue, call a professional.
- Shaking or rattling noises – this may be fixed by simply tightening exterior screws or may indicate moving parts in your furnace are loose. Schedule professional maintenance if a loose exterior panel isn’t the cause of the shaking and rattling.
- Water around the furnace – the condensate pipe may be frozen, and if this is the case, you need to thaw it. There may be another issue with pipes nearby – call a plumber!
Address these issues before your furnace fails! Increased dust and humidity, inefficient heating, and the production of carbon monoxide can be the result of ignoring issues with your home’s furnace. If your home gets too cold, it can also cause pipes to freeze and burst.
If you aren’t comfortable doing the maintenance yourself, hire a professional to take care of it.