fist of fire colliding with fist of iceHow to Maintain Your Home's Heating System?

Extreme temperatures can be the worst possible time to find out your home's heating system isn't working correctly. A polar vortex can bring temperatures below negative 31 degrees. Imagine you go to turn on your thermostat in the middle of a sub-zero spell, and nothing happens.

cold mortal kombat GIF by PlayStation

Maintaining your home's heating system is a vital step in preparing your home for winter weather. Here are a few tips to ensure your heating system is ready when the temp drops.

I like to MERV it, MERV it

If your home's heating system is a furnace, your furnace filter is the most critical component in keeping the system clean. Heating filters are rated 1-20 based on the MERV scale -- minimum efficiency reporting value. The best filters are rated 11 or higher, and block particles bigger than 0.3 microns. There are 25,400 microns in an inch, so those are some teeny tiny particles. As a point of comparison here is how efficient filters are at blocking different sized particles based on their MERV scale:

Particle Size (microns) MERV Scale Blocking Efficiency
Dust Mite 100 1-4 65%-80%
Sanding Dust 62 1-4 65%-80%
Textile Fibers 10 1-4 65%-80%
Pollen 10 1-4 65%-80%
Red Blood Cells 5 5-8 80%-90%
Iron Dust 4 5-8 80%-90%
Cement Dust 3 5-8 80%-90%
Mold Spores 3 5-8 80%-90%
Anthrax 1 9-12 90%-95%
Auto Emissions 1 9-12 90%-95%
Yeast Cells 1 9-12 90%-95%
Fiberglass Insulation 1 9-12 90%-95%
Asbestos 0.7 13-16 95%-99%
Bacteria 0.3 13-16 95%-99%
Lead Dust 0.3 13-16 95%-99%
Most Smoke 0.3 13-16 95%-99%
Carbon Dust 0.2 17-20 99%-100%
All Smoke 0.1 17-20 99%-100%
Virus 0.005 17-20 99%-100%

As these contaminants build up on the outside of the filter, it becomes harder for your furnace to pull fresh air through. The particles reduce your system's efficiency and can become a big problem if a screen becomes entirely blocked.

Most furnace filters live inside the blower compartment. If you have discarded your furnace manual or never received one, look up the serial number for your furnace online, and there may be a manual. Otherwise, a professional will be able to help.

Depending on your home's HVAC usage and the type of filter you buy, furnace filters can last anywhere between 1 to 12 months. Furnace filters can cost as low as $0.93 and as high as $250, depending on your MERV rating. Your furnace filter packaging should include a recommended replacement period.

The U.S. Energy Star program recommends that you change your home's air filter every three months, as this one task can cut your annual energy bills by $115. At a minimum, most HVAC professionals recommend that you change your furnace filter before the winter season starts.

Inspect your home's ductwork for blockages, cracks, and holes

A hole or crack in your ducts can allow for debris to collect and cause blockages in your HVAC system. Carefully inspecting your heating system ducts will prevent any significant damage as a result.

After inspection, most cracks can be sealed with duct tape to prevent anything else from getting in there. In extreme cases, you may need to replace your duct altogether. Duct material is available at your local hardware store at a reasonably low price and is much cheaper than the cost of future furnace repairs.

Make sure that your heating vents are opened and clear

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your home's heating system is doing its job is to make sure that all of your vents are free and clear. Covering vents with rugs or furniture can place unnecessary stress on your heating system, reduce efficiency, and lead to more severe issues long-term.

Before running your heating system for the first time, take a walk around your house and check that all vents are open and cleaned. It is a good idea to clean the grilles while you're at it -- these can be removed with a screwdriver and cleaned with a hose outside. If you can't remove the grille, you can simply take a duster, a cloth, or even a vacuum hose to try to remove some of the dust and dirt collected between the blades or dividers.

Know when to call a professional

We all love a good DIY project, but it's essential to know when it's time to call a professional. Even the best can have difficulty replacing a furnace heat exchanger or ductwork.

diy fail GIF

Nothing beats a licensed professional to troubleshoot and fix your home's heating system. Your furnace has a lot more moving parts, with some containing gas or flames. The cost of repair is never worth more than the value of your safety.

The average price of installing a new furnace in the U.S. is about $4,000. Regular maintenance not only keeps repair costs down but can also help to maintain your home's energy efficiency. The average life expectancy of a furnace is 16 to 20 years, depending upon usage and upkeep.

Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to maintain your home's heating system throughout the year to guarantee that it stays functional for years to come. The best way to ensure your home is ready for the cold is to have an HVAC specialist thoroughly inspect your system.

At your service,
Young Alfred