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From LDN's Fall Home Improvement Magazine

Honey, does it seem cold in here to you?

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[October 01, 2013]  Illinois winters range from mild to brutally cold, and remembering that when it's 80 degrees in the shade on the first day of autumn might seem like a far stretch. But this is probably the best time to get a head start on preparing your heating system for winter.

Your furnace is probably the most important element in your household when the weather turns ugly, because its sole task is to keep you comfortably warm. Most homes have forced-air furnaces that circulate warmed air through ducts to heat the house. Taking good care of it now might prevent an emergency call when the "mechanical men" are busiest and less likely to be able to just come right over.

So where do you start? There are three things you can do in the first weeks of fall to help ensure your heating system provides heat.

The first, and most important, is to clean or change your furnace filter. The purpose of the filter is to keep dust and other particles from being spread around your home and to keep your furnace elements clean. A dirty furnace is an inefficient or failing furnace.

Filters come in three varieties: disposable, electrostatic and electronic. The most common filter is disposable, made of paper or fiberglass, and is designed to be changed MONTHLY during the heating and air-conditioning season. If air is moving through your furnace, you need to change the filter. A lot of people seem to be really bad about remembering to change the filter.

When the filter gets clogged up with dust, it slows down the airflow, and if it gets too dirty, the filter itself can fail and collapse, allowing all the nasty dust to enter your furnace intake.

If you are really bad about remembering to change the filter, then maybe an Air Bear filter is for you. This filter is almost 5 inches thick, keeps your air cleaner and needs to be changed only once a year. Bassett's Mechanical from Mount Pulaski installs Air Bear filters, and most furnaces can be retrofitted with the Air Bear.

Electrostatic filters trap dust by charging them electrically. The nice thing is that you clean the filter rather than throwing it away. The charged particles adhere to the filter until you wash them off. It is best to check and clean electrostatic filters on a monthly basis. Electronic filters, the most expensive, operate without intervention for long periods of time and usually guarantee 10 years of dust-free operation. Jake at Ace Hardware can help you with your furnace filter needs.

After you have changed the filter, it's a good idea to go through the house and vacuum out the registers. Take the screws out of the registers and open them up. Use the vacuum hose from your carpet vac or your shop vac and clean up all the dust you can see around the register and down into the duct. Whatever you don't vacuum up will likely be in your rooms when you turn on your furnace.

A lot of people wonder if they should have their ducts cleaned. In most instances the answer is no. There is no data that cleaning ducts prevents health issues except if (1) there is substantial visible mold in your ducts, or (2) your ducts have been infested with vermin such as rats or mice, or (3) there is a substantial buildup of dust or dirt in your ducts. Marion from Lincoln Heating & Cooling is a ductwork expert and can provide expert advice regarding cleaning or replacing bad ductwork.

The third thing you should do, after you have vacuumed the registers and reassembled them, is to test your heating system. Set your thermostat to heat and turn up the dial. Your furnace should kick on when the temp on the dial exceeds the temp in your house. Listen for your furnace to kick on and begin to heat up. Then listen for the fan to start. It should begin to blow after your furnace has heated up sufficiently. The air that comes out should be warm to hot.

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If you cannot make your furnace kick on or if the blower fails to start, it is a good time to call your HVAC service person to have your furnace checked before you really need it. Scott Mack from Logan County Hardware is skillful in diagnosing furnace problems and usually can save you money when your system needs repairs or replacement.

Having a furnace inspection every three to five years can save you money and might even save your life. The inspector will check to make sure your heat exchanger isn't cracked, that gas isn't leaking and that your ventilation stack isn't clogged. Any one of those could kill you by trapping dangerous gases in your house. Having a carbon monoxide detector in the closet with your furnace and within 15 feet of your bedrooms can tell you if there might be a problem. If you smell gas in your home or around your furnace, call Ameren Cilco immediately.

If you have a heat pump, it is a good time to clean the coils on your heat pump unit. You can do a somewhat effective job with the garden hose. With the unit off, spray water through the grates on the sides to remove as much dirt and debris as possible, allowing the water to run out the bottom. The heat pump runs much more efficiently with clean coils, and cleaning the coils can lengthen the life of your heat pump unit.

Your HVAC service expert can do a more effective cleaning of your coils by taking apart the cover of your unit and can check the coolant level at the same time. Several services in Logan County, including D&D, advertise this service for $99.

Now is the perfect time to get an early start on your furnace check. It could prevent health hazards and help take the BRRRR out of winter.


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