When the weather turns colder, it’s time to fire up the furnace, bring out the blankets and prepare for a cozy winter. But, after an entire season with no heating, it’s natural to experience some furnace issues when you start up the heater for the first time. It’s important to schedule some annual maintenance prior to the start of the colder months. This will prepare the furnace for the heating season and reduce the chance of a failure when you need the heating most. A well maintained furnace is likely to have a longer useful lifespan too, and it will be more energy efficient which lowers your utility bills. In this article, we will look at six vital safety tips which promote furnace safety.
A Brief Gas Furnace Primer
There are four main types of natural gas furnace: floor, walls, central gravity and forced-air models. Every gas furnace type relies on a supply of natural gas and electricity to supply power to the vital components. These are all prone to failure if the equipment is kept in a poor condition. If you cannot remember when the heating system was last serviced, it’s a good time to schedule a visit now. An inspection by a local HVAC inspector, deep cleaning, and vital maintenance can restore a lot of lost efficiency. But, the primary concern should always be safety, and this is especially true if you have a gas furnace.
1. Regular Furnace Area Cleaning
This may seem strange, but one of the more dangerous hazards around a furnace is a build-up of dust and lint. This material can accumulate on the surface of the furnace and the surrounding area. When you turn a furnace on after a lengthy period of inactivity, you may notice a slight burning odor which is that material burning off. Most of the time, this is not a major problem, and the burning smell dissipates after a short while. But, this is an indication that the furnace is dirty, and the dust and lint can be a fire hazard. To prevent a fire, it’s a good idea to clean the furnace area monthly during winter. This will keep most of the lint at bay, and the dust levels will be much lower. If you have a wall mounted furnace, this is a good time to clean the burner compartment interiors. When you look at your natural gas furnace, look for a steady blue flame which indicates that the combustion is clean. If the flames are yellow or orange, it’s time to contact a local heating specialist to adjust and clean the burners.
2. Establish Clear Furnace Rules
If you have safety rules for the gas furnace, that’s great, but if other people living in the home don’t know the rules or ignore them, it can be a real problem. This is especially true if your kids have access to the furnace area and they play there. Many people use these spaces to store unused items, and this is a bad idea. Everyone should understand that they must stay away from the furnace, and a separate storage area should be used.
3. Improve Air Flow
The furnace requires fresh air to work, and if there is insufficient air, the system may use up the oxygen in your home, creating an unhealthy low-oxygen environment. If there isn’t enough air flowing through the furnace, it will be forced to work harder. Overworked equipment is more prone to failure, and the energy bills will rise too. The best way to prevent these problems is to change the furnace filter regularly and keep the floor registers clear. Removing all obstructions to a separate storage area is advisable to keep the air flowing around the furnace.
4. Invest in Regular Furnace Maintenance
It’s important to schedule regular essential maintenance to keep your furnace in great shape. The best time to do this is a few weeks before winter arrives to ensure that the heating system is ready for the cold months ahead. During the tune-up, the technician will find any issues or potential problems that could cause the system to fail. Professional cleaning will also boost the performance and energy efficiency too. Avoid the temptation to perform DIY maintenance because it’s easy to cause damage that’s expensive to fix.
5. Remove Flammable Items
If a heat exchanger cracks, the furnace may emit flames, and the cracks seal up when the furnace is cool. So, it can be tricky to identify a cracked heat exchanger, and this problem is a common cause of house fires. Even a well functioning furnace can generate a lot of surface level heat that can cause nearby flammable items to catch fire. If you’re using the furnace area as a place to dry laundry, keep those items at a safe distance and don’t hang them on the furnace. Any items with a low flash point represent a significant risk of fire; these include gasoline, old oily rags, paper, wood scraps, paint, sawdust, and paint thinners. These items should be kept well away from the furnace, and ideally, they should be in a separate place.
6. Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Smoke Alarms
Under normal operating conditions, a well maintained furnace is safe to use. But, if the equipment is dirt and in bad shape, there is a possibility of a carbon monoxide leak or a fire. Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer, it’s a toxic gas caused by incomplete combustion, and it cannot be detected by sight or smell. Exposure to small concentrations of carbon monoxide in the air can make people feel ill, and the consequences may be fatal. So, it’s important to install a carbon monoxide detector within five feet of all appliances that use natural gas, and that includes the furnace. To stay safe, it’s also advisable to install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of a multi-story home. Installing smoke detectors throughout the home is also important to give the occupants an early warning that a fire has started. These detectors and alarms should be tested once per month, and the batteries should be changed regularly.
If you want to schedule some essential maintenance for your gas furnace, contact your local heating and cooling specialist today.