The furnace is one of the hardest working appliances in our homes and we rely on them when the weather turns colder. Contrary to popular opinion most furnace failures don’t simply happen with no warning at all. There tends to be a general decline in performance and efficiency and the repair bills will gradually rise. Although it is true that a new furnace will lose some efficiency after every year of ownership. But, a great deal of this lost efficiency can be mitigated to keep the energy efficiency viable. Waiting for problems to occur is not a great strategy and a proactive approach works better. For this reason, we recommend a furnace inspection prior to each heating season. This will identify smaller issues before they develop into larger problems to maintain performance.
A Brief Furnace Inspection Primer
The first step is to choose a local licensed and certified heating company to work on your system. An HVAC system represents a significant investment in your home comfort and it makes good sense to protect it. Always hire a professional to work on your heating and cooling equipment because this may be a condition of the warranty. The furnace inspection should be carried out before the start of each heating season. This will ensure that the furnace is ready for the harder work during winter and any smaller issues can be fixed. Well maintained systems are less likely to fail when you need them most.
When the heating technician arrives at your home, they will have the tools and equipment they need, including moisture meters, pressure detectors, gas analyzers, temperature gauges and more. The technician will need space to work and you need to move any items away from the furnace. Most inspections take around half an hour, but this period can be extended if some repairs are required. If you speak to your local HVAC company, they may have a maintenance program you can join. This will save you money on regular maintenance and you get a reminder to avoid missing a visit.
Let’s take a closer look at seven key aspects of a furnace inspection, they are:
1. Checking the Electrical Control Systems
The technician will check to make sure that the current and voltage are flowing safely. The thermostat and contactors must be operating within normal safety standards. The connection must be inspected to ensure that there are no issues that could cause a power disruption or an electrical short circuit. Electrical disruptions can lead to a dangerous home situation and extensive repair work on your heating system.
2. The Gas Furnace Burner Must be Inspected and Cleaned
The technician will turn off the gas supply to the furnace at the main to make the equipment safe to work on. Relying on a low flow rage at this stage can be dangerous because an incomplete combustion of gas can add contaminants to the indoor air. The outdoor valve is turned on for safe venting and then the furnace burner unit can be cleaned. The accumulation of burnt carbon on the burners can lower the performance and efficiency and cleaning is the best way to restore the furnace to normal operations.
3. Examining the Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is usually a tube-shaped metal component that’s installed inside your furnace. This unit contains air and water and these are heated when the furnace is running. The heat exchanger is a durable component, but it works very hard and it will succumb to pressure over time. The heat exchanger can be susceptible to corrosion and it will warp as it ages. The surface of this component can crack, but these cracks seal up when the furnace is not operating. Any cracks or breaks in the surface of the heat exchanger can release carbon monoxide which is known as “the silent killer”. These same cracks can release flames from the unit which is a major cause of house fires. A damaged heat exchanger can also reduce the energy efficiency of your heating system.
4. Testing the Ignition System
Most modern furnaces are equipped with an electric igniter system that requires no pilot light. The most common variant is the hot surface igniter which creates heat at the filament tip to ignite the natural gas that creates the necessary combustion. This is a safe system, but like any component that comes into contact with flames, it can become dirty. The tip of igniters can be covered with a thin layer of carbon and dirt that will prevent ignition. Another common igniter is an intermittent pilot flame where sparks are created with a timing mechanism. This turns the pilot light off at set times when the home is unoccupied and heating is not needed.
5. Inspecting the Exhaust System
The furnace exhaust system is a critical part of the heating system because it vents toxic gasses away from the home. The most important aspect of the exhaust system is a clear path for the gas to exit the property. Any obstructions must be removed because blockages can cause carbon monoxide or in extreme cases a house fire.
6. Checking the Gas Pressure
If you have a gas furnace, it requires a certain level of fuel pressure present to the home to run the fuel efficiently. When natural gas enters the furnace under lower or higher pressures this can cause damage and it may reduce the energy efficiency. A simple way to check the gas pressure is to turn off all gas using appliances and then check the meter box. Use a gas detector pen to check the gauge reading and a technician can do this for you if you.
7. Testing the Gas or Oil Connections
The final connections to test are the bi-metallic control switches found on older furnaces and the gas line hookups. These connections must be tested for security and safety because they are prone to corrosion as they age.
If you need to schedule a home inspection and tune-up for your heating system, contact your local HVAC specialist today.