Furnace Maintenance and Care for the DIY Homeowner
It’s that time of the year when the frost sets in across the nation. An efficient furnace is a must have for the chilly season. If your furnace is well maintained, you as a homeowner can save on major repairs costs or replacements in the future. Proper furnace maintenance is a must. Letting a furnace get badly out of shape can not only raise the utility bills, but in extreme cases can cause fire damage.
Power off, or level up.
Make sure the power is turned off to the furnace before proceeding. Not only can you cut the breaker for the room, but the furnace may have a power switch, in which case it should be placed in the off position.
Working on a furnace with the power on can cause severe injust, or even death. We do not want to start this instructional off in a morbid way, but your safety is our most important concern.
In addition, we offer you this disclaimer: National Cash Offer is not responsible for any injuries you may sustain, or any damage you may cause. If you are unsure of what you are doing, seek professional help rather than going the DIY route.
Remove Combustion Chamber, et al.
The combustion chamber has to be removed before you can get to the guts of the furnace. It can be removed by lifting up on it, and pulling it straight out. In some furnaces, there may be an additional step of removing the burner cover. It is usually held on by just a couple of small screws.
Inspect the flames
Now that the cover is off, you can turn the power back on while turning up the heat on the thermostat. This will allow you to check out the coloring of the flames. The flame should be a steady blue rather than a yellowish color. If the flames appear to be yellow, it may indicate that you have dirty burners.
When inspecting the flame coloring, make sure not to breathe on it. The added oxygen may change the color of the flame, resulting in a false diagnosis. If the flames are accurately yellow, then this is a time for you to cut the power off to the furnace again. Make sure not to attempt a burner adjustment. Leave that to the professionals.
Hide the cat, and bring out the vacuum
After the power is turned off, you will also need to shut off the gas by closing the valve. This can be done with a quarter turn. Break out the vacuum and run it around the burners, as well as the base of the furnace. You may need a vacuum extension in order to reach the back of the burners. Suck up as much dust as you can, and look for soot. Remove the lower door, and vacuum inside the compartment as well.
Removing the blower
There are bolts securing the blower in place. These need to be removed. Do so carefully as not to strip their edges. Now that you have access to the blower, remove it so that it can be cleaned properly. Keep in mind that some furnaces will have a control panel in front of the blower, secured by screws. You can remove those screws and let the control panel hang.
Once the screws and bolts are moved, and the control panel is out of the way, the blower should be accessible and you can lift it out.
Shine the blades
The blower blades need to be cleaned carefully and thoroughly. You can do this with a brush and vacuum, but do so without interfering with the wiring and counterweights. The blower can be thrown off balance if it’s not cleaned thoroughly, so do a good job or simply leave it alone.
With filters, cheaper may be better
For one thing, using cheap fiberglass filters will allow you to change them every 3 months if not sooner without breaking the bank. A dollar filter will do the job just fine. If you do opt for a more expensive filter for high-efficiency, you better make sure it is supported by reading through your owner’s manual. A high-efficiency filter can restrict the airflow and strain the blower. While you intended it to be more efficient, it can actually have a completely opposite effect. If cleaner air is your issue, then opt for a separate clean air system rather than experiment with your filters.
Deal a direct blow to the pilot
You can use a plain old drinking straw for the next part. The exact spot where gas feeds the pilot is where you want to blow air through the straw to knock the dust off. This is necessary because a dirty pilot will cause a false reading in the thermocouple (heat sensor), telling it that the pilot is not lit.
Clean the sensor
Cleaning the sensor can be done with an emery cloth. It is necessary to remove the residue that’s coated on, preventing the furnace from lighting. It is held on by a bracket, which can be removed by pulling down. Remove it, and gently wipe it clean with the cloth. Slip it back into place.
All of the newer furnaces being manufactured have hot surface igniters rather than the old electronic igniters and standing pilot lights. These hot surface igniters can be cleaned by blowing through the handy straw from earlier. Get all of the dust off of the surface. The igniter stays in place while cleaning it. The last thing you want to do is touch the hot surface igniter, as it can easily break. Even bumbing it with the furnace doors may break it, so be careful.
Drive belt inspection
As with a vehicle, some furnaces have belt driven blowers and may need replacement or an adjustment. They are subject to cracking and fraying. Look for signs of either. Belts are fairly cheap, running in the $5 range. If the belt needs replaced, the tension should deflect between 1/2 and 3/4 inches.
Minimize the lubrication
If you have an older furnace, it may have a couple of motor and blower shaft bearings that will need to be oiled on an annual basis. Before removing the oil caps, clean around them. Then it’s a simple matter of applying no more than 3 drops of machine oil (the lightweight stuff), before replacing the caps. Don’t get heavy handed on the lubrication.
Shared heating and A/C ducts have seasonal settings
Do your air ducts serve a purpose for both the furnace and the air condition? If so, they can have dampers which may require seasonal adjustments. If this is the case, it will likely be marked telling you so. Adjust the settings accordingly. If you have a 2-story house, there may be separate supply trunks for each floor. This is so that the seasonal settings can supply more warm air to either floor depending on winter or summer. If there are separate trunks, you’ll need to adjust the dumper handle on each of them.
Take care of possible leaks with a special tape
Ducts can be leaky. That’s why it is important to seal them with a special metal tape (especially for the return air ducts). If no tape, you can use a high temp silicone. Turn the burners on my adjusting the thermostat. You are doing a back-drafting test by holding an incense stick (smoking) next to the draft hood. If the smoke is drawn into the hood, you are good to go. While you are at it, have a look at the exhaust vent pipes while they are still cool. If you see a white powder, it can mean corrosion. This is not a DIY fix, so leave it to the experts. While you are there, check the water heater for corrosion as well, or risk flooding should it go unnoticed.
Make sure to do your furnace maintenance on a regular basis, and keep it running smoothly for years to come.