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Tune up furnace for efficiency

JAMES DULLEY

Q. I want to keep my utility bills as low as possible. With the heating season soon upon us, is there much I can do myself to keep my heating system running at its maximum efficiency and heat output?

Heating and cooling contribute the most to high utility bills for most families. Water heating usually is the second largest energy consumer. Since central air-conditioning or a heat pump uses the same air handler (blower and ducts) as a furnace, maintaining a furnace for winter often also reduces cooling costs during summer.

Unless your furnace is actually malfunctioning , you generally cannot tell if it is operating at peak efficiency or not. If you try to compare your current utility bills to previous years, make sure to compare the actual amount of energy used, not just dollar amounts. Energy rates are constantly rising, so your current bills may be higher though you're using less energy.

A simple annual do-it-yourself tune-up can help to keep your system running near peak efficiency.

Also, don't skip your regular scheduled professional maintenance calls just because you have done your own tune-up. There are many areas within a heating system that only a qualified technician can evaluate and adjust properly.

First, check for safety. Put several drops of soapy water on any gas line fittings. If any bubbles at all, there are leaks. Leave your house and call your gas company immediately.

Next, check the accuracy of the wall thermostat. Many older ones are inaccurate and you may actually be keeping your house warmer than you realize. Tape an outdoor bulb thermometer on the wall next to it. Set the thermostat at a temperature, let the furnace start and notice the final temperature. If the thermostat is inaccurate, replace it with an electronic setback model.

Switch off the electric power to the heating unit at the circuit breaker panel. Remove its side cover to gain access to the blower. Using a vacuum cleaner brush attachment, clean any dust deposits off the blower. If you see bearing oil cups on the blower motor, put a drop of oil in each cup. Replace the cover and make sure all the cabinet screws are tight.

Set up the thermostat so the furnace starts. Hold a stick of lighted incense near all the joints in the ductwork, both return and supply air ducts, to check for air leaks. If you find leaks, use aluminum duct tape or black Gorilla duct tape around the leaking joints. This also is a good time change your furnace filter.

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