Heat is one thing that's absolutely essential in the winter, especially if you live in a cold climate. Last year (and seemingly every year before it) heating systems were sent into overdrive to make the season a bit more bearable. Interestingly enough, a good portion of the reason for this urgent demand is that most homeowners don't perform the upkeep required to keep a heating system running smoothly. If your heating system isn't well maintained, losing heat may be the least of your worries however: your family might be at risk of dangerous house fires or deadly carbon monoxide leaks. Rather than waiting for an emergency, take the time to go through this DIY heating system maintenance checklist. You'll cross at least one project off your list and you and your family will have your own personal sanctuary from whatever winter weather blows in.
Of course, if it's been a while since you performed any maintenance, or if you feel unsure or unsafe tackling the project yourself, don't be afraid to contact a heating systems professional. Getting a professional opinion never hurt and is the best way to keep your family and home safe throughout the season.
The Essential Heating System Checklist
- Keep a notepad in an accessible place where you can keep track of any strange noises or abnormal smells when the heat is on or gets turned up. It's worth noticing anything out of the ordinary, especially if you notice a pattern.
- Program a thermostat and keep an eye on the temperature, and if you don't have a programmable thermostat, it's more than worth it to invest in one. Trane experts share that "each degree over 68 [degrees Fahrenheit] can add 3% to the amount of energy needed for heating," and 3% can really add up in the dead of winter. Not only will you save money by programming your thermostat to a lower temperature when you're not home/sleeping, but your heating system won't have to work as hard at all hours of the day, extending the lifetime and the benefits of maintenance. Plus, knowing what temperature to expect during the day allows you to check on the actual temperature compared to the programmed temp - if your system is having a hard time maintaining the right temp, it may be time for a more intense check up.
- The next time you're vacuuming the house, take the time to vacuum the registers and ducts. These can easily collect debris, pet hair, and small toys, blocking some of the hot air from ever reaching your cold feet.
- Your HVAC system, no matter what, has air filters that should be checked anywhere from once a month to every 90 days. Some types of filters can be cleaned; others will need to be replaced. A dirty filter will force your system to work harder to push hot air into your home, so don't put this step off too long.
- The exact maintenance needed for your system will change based on what type of heat you use, but there are some basic steps recommended by Energy Star that can be taken even by novice homeowners. You'll want to make sure any electrical connections are tightened to reduce the risk of fire, and check the flue system for leaks (leaks can allow deadly gas into your home). Lubricate any moving parts that need to be lubricated, and check all the controls of the system. Check the gas pressure (if applicable) and all gas or oil connections, and contact an HVAC professional if anything looks problematic or dangerous.
- Remember: part of keeping your heating system running optimally is keeping the heat inside so your system doesn't have to work as hard to maintain the same temperature. Check the insulation in your home from basement to attic, and check the doors and windows for drafts indicating air leaks and heat loss.