While Las Vegas is known for its hot desert temperature, residents know that winters can still be hard. With temperatures going down to 30 degrees and occasional freezing weather, the last thing you need is a furnace that does not put out enough heat or fails completely. As with other systems in your home, a bit of prevention can go a long way toward preventing failure and expensive repairs.
As a homeowner, there are many steps you can take to maintain your furnace and keep it working at peak efficiency. Here’s a walkthrough for every step you should take. You will need basic tools and a few hours. If you aren’t comfortable completing all of these steps, a furnace repair company can perform cost-effective annual maintenance services. Before beginning, make sure you turn off the power to your furnace!
#1. Remove the Door
Once the power is turned off, use a screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the combustion chamber door and the burner door in place. The main door can usually be removed by lifting and pulling it out.
#2. Vacuum Your Burners
With the power still off, turn off the gas by turning the valve a quarter turn. Vacuum around the burners and the base of the furnace to remove dust. The back of the burners can be hard to reach, but you can tape a long length of drain line to the hose.
#3. Check for Soot
Use a flashlight to look for any soot in the furnace. This will look like fine black powder. Soot is usually a sign of poor combustion. Excessive soot in the furnace is also a fire hazard and increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Soot is a byproduct of burning fuel in your furnace and it forms when the fuel doesn’t burn completely.
If you see soot, you should clean it and recheck in a couple of weeks. If it does, there may be a bigger problem with your furnace.
There are a handful of problems that can lead to soot:
— Blocked vents. The gases and byproducts of burning fuel are vented out through a pipe. This ensures only heated air is distributed through your home. Sometimes the ventilation for your furnace is blocked, allowing byproducts to enter the furnace unit and build up.
— Bad heat exchanger. When the heat exchanger goes bad, it allows the soot to blow through your home. This can leave marks near the registers.
— Irregular flame. A yellow or irregular flame is caused by dirty burners or another problem. It may also mean there is a non-ideal mix of gases in the furnace.
#4. Check the Burner Flames
Turn the furnace power back on so you can check your burners. Turn up your thermostat to activate the flames. You should see blue, even flames. If the flames are yellow, your burners are dirty. Never adjust your own burners. If you see a problem, contact a furnace repair expert.
#5. Clean the Blower
The next step is removing the bolts that hold the blower in place. Take out the blower so it can be cleaned. Use a vacuum and brush to clean the blower blades. As you do this, be very careful of the wiring. Do not disturb the counterweight on the fan blades.
#6. Clean the Pilot
Your pilot can get very dusty, but removing the dust is easy. Use a regular drinking straw to blow dust off the pilot. When your pilot is dusty, it can give the flame sensor or thermocouple a false reading that the pilot is not lit.
#7. Clean Your Flame Sensor
The purpose of your flame sensor is detecting that when the gas valve is open, there is a fire. Sometimes the flame sensor gets coated in residue or dust. When it’s dirty, it can prevent the furnace from lighting. If your furnace tends to start then shut down very quickly, you likely have a dirty flame sensor.
You can recognize the flame sensor pretty easily. It’s located near the burner assembly and looks like a thin, bent rod in front of the flame stream. To clean the sensor, pull it down carefully from its bracket. Clean the surface with a fine emery cloth or steel wool then wipe clean with a paper towel. Replace it in the bracket.
#8. Blow Dust off the Hot Surface Igniter
Most furnaces today have a hot surface igniter to light gas flames when the unit starts. When there’s too much dust or dirt inside the furnace, the hot surface igniter can fail. Cleaning it is as simple as cleaning the pilot. Blow air through a straw to remove dust. Never touch the hot surface igniter, though, because it’s very fragile.
#9. Check the Driver Belt
The driver belt will need adjustments from time to time and replacement when the belt develops fraying or cracks. It’s a good idea to check on the condition of the driver every year. While it is possible to replace it on your own, it’s best to contact a furnace repair technician for belt replacement.
#10. Lubricate Bearings
Older furnaces usually have 2 blower shaft bearings and 2 motor bearings that need to be oiled every year. To do so, oil around the caps then remove them. Apply just 2 drops of light machine oil and replace the caps. Do not apply too much oil.
#11. Adjust Dampers
Your heating ducts likely have dampers that need to be adjusted seasonally if your ducts serve the air conditioner and furnace. In most cases, the seasonal settings are already marked. Adjusting the damper handle allows you to send more warm air downstairs in the winter or cold air upstairs in the summer.
#12. Replace Your Filter
It’s important to replace your furnace filter every 1-3 months. Furnace filters serve many roles, including protecting the furnace and your air quality. A clean furnace helps protect the blower and blower motor from dirt and debris that can cause failure. They also filter out dust, pollen, mold spores, hair, bacteria, and other small particles. A clean filter prevents this debris from circulating through your furnace and the air in your home.
Dirty air filters are also a leading cause of furnace malfunction. In addition, a dirty filter can contribute to a carbon monoxide leak by creating airflow problems.
Replacing your furnace is the easiest way to keep your furnace working as it should. There are many types of filters on the market, but basic fiberglass filters tend to work best. Expensive air filters can actually impede airflow, strain the motor, and make your furnace less efficient.