How to prepare for heating season

Heating season is upon us, and it’s time to get ready for the inevitable. A great place to start is with a yearly Clean and Tune by a certified heating professional. Not only should this process include a check of the proper operation of your furnace or boiler, but the technician should address the tuning part, as well.

Think of your car. Would you drive it all year without getting a tuneup? Why, then, would you consider running your heating unit all season without making sure it is operating efficiently? Both your car and furnace are combustion appliances, both burn a fossil fuel, and both can be more expensive to operate if they are out of tune.

You can go outside right now and check the operation of your car by simply turning the key. Did it start? If so, the starter, fuel injectors and spark plugs are working. When you put it into drive, did it move forward? Then the car is operating as expected. Your technician performs similar testing on your furnace, checking that it fires up and begins to produce heat when you turn up the thermostat, to determine that it's operating as expected.

Most yearly checkups will include some basic maintenance. The burners generally require yearly cleaning inside and out to remove the dust that accumulates over the summer months. The blower should be cleaned to ensure proper air flow, and the draft or exhaust should be checked under worst-case conditions to ensure the proper removal of combustion products from the home.

A furnace tuneup, however, should be more detailed than that. Just as your car may require pre- and post-testing with an E-Check, to examine the exhaust for its chemical components, the heating technician should measure and test the operation of your heating system, so problems can be identified and corrected. In furnace speak, this kind of testing is called combustion analysis. It can identify inefficient burning, the production of too much carbon monoxide and other problems.

Just as important, the technician should verify Steady State Efficiency (SSE). It is imperative that your heating unit be tuned and verified to operate at peak performance, especially if you went to the trouble and expense of installing a high-efficiency furnace. I have tested many furnaces designed to be 80 or 90 percent efficient that were actually running well below that level. This costs you money in fuel consumption, just like a car that doesn’t get the mileage it used to.

Despite our best efforts, furnaces breakdown and fail for many different reasons, and sometimes maintenance is no longer enough. If your furnace shuts down, not only will you and your family be dealing with cold temperatures, but damage to your home can occur. When it’s time for a new heating system, Home Repair Resource Center (HRRC) is your home maintenance partner. We have contractor evaluations and suggested repair specifications that can help you get more detailed bids, regardless of income and location. For low- and moderate-income residents of Cleveland Heights, HRRC offers grant and financial assistance that can make a new furnace or boiler affordable. For more information, visit or call 216-381-6100, ext. 22.

Wesley Walker

Wesley Walker is the financial and senior program coordinator for HRRC.

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Volume 6, Issue 10, Posted 4:34 PM, 10.01.2013