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With the proper attention, heating and cooling systems can keep you comfortable year-round. Heat pumps and oil-fired furnaces and boilers need a yearly professional tune-up. Gas-fired equipment, on the other hand, burns cleaner and can be serviced every other year. A close inspection will uncover leaks, soot, rust, rot, corroded electrical contacts and frayed wires. In furnace (forced-air) and boiler (hot-water) systems, the inspection should also cover the chimney, ductwork or pipes, dampers or valves, blower or pump, registers or radiators, the fuel line and the gas meter or oil tank — as well as every part of the furnace or boiler itself.
Tuning up the distribution side of a forced-air system starts with the blower. The axle should be lubricated, blades cleaned and lower motor checked to insure the unit isn't being overloaded. The fan belt should be adjusted so it deflects no more than an inch when pressed. Every accessible joint in the ductwork should be sealed with mastic or UL-approved duct tapes. Any ducts that run outside the heated space should be insulated. On a hot-water system, the expansion tank should be drained, the circulating pump cleaned and lubricated and air bled out of the radiators.
While thermostats rarely fail outright, they can degrade over time as mechanical parts stick or lose their calibration. Older units will send faulty signals if they've been knocked out of level or have dirty switches. To recalibrate an older unit, use a wrench to adjust the nut on the back of the mercury switch until it turns the system on and, using a room thermometer, set it to the correct temperature. Modern electronic thermostats, sealed at the factory to keep out dust and grime, rarely need adjusting. However, whether your thermostat is old or young, the hole where the thermostat wire comes through the wall needs to be caulked, or a draft could trick it into thinking the room is warmer or colder than it really is.
A neglected in-duct humidifier can breed mildew and bacteria, not to mention add too much moisture to a house. A common mistake with humidifiers is leaving them on after the heating season ends. Don't forget to pull the plug, shut the water valve and drain the unit. A unit with a water reservoir should be drained and cleaned with white vinegar, a mix of one part chlorine bleach to eight parts water or muriatic acid. Mist-type humidifiers also require regular cleaning to remove mineral deposits.
Most houses with forced-air furnaces have a standard furnace filter made from loosely woven spun-glass fibers designed to keep it and its ductwork clean. Unfortunately, they don't improve indoor air quality. That takes a media filter, which sits in between the main return duct and the blower cabinet. Made of a deeply pleated, paper-like material, media filters are at least seven times better than a standard filter at removing dust and other particles. An upgrade to a pleated media filter will cleanse the air of everything from insecticide dust to flu viruses. Compressed, media filters are usually no wider than six inches, but the pleated material can cover up to 75 square feet when stretched out. This increased area of filtration accounts for the filter's long life, which can exceed two years. The only drawback to a media filter is its tight weave, which can restrict a furnace's ability to blow air through the house. To insure a steady, strong airflow through the house, choose a filter that matches your blower's capacity.Back to top ^