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Maintaining Your Furnace for Lower Bills and Family Safety

Feb 04, 2013 09:04AM ● By tina

Installing a carbon monoxide detector in bedrooms will help keep your family safe from this "silent killer"

Sponsored by Berkeys Air Conditioning and Plumbing

Written by Adam Mennega, Service Manager, Berkeys

While it’s important to stay warm and comfortable in the winter months, it’s also crucial that your furnace not only runs well, but also stays maintained to keep your energy bills low and your family safe. Below are some important tips on how to keep your furnace running efficiently as well as things you can do to avoid problems.

 Types of Furnaces

You should check to see what kind of furnace you have installed in your house. This can help you prevent problems and know what to do when it’s not working right. If you’re looking to replace your old furnace or install a new one, Berkeys technicians can help you recommend the right size and kind of furnace for your home.

1.     Gas Furnaces
This kind of furnace uses a burner with a pilot light for its heat source and is the most commonly used furnace in the US. Gas furnaces come in different varieties including single stage, where the flame is either on or off, or multi-stage, where the intensity of the flame is regulated by the thermostat to keep temperature level.

2.     Electric Furnaces
If your home was built in an area where there is no access to natural gas, chances are you likely have an electric furnace. The concept here is similar to that of a gas-furnace, but the heat source is made up of a series of coils that are heated by electricity rather than gas.

3.     Heat Pump
Another common furnace, especially here in the South, is a heat pump, which uses heat from the ground or outside and converts that into heat for your home. Heat pumps are also used for air conditioning in the summer, by reversing the process and releasing the heat to the outside, rather than into your home.

 Furnace Maintenance

Proper maintenance makes all the difference and can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. The older a furnace, the more susceptible it is to issues and not maintaining a newer furnace can cause problems down the road. Most basic maintenance includes simple things you can do yourself.

In Texas, we don’t use our furnaces as much as in other parts of the country, so it’s crucial you perform some basic maintenance: 

Carbon Monoxide

Known as the “silent killer”, Carbon Monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas and is estimated to be responsible for 200 deaths annually due to improperly functioning furnaces. Therefore it’s important you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector in your home. The best place to install these is in bedrooms. Each detector is different – some operate on batteries, in which case you need to test the unit to make sure it’s running properly, while others plug into an outlet. Either way, you should always make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working properly.

Carbon monoxide is caused when the furnace in your home has dirt or dust in the heating element. Burning of this material releases the toxic gas. It’s best to have your furnace checked annually for this type of issue. At Berkeys, we offer a very affordable and comprehensive maintenance plan that will keep all your HVAC equipment well maintained and your family safe. 

Pilot Light

Gas furnaces usually either have a lit pilot light (common on older models) or an electric pilot light. On older models, especially after a long summer, you should check to see if this is lit. Otherwise your furnace will stick kick on, but only blow cold air. On newer gas furnace, an electric pilot light ignites the gas only when needed. If you can’t light the pilot light yourself, or don’t feel safe doing so, always consult a professional.

Thermostat Batteries

All thermostats have batteries, either for backup or regular operation. If your furnace won’t activate, even after you’ve set the temperature, there’s a good chance your thermostat needs new batteries.

 Fuse, or power switch

Electric furnaces (and some gas furnaces) are also connected to a power switch and fuse. The power switch usually looks like a light switch attached to your furnace (see the image in the gallery below). If your furnace doesn’t turn on, first check if the power switch is on and if the fuse is on. If both are on and the furnace still won’t turn on, you’ll need to either call a professional, or if you’re in an older home, check to see if the fuse has burnt out.

 Air Filter

Always make sure the air filter is changed at least every 3 months. This helps maintain the airflow to the furnace.

 Check for other signs

Check for burn marks, rust, or leaks around the furnace. Some high-efficiency furnaces will have a condensate drain that will either drain into the floor, or to the outside. Make sure you check for rust and/or mildew around the drain. As part of all of our furnace and AC maintenance, we always check and clean the condensate drain and treat it to prevent mold or other issues.

 Signs of a malfunctioning furnace

There are several signs that can tell you that your furnace is acting up or not working properly and you should take action right away if you encounter any of these:

1.     “Woofing” Sound
When a furnace gets dirty or has a malfunctioning heating element, sometimes gas can build up causing the furnace to sputter when ignited. We’ve even seen cases where a furnace was literally spitting fire into the surrounding space. Call us immediately if your furnace does this.

2.     Squealing or grinding noise
When running, if your furnace makes a squealing or grinding noise, there’s a good chance that your blower motor either needs maintenance or is on it’s way out.

3.     Burning smell
Some older furnaces will produce a slight burning smell after not having been run for several months. If you notice a strong burning smell however, or even see smoke emanating from your ducts, immediately turn off the furnace, leave your home and call a professional! You may also want to call the fire department in case your furnace has caught fire!

 When it’s time to maintain your furnace and to replace it.

At Berkeys we recommend regular maintenance on your furnace at least twice a year. This way you can be sure everything works correctly and you’ll save money on your energy bills and potential repairs. We use a 13-step process to check against any possible issues.

We recommend that furnaces 10 years or older be checked two to three times a year and depending on the age of the unit, we’ll recommend a replacement.

Maintaining your furnace can help keep you and your family safe and save you money, not just on your monthly energy bills, but can also save you from having to perform expensive repairs or replacement.

 About Berkeys

Berkeys is an award winning home service company, providing quality plumbing, air conditioning, and heating services to homeowners in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex for over 35 years.

All of our technicians, are background-checked, drug tested and have passed rigorous state examinations and are licensed by the State of Texas; they understand the complexity of state codes all the way down to local requirements.

Berkeys maintains an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and has led the field in area newspapers’ readers’ favorite polls.

For more information about Berkeys, visit or call 877-BERKEYS