Treat your heating system as you would your vehicle.
That’s the advice local experts share with their customers. “Would you buy a brand new car and not tune it up for 10 years?” asks Richard Kerr of AAA Maintenance. He services Toyo and Monitor heaters. “Everything that burns fuel needs routine maintenance.”
Keep your home warm this winter
The following tips are provided by United States Department of Energy:
Maintain your furnace. Clean your furnace filters monthly or replace if necessary. A clean unit runs more efficiently.
Use insulation. Insulate your attic to an R-value of 38 for a gas-heated home and 50 for an electrically heated home; your walls to an R-value of 19; and your sill box (upper portion of your basement walls) to an R-value of 10.
Insulate around windows and doors. Weather-strip and/or caulk all areas of noticeable leaks around windows and doors. Removable caulking is a good option for windows that you open in summer but not in winter.
Change your thermostat settings. In the winter, set your thermostat at 60 degrees F when you are sleeping or gone. Set the thermostat to 68 degrees F when you are at home. This can save 10 percent or more on your heating bills every winter.
Turn down the thermostat when away. If you are going to be away for an extended period of time, turn your thermostat down to save energy but never lower than 40 degrees F. If you have delicate houseplants, keep the setting at 50 degrees F or higher.
Let the sun in. The sun’s energy can have a noticeable effect on the temperature in your home, especially from windows facing south and west. Keep window shades and drapes open during winter months to let in the sun’s radiant heat.
Warm with a space heater. A portable space heater can heat a single room without using your furnace to heat the whole house. Using a space heater to heat all or most of your home costs more. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions when operating space heaters.
Use the fireplace sparingly. Many older natural fireplaces are inefficient and draw more heat out of the house than they produce. Close the flue to eliminate drafts when not in use.
Consider fireplace inserts, doors or covers. If you use your fireplace often, consider these products to help reduce the heat loss in your home when using the fireplace. You save money on your heating bills while still being able to enjoy your fireplace.
Judi Madden of Madden Plumbing and Heating agrees. She said that she had a customer who was experiencing problems with his system, but hadn’t had it serviced in years. He happened to be a pilot.
“If you serviced your plane the same way, you would fall out of the sky,” she told him.
Both Kerr and Madden recommend an annual inspection to ensure that your heating system is safe and functioning properly. When a heater or furnace is maintained correctly it will produce the most heat at the least cost.
Toyo and Monitor stoves
Kerr has installed and serviced Toyo and Monitor stoves for 16 years. During an interview last week, he talked about the importance of proper maintenance and offered tips to keep fuel costs down.
“It’s important to make sure that they’re running efficiently,” he said, and a key indicator is the flame.
“You need to maintain a blue flame,” he said. A tall, yellow flame indicates a problem and could lead to a cracked heat exchanger.
He also suggests checking for debris, dust and pet hair that could attach itself to the unit, particularly the fan. He recommends carefully brushing off the fan and warns that an accumulation of pet hair could lead to a fire.
And though the surface of the stove remains cool to the touch he advises caution with putting items on top.
“I don’t like to see potted plants,” he said because if water were to spill on the unit it could short out the circuit board. He also recommends using a surge protector.
When Kerr performs an inspection, he changes the fuel filter, services the burner, inspects the tank, looks for signs of water in the fuel oil, and cleans the unit.
“My goal is to make it run as efficiently as possible,” he said.
Though Kerr makes sure the equipment is in top form, it’s up to the resident to ensure that it is operated properly to maximize efficiency.
For example, when raising the temperature setting, Kerr advises doing it just a couple of degrees at a time. “If you have been gone and set the temperature at 55 degrees, don’t bring it up to 72 degrees immediately,” he said.
Kerr explains that a heater of this type has three or four speeds. When it is operating on high, it uses more fuel and is harder on the unit. By raising it a few degrees at a time, the unit will run on high only incrementally.
Many models of Toyo stoves have lights that indicate in which mode the stove is operating, but in other models, the fan is audible and the difference can be detected.
He also advises placing the sensor in the correct position, about 18 inches off the floor. However, if it’s a mobile home, he advises against putting the sensor on an outside wall, which is colder and will force the unit to run more.
When Kerr inspects a unit he advises residents on the best place to put the sensor for their home.
He also cautions that these small units are designed to supplement a larger heating system or to heat smaller spaces.
“One of these stoves should only use one to 1.5 gallons per day,” he said. At the current price of roughly $4 per gallon, that means a monthly heating oil bill of $120 to $180 per month.
Forced air systems
Whether the forced air system is heating oil or propane, Judi Madden recommends annual service.
Madden suggests having the unit serviced between April and August. She said that people usually wait until the first cold snap and then call, often when the furnace isn’t working.
“We want to avoid crisis management,” she said.
When technicians make a call, they perform a number of tasks including checking combustion, replacing the oil filter, inspecting the electrodes and combustion tools, and checking the blower.
Madden said that the annual inspection for a propane furnace includes checks for carbon monoxide, combustion efficiencies and condensation.
Just as with the Toyos or Monitors, residents have their roles to play in the proper operation of the their systems.
Residents are encouraged to change their filters regularly and Madden also recommends raising temperatures in two-degree increments.
In addition to proper maintenance and operation of a heating system, Madden said it’s important to ensure that heat isn’t escaping from a home.
She said the swiftest energy savings comes from sealing off any areas that allow outside air to come into the house and installing attic insulation to prevent heat from escaping.
Madden and her husband, Jim, received their certifications as building analyst specialists this summer. When they returned home, they turned an infrared light on their own house. “We aimed it at the ceiling and found large holes in the insulation,” she said.
Maddens said that skylights and can lights are also areas that often aren’t properly insulated.
For more tips on ensuring that you maximize your heating potential, see adjacent article.
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