We all understand that to keep most machinery running smoothly, it needs regular cleaning. Few pieces of engineering in our houses are as intimidating to even consider dealing with as our furnaces, however. Big, complicated looking and expensive, they’re a part of our house we tend to want to ignore while we reap their benefits. This blissful ignorance is generally only ruined when something goes wrong and you need to call on the experts to repair your furnace. How our furnaces operate, let alone how to maintain them, rarely crosses our minds. And yet, they’re a modern convenience that few of us could live without. This is especially true in cold countries, where furnaces work harder and for longer in a year than in most other places, getting us through long winters.
Figure 1 Winter in Toronto - or maybe Spring!
Keeping your furnace well maintained will ensure that you get the most out of what was likely an expensive purchase. So how does your furnace keep you warm? The earliest furnaces were coal powered monstrosities, that could be quite intimidating – children being frightened by the scary furnace in the basement became something of a trope. Remember Home Alone and the furnace that terrified poor Kevin?
Figure 2 Scarier than the Wet Bandits
Modern furnaces are a lot less spooky, and much less bulky too, often fitting into a convenient closet sized space. Generally, furnaces today use gas or electricity to heat up air, which then travels throughout the ventilation system in your house, keeping every room just as toasty as you set your thermostat to. It’s a simple enough concept, but it actually involves a lot of different work parts operating perfectly in tandem. In a gas furnace you need a fan to draw in the air, a burner to get the gas ignited, heat exchangers to get the air hot, a blower to move that hot air around your house and a flue to remove the spent gasses from your home. Each one of those parts is something that can get clogged with dust and dirt and require a cleaning. Furnaces are a veritable magnet for this kind of debris, as they suck in air to heat.
And clean you should – there are a variety of good reasons to make sure your furnace is well maintained, and the following are just some of the most important.
1) Better Efficiency – The worst thing in winter is cranking the thermostat and waiting for precious heat that just will not come. Furnaces that are not well cleaned will not heat as efficiently or as quickly, meaning that you’ll be waiting longer for less warmth. Anyone who has been through at least one Canadian winter knows that there are days where “throwing a sweater on” just isn’t going to cut it!
2) Lower Gas Bills – Did you know that the average household in Toronto spends from $1500 to $1800 annually on gas? The bills per month might seem small, but they can really add up over the year. A dirty and less efficient furnace will have to be left on for longer and need more juice to get the same amount of heat, leading to more unpleasant surprises when it comes time for the bills.
3) Less Chance of a Breakage – If the thought of higher bills worries you, then the costs associated with a furnace breaking should terrify you. A furnace that isn’t cleaned regularly is more prone to needing a repairman brought in, and furnace repair costs can range on average from $100 to $400, with some repairs costing up to $1000. And that’s nothing compared to if the whole furnace needs to be replaced, with costs for a new quality furnace easily exceeding $3000.00.
4) Health – So a well cleaned furnace runs better and saves you money. Makes enough sense, right? But there could very well be more at stake here than your finances. All this debris that can slow down your furnace can also be spread all throughout your house through your ventilation system, into the air that you’re breathing. You could find yourself more prone to colds and viruses, and pre-existing conditions like asthma could be severely aggravated. In Canada, these unclean furnaces could be running for the majority of the year – and in the coldest months, you’ll be inside more often. And in the dead of winter, turning off the furnace is probably just as dangerous for your health – putting you in an uncomfortable lose-lose situation.
Figure 3 If you suffer from constant coughing and shortness of breath, talk to your doctor
Hopefully, you now understand why it’s so important to keep your furnace in tip-top shape. Thankfully, most of us know how to swap out furnace filters for new models, which does go a long way towards cutting down on the dirt and dust. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, a furnace has a lot of different working parts to it, each of which can get covered in enough debris to impair its functions. And unlike a simple filter, a lot of these parts are very difficult to clean or replace, often being easy to break and difficult to access. Your best bet for a full and proper cleaning is to hire a professional HVAC technician to do the dissembling, check-up and cleaning for you. A good HVAC company will clean out all the ducts connected to both your heating and air conditioning. This cleaning will normally be a few hundred dollars cheaper than getting a repair done on a furnace broken by dirt – and significantly cheaper than replacing the furnace outright.