Keep the heat on Furnace tune-ups save money and could save lives
The acrid smell of dust when you turned on your furnace for the first time this season could be the least of your worries if you haven’t had a furnace tune-up recently.
“Any fuel burning furnace or boiler – gas, propane, oil – needs to be inspected annually,” according to Steve Lewellen, a master technician with Anderson Heating & Air Condition. “There are numerous safety issues that need to be addressed, regardless of the age of the furnace.”
Among the most dangerous furnace problems is leakage of carbon monoxide (CO) into the home and fire hazards, which can be deadly. The most common problems result in inefficient combustion, which wastes money.
A thorough furnace inspection and tune-up will examine such things as safety switches that shut down the main fuel valve in the event a problem develops and the condition of the burner and heat exchanger. The technician also looks for fire hazards, exhaust venting, combustion and gas leaks.
“Inspection of the heat exchanger for proper integrity and stable combustion is not only for old equipment,” Lewellen said. “I have had heat exchangers less than two-years-old with breaches that cause unstable flame patterns and must be shut down and replaced.”
If the furnace is inside the house in a closet or utility room, there are additional issues to contend with. Anything that changes air pressure in the home – such as an exhaust fan or clothes dryer turning on – can cause venting issues from a duct leak.
Even when located in a garage, pressure changes between the outside, the garage and inside the home can cause venting problems.
Even Carson City’s elevation affects a furnace’s performance. Because of the decrease in air density and the affect that has on heat transfer and combustion, factory settings need adjustment.
“Heating fuels have a heating value, similar to that of gasoline, which has octane ratings,” Lewellen explained. “Carson City and Carson Valley have lower heating values than Reno. Natural gas, propane and oil all require specific combustion adjustment. These factors combined with our altitude result in a scenario where out-of-the-box settings don’t apply.”
When it comes to a furnace and its parts, a tune-up is a serious matter.
“This is not a 20 or 30 minute visit,” Lewellen said. “A change of the filter and a sweep of the vacuum are just cosmetic. Furnaces and boilers require a deep, thorough inspection and service. It is not uncommon for the service person to spend 11Ú2 hours on a first visit to perform a 50-plus item service.”
There are many operating parameters to inspect, test and adjust, such as duct static pressure – which is similar to measuring blood pressure – electronic ignition, voltage, amperage, igniters, spark ignition, thermocouples, pressure switches and ports, filters, blowers, grounding, flame sensors and many more.
The tools of the trade are techno geek’s dream: Digital magnehelic gauges for gas and duct pressure, digital volt and amp meters, meters to test flame rectification, draft gauges, air flow hoods or voltmeters, electronic gas detectors and scopes. The tech should be trained by a third party such as Bacharach or NCI on using and interpreting the readings of a combustion analyzer, Lewellen said. “Showing up with a few hand tools and eyeballing the flame is a ludicrous.”
Regular furnace tune-ups can produce a dramatic increase in performance and efficiency.
Recently, “with a new customer, a 58 percent increase was obtained on a three-year-old new construction home,” he said. “By the way, this was a high efficiency 90 percent furnace. The homeowner had never considered a tune-up since the home and installation were new. That was quite a bit of money to toss out the window on wasted efficiency for three years.”
Choose a heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) company with a state contractors license. Check the Nevada State Contractors Board Web site for disciplinary actions at: http://www.nvcontractorsboard.com/
Some technicians have additional training through North American Technical Excellence. NATE is a third-party testing organization that performs rigorous testing. This certification is voluntary at this time (in some eastern counties it is mandatory) but some furnace manufacturers require NATE certification to install their equipment.
In Nevada, a separate license is required to service furnaces in a manufactured or mobile home. Be sure to ask if they are licensed and ask to see the service providers actual credentials, such as NATE certification, contractors licenses, insurance bond and so on.
Ask your neighbor, friends and coworkers whom they have used and if they were satisfied with the service and fees.
Ask for the journey-level technician. Many companies will send the less experienced tech out for tune-ups, leaving the service calls for the experienced tech. An inexperienced apprentice is more likely to overlook problems, including safety issues.
It’s easy to talk about experience but it’s up to the consumer to ensure a company is in compliance with the law.