Clean Your Furnace

Once a year you should take some time to perform a checkup on your furnace. Routine maintenance and cleaning will help you ward off the cold, keep heating bills low and make your home more energy efficient. You can also save money by doing it yourself and foregoing a potentially pricey call to a professional.

Visit your local Cole's Hardware store for all the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right and then follow the tips below.

Step 1. Turn Off Power and Gas
As you would when working on any electrical appliance, turn off the power to your furnace before starting any maintenance. Many units are powered by a switch, but for maximum safety and assurance, shut off the power to the unit by switching off the breaker at your home's main electrical panel. If you have a natural gas furnace, shut off gas flow to the device. Let the furnace cool down for a few minutes before you begin working.

Safety Alert!
If you're not sure about how to properly turn off the electricity or gas to your furnace, or are unsure about how to go about the maintenance, consult a professional HVAC technician who can safely maintain and clean your furnace for you.

Step 2. Replace or Clean Filters
Models vary, but there will be access panels that you can open or remove to get to your furnace's filter. (Keep a screwdriver handy if you need to loosen any screws to open a panel). Replace any disposable filters with new ones. If you have washable filters, remove them from the furnace and clean them with mild detergent and water. Let them dry thoroughly before putting them back in.

Helpful Tips: It's best to buy high-quality filters. While good ones may be a little more expensive, you do get what you pay for. Cheap, inexpensive filters do the job filtering out unwanted particles in the air, but air doesn't flow through them like premium filters and can sometimes make your furnace work harder.

Consider using high-efficiency pleated air filters. These filters allow your furnace to pump cleaner air into your home. The pleated design increases the filter's surface area, capturing more lint, dust, pollen, mold and mildew. Also, pleated filters don't need to be replaced as often as standard filters. Pleated filters should be replaced every three months compared to every month for regular filters.

Step 3. Clean Inside/Maintain Parts
Open all access panels and use a wet/dry vacuum to clean out dust, dirt and debris from around the motor, blower, inside the burner compartment, and from other mechanical parts. Use the vacuum's brush attachment for fan blades and general debris removal; use the crevice tool to get to hard-to-reach areas.

An old toothbrush or other small-sized brush can help you remove any stubborn dust and debris from fans and other parts. Toothpicks or cotton swabs are good for getting into very small openings on machinery such as the blower. After vacuuming, use a slightly damp cloth and wipe everything down.

Inspect all wires and connections. Tighten any loose terminals using a screwdriver. Be careful not to jostle or disconnect wires when you're cleaning inside compartments with the vacuum and brushes.

Apply heavy-duty electric motor oil to the fan shaft and motor if there are oiling ports. Be careful not to over-oil your furnace and never use automotive motor oil or 3-in-1 household oil. Check the motor's belt to see if it is loose or cracking. If you see cracks, replace it. Take the belt to your local True Value hardware store to find an exact match. If the belt seems too loose, tighten it down by first loosening the attachment bracket, then pull the belt until it's tight and retighten the bracket. Clean the thermocouple with a cloth. Use a precision duster with compressed air to clean in and around the pilot light.

Safety Alerts!
When cleaning with compressed air, always wear protective goggles and a dust mask.
If gas lines need repaired or replaced, call a professional technician for help unless you're absolutely sure you know how to perform this maintenance correctly.

Step 4. Clean/Repair Ducts
Clean ducts thoroughly using a high-powered vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter will prevent large amounts of dust from scattering throughout your house. If your home has a forced-air furnace, vacuum ducts regularly. For a furnace with a built-in humidifier, clean the humidifier with a de-scaler to make sure it's working properly.

Patch any leaks in your ductwork to make your heating system more efficient. Leaky ducts allow warm air to escape and make it harder on your furnace to do its job. For small holes, you can use good old-fashioned duct tape to seal it up. Any hole or tear larger than 3" or 4" should be repaired with a sheet-metal patch. Cut the piece to fit and fasten with drilled in screws or fasteners, or replace it altogether, depending on the damage. To seal joints, first wipe dust, oily film and grease from the ducts with a clean cloth. Apply foam sealant at least 1" on each side of the joint, using a 1" natural-bristle paintbrush. When this has set, wrap ducts with pipe insulation.

Use a large scrub brush to clean the exteriors of all vents and registers around your home. Remove the vent cover with a screwdriver and clean the inside using the high-powered vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Replace the vent covers when done.

Step 5. Run/Test the Furnace
After you have cleaned and made any repairs, close all access panels and restore power and/or gas to the unit. Allow the furnace to run for several minutes; listen for anything that doesn't sound right and pay attention to any unusual smells, such as burning. If something doesn't seem right, shut it down and investigate. When in doubt, call in a professional.

Helpful Tips: Your furnace burners should be projecting blue flames. If the flames are yellow, they are high in oxygen content and need to be adjusted or serviced. If you're not sure how to fix this, call a professional.
Use a programmable thermostat to control your heating and cooling system so that it runs more efficiently and saves you money.

That's it! Your furnace should now be fine-tuned and ready to fight the winter cold. For the rest of your maintenance and repair projects, visit your local Cole's Hardware store for all the tools, products and expert advice you need to start right.

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Shopping List

  • Screwdriver
  • Furnace filters
  • Mild detergent
  • Shop vacuum
  • Small brush
  • Cloth
  • Motor oil
  • Protective goggles
  • Duct tape
  • Drill
  • Screws/fasteners
  • Foam sealant