Keep the Home Fires - and Furnace - Burning

Keep the Home Fires - and Furnace - Burning

Warm and cozy are the preferred words to describe the ideal indoor climate when colder weather comes to call. But when a furnace or fireplace doesn't work properly, the only thing guaranteed to heat up is your temper.

To ensure that these and other components fire up without fail, it's necessary to have your systems tested, cleaned and maintained at least annually.

"Having regular inspections and tune-ups completed on your heating system will help keep the system in peak operating condition and make sure it is safe to use," says Tommy Dutton, Aire Serv franchise consultant in Waco, Texas. "Your heating system can be the biggest energy guzzler in your home, responsible for up to 50 percent of your total energy usage, so you want it operating efficiently. Regular maintenance can also help you avoid or get ahead of costly repairs, often saving you from unexpected breakdowns and expenses that always seem to happen at the worst possible time."

Joe Vahey, vice president and product manager for Erie insurance in Erie, Pa, says poor fireplace and chimney maintenance habits can lead to house fires, water damage and other costly and potentially dangerous outcomes.

"Build-up of soot is a fire hazard, and unclean chimneys are a leading cause of structure fires," says Vahey.

Alarmingly, only 36 percent of homeowners have their furnaces inspected and serviced at least annually, according to a recently published survey from Erie Insurance conducted online by Harris Poll. The survey also found that 46 percent of homeowner respondents who have a fireplace never clean their chimney unless a problem develops.

While many home upkeep tasks can be competently completed by handy do-it-yourselfers, it's best to leave most of the aforementioned services to trusted specialists.

"When it comes to something that could involve a higher risk of fire in your home, having a professional tackle the job is wise," says Daniel Vannoni, founder of Housequarters in Boston. "Experienced professionals have the best tools and expertise for the job to tune your system properly and complete the job efficiently."

For example, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician can carefully check to see that your entire furnace is in working order from inspecting the flue vent for cracks to cleaning burners. A fireplace technician, meanwhile, can inspect the firebox, damper, screens and other inside components. They can also check the chimney for proper seating and sealing, and leaks and creosote buildup. That same technician or a separate chimney sweep can thoroughly inspect and clean your chimney to prevent dangerous accumulation of flammable waste products.

Additionally, it's smart to have your heating and cooling ducts inspected every few years to make sure there are no major air leaks and to remove dust, pollen, mold and pests - thus improving indoor air quality and efficiency.

"When you hire a professional, he can use specialized cleaning equipment and cameras to clear out your duct system," says Dutton.

A furnace inspection and cleaning can typically cost $100 to more than $200 dollars per system; a fireplace and chimney inspection and cleaning can run from $150 and up; and a duct system inspection and cleaning can cost between $250 to $500 - sometimes more. But when you consider how costly major repairs can be, expenses for these routine and preventative maintenance tasks are relatively minimal.


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