When the temperature gets this cold, the first thing homeowners should do is head to the basement.
Sounds like an old-timey advice for cooling down on a sweltering summer day, but in this case it’s important that Ontarians take some preventative measures with their heating systems. In this very cold weather, furnaces work overtime to keep a house warm, especially those homes that are less-than-optimally insulated (as many of our area’s older houses are), and if your furnace has been neglected, it might be worth a trek downstairs.
Last winter in Ontario, when the temperature fell below -15°C, Direct Energy says it saw a 24% increase in heating system calls compared with days when the temperature was -14°C or warmer.
To avoid having the furnace break down during this week’s cold weather, here are some helpful tips about your furnace.
Know the warning signs. Listen for strange noises, frequent cycling on and off, signs of rust, leaks and trouble reaching the set temperature. Get on the phone to a licensed service person pronto.
Change your furnace filter every three months. We all know this, but do we do it? (Clearly the owners of this furnace above, didn’t.) Clean filters help air flow and ensure the furnace isn’t being over worked.
Make sure cold air return vents aren’t blocked. Don’t even place a cabinet or dresser in front — let it breathe. The furnace needs to be able to draw air in to rewarm it.
Correct installation and maintenance Use a pro, and only a pro. It can be a safety hazard if anything is done incorrectly, and that can also make a big difference to the furnace’s efficiency — and as a result, your heating bill. Make sure regular maintenance is done on it, generally in the fall before the long heating season begins.
Clean the air ducts. Dust, debris and pet hair can clog the ventilation system; cleaning the ducts helps ensure adequate heat is circulating throughout the house.
Clear debris and snow from outdoor vents. Yes, you must go out into that frigid weather.
Seal all window leaks with caulking and weather stripping. Caulking one window that’s more than 10 years old can save as much as 5% to 10% in heating costs.
And if you should have to replace a furnace, here are some tips to help you choose the right one for your home:
Size matters Let someone else make the decision about which furnace would be best for your house. A pro will examine the size of the house and determine the size of the furnace necessary. A furnace that is neither to large nor too small will be able to regulate a constant temperature.
Don’t buy on price alone Always ask a pro about annual operating costs for any new furnace. While price should not necessarily be the determining factor for a purchase, know that its efficiency can be low if you pay a low price; if you pay more now, your savings on heating costs will still be evident in 10 or 15 years.
Get the right documentation Any reputable installer or manufacturer will include the purchase agreement and warranty information and explain in detail what you are getting with your purchase. If you feel confused or unsure about anything, ask. It’ll be too late once it’s installed.
Fewer emissions If you’re trying to be environmentally conscious, especially at the cottage, research some dual-fuel or alternate-fuel options. One Napoleon furnace, the Hybrid 150, switches from wood to oil or electricity automatically, and if the furnace runs out of wood a second thermostat will keep the house nice and toasty even if you are not at home.
And of course, improve your home’s insulation. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to stay warm and cut down on energy bills. Probably can’t do that this week, but it’s worth doing soon, as we know our winters can be long.