Archive for the ‘Heating’ Category

PART II – Inside your heating system

Since you’ve thoroughly read all about the outside of your heating system, and still can’t decipher the problem, let’s investigate the inside, shall we? We do strongly recommend you call a qualified heating contractor however.

Burner Compartment: Open the burner compartment, then stand back a few feet. The flame you should see is blue and steady. Yellow means your furnace may need air adjustment. Don’t do this alone!

Filters: Whether you use a permanent furnace filter that’s vacuumed off or disposable paper filters, you need to tend to then before cold weather hits, and then once a month during the heating season. With disposables, it is important to install the correct size in the right direction! Use the arrows on the filter as a guide. If you have pulled out a plugged filter but do not have a new one on hand, leave it off! It can do more harm to the furnace than running without one. 

House cleaning: Do not bang around it with a vacuum cleaner – you can jostle the wires or other sensitive components. Wipe off dust and grime instead!

ELECTRIC HEAT: Take not of the following pointers; Turn down the thermostat if you are out of the room to conserve energy. Make sure that the baseboard units are clear or furniture, drapes, carpets and other items to keep the air flow patterns working properly. If there is scorch or burn around the baseboard, you may have problems brewing. Call a contractor.

A checklist for keeping your furnace or boiler running safely!

Here are a few tips to help analyze your furnace and be sure it is efficient and running for the winter!


Draft Hood:  Check the opening in the furnace for signs of discoloration and soot or peeling paint.

Flue:  The metal pipe that comes out of the furnace. Follow it all the way to the chimney or vent and look for holes or other signs of deterioration. White rings around the fluepipes that leave a brown tobacco-like stain on your fingers might mean condensation inside.

Chimney/Vents:  In any heating system, there needs to be a way to get rid of flue products. Older furnaces do this through the chimney; newer furnaces use vents. Both should be inspected before the heating season to make sure nothing is blocking them. You may have a venting problem if your eyes tear or burn or your throat feels raspy while inside. NOTE: If your system uses the chimney, open the iron clean-out door at the base of the chimney and check for crumbled mortar or brick – a serious problem! Also when installing a new furnace or upgrading your existing system, make sure the chimney is lined to protect it from the corrosive materials in flue gases.

Oil Caps:   If you see an oil cap on your furnace, you need to keep the blower motor oiled. Just lift up the cover and add a few drops periodically. Check the condition of the belt while you are here too!

Water levels:  Watch for leaks on the ground if you have a hot water system or a steam blower. This applies for water heaters as well! Look for a sight gauge or glass tube filled with water. If the water level is too low, the boiler won’t fire.

Meter Regulation:  This is a device located on the pipe that hooks into the meter. It is important to keep the area surrounding it and the meter cleared, especially during the winter when snow and ice can collect.

Vent-Free Heating – the Pro’s and the Con’s

I often get asked about the use of vent-free heating systems and their use as opposed to direct-vented systems. This may answer some questions.

New York State has recently approved vent-free gas heating appliances for use. However, it was only under intense lobbying from the vent-free stove and fireplace manufacturers that the measure passed, and I am concerned about the use of vent-fee or vent-into-the-room fireplaces and stoves for several reasons.

Vent-free gas appliances should be properly sized for the size and energy tightness of the space that they are to be used in. Bedrooms, basements, small confined areas, and tightly insulated homes are potential high-risk areas to be avoided.

Very specific installation and usage guidelines are required as part of the vent-free appliance sales process, yet some retailers have been seen to be far to lax in providing consumers with accurate usage information and warnings.

Persons with allergies, asthma, or a history of heart or lung problems should be especially careful, along with the elderly, infants, or pregnant adults to exposure to fumes from vent-free units. And, although a loosely insulated cottage could be outfitted with a vent-free unit with little concern, you still should be aware that these appliances are not designed to be a primary heat source or used continually. Four hours per day is a typical recommended maximum usage.

Gas gives off by-products when it burns, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, and moisture vapor. Although vent-free units are touted as 99 percent efficient, these by-products, if allowed to build up in an enclosed space can cause harmful side-effects.

Vent-free devices have built-in safety devises that are designed to shut the appliance down in case of a malfunction or if combustion oxygen falls to dangerously low levels. Still, caution is advised.

If there are existing pollutants within the house such as formaldehydes that out-gas from man-made synthetic materials and dyes, additional chemicals may be discharged into the air as these burn and chemically sensitive persons may be irritated from the combustion process.

Dust and pet hair that get sucked into the unit and burn can cause sooting. And, if the appliance is not periodically cleaned and tuned, its efficiency may decrease over time, further adding to the pollution.

Of major concern is the addition of moisture vapor to indoor air while the vent-free unit is operating (up to a half-gallon per hour in some cases). Excess moisture within a closed structure can created problems such as mold mildew, and condensation staining as well as the more serious decay of wood members is unchecked.

It is often recommended that a window be left open during the use of a vent-free gas appliance to ensure a free flow of combustion air and to allow moisture vapor to escape the house. However, it should be obvious that opening a window will lower the efficiency of the unit and may create uncomfortable drafts.

It would be my recommendation to install a direct-vent or B-vented gas heater or stove. Installation should not be significantly more difficult that a vent-free model and you would have the peace of mind knowing that potentially harmful pollutants are being exhausted into the exterior. You will also be able to use the unit for longer periods of time, which will add to the comfort level and the enjoyment of your home.

Now that we are coming in to the Spring Season, it might be time to see if your furnace is running at maximum operation. After all, remember this past winter when the furnace “banged” or “rumbled” or just sounded funny? Here are some things YOU can do to save money.

  • Check the draft hood. This is the metal cover above the opening in the furnace. See if there are signs of discoloration, or have remnants of soot, peeling paint, dog hair, etc.
  • Check the flue. This is the metal pipe that comes out of the furnace and goes all the way to the chimney or the vent. See if there are any signs of holes or deterioration. If there are white rings around the flue pipes that leaves a brown stain on your fingers, it might mean you have condensation building up inside.
  • Do you have a chimney? In older furnaces you usually have one, and in the newer ones there is usually a different method of venting, often times directly to the outside. If you have a chimney, be sure to check and see if there is any blockage. Do this as well with the vent on newer furnaces. Do your eyes tear or your throat burn or you sound raspy when your furnace is on? If so, you might have a problem with the venting.
  • An important thing to note – if you do have a chimney, open the clean out and check for any crumbled mortar or bricks. This is a real problem. As well, if you have a newer furnace, make sure your chimney is lined to protect it from corrosive gases. If you have a gas water heater that vents into your chimney, and you want to install a new gas furnace to vent there too, that is acceptable. But, you can’t vent oil and gas together – a BIG health hazard!
  • If you see an oil cap on your furnace, you need to keep the blower motor oiled. This is really easy to do, and the oil is cheap. By doing this, you will save money replacing the blower motor. Just lift up the cover and add a few drops of oil occasionally. Check the condition of the belt too. They are inexpensive to replace and can be bought almost anywhere.
  • Do you have water on the floor? Check for leaks around the water heater or boiler, if you have one. Check to see if there is water in the site gauge. If it is too low, the unit will not fire properly.

Well that’s it for now! Next month we’ll talk more. It’s my goal to make these fun and interesting for you. If you have any questions (and it won’t cost you a thing to ask these – imagine, asking your plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractor a question for FREE!) drop me a line at  and I will answer them for you.

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