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The most popular heating systems and the maintenance you absolutely, positively must do annually

vipHomeLink-winter-night Photo by Dominik Kuhn on Unsplash

"I loved the Polar Vortex, so I'm not going to complete the routine maintenance to keep my heating system working," said no one ever.  

Heating is no joking matter. A cold winter's night can be unpleasant at best, and rather than suffering through with blanket forts and warm tea (if you have a gas stove), complete the proper maintenance to a) keep your heating system working and b) save money on your utility bill.

The first step in keeping your heating system working is knowing which type of system you have, and most likely, it's one of the usual suspects.

The most popular heating system: Furnaces or boilers 

More often than not, you'll find a furnace or a boiler in your basement. We won't bore you with the details, but furnaces heat air and push it into your favorite sections of your home. Boilers heat water (hence, "boil") and distribute steam via radiators or hot water via pipes in baseboards or radiant floor panels.

If you're unlucky in this department, you might have a steam boiler in this basement, and this less-than-desirable option operates at a higher temperature than hot water boilers and is less efficient. 

How to keep your furnace or boiler happy 

Furnaces and boilers require bi-annual maintenance or they get a bit cranky, which means less heat, higher utility bills, and potentially cold toes. Rather than putting on a second pair of socks, complete these quick checks to keep your furnace or boiler delivering the heat you want, when you want it:

  • Clear areas around vents, baseboard heaters, and radiators to prevent fires and keep air flowing.
  • Check air ducts and heating pipes to ensure they are properly sealed for maximum airflow.
  • Inspect all gas, oil, and electrical connections, including gas pressure, burner combustion, heat exchange, and motor voltage. Issues with any of these areas can lead to safety concerns, efficiency loss, and higher bills. (Consider your local professional for this step.)
  • Lubricate moving parts, so they do not cause friction, which would shorten the life of the system and increase the amount of electricity you use.
  • Make sure the condensate drain in the central air conditioner, furnace, or heat pump is clear as a clogged drain can cause water damage and raise indoor humidity levels.

The runner-up: Forced air systems 

 When you hear "central air," you might actually be hearing "forced air systems." These systems pull air in from the outside, pass it through a filter to remove allergens, and then push it through ducts. During the summer, you get cool air. During the winter, you get warm air.

Quick fixes and yearly maintenance

Overall, forced air systems are low maintenance and deliver heat efficiently. They even offer modern options, like new high-efficiency pleated filters that have an electrostatic charge to grab the tiniest particles including those that carry bacteria. Stay warm, safe, and healthy with this system by checking off a few quick items:

  • See when your air filters need to be changed and do so on schedule. Some forced air filters require a cleaning/replacement every three months. (vipHomeLink can help in this area by sending you personalized reminders to check and clean your filters.)
  • Ensure the area around the system is free of debris with at least two feet of clearance.
  • Clean the condenser coils at least once a year, which can increase your energy efficiency and decrease your consumption.
  • Clean the vents and registers annually for good circulation.

In third place: Baseboard heating  

It's electric - boogie woogie woogie! Electric baseboard heating are units attached to the baseboard that pull cool air in the bottom and push hot air out the top. There's not much more to it than that, though they are expensive, inefficient, and heat only sections of your house.

Not walking on the sun? Here's why.

​These quick tips will help you make the most of your baseboard choice, which requires specific home maintenance to stay safe and efficient:

  • Clean the heating coils regularly to prolong the heater's life and maintain efficiency.
  • Clear off any dust that accumulates on the heater as this will keep heat from being distributed evenly.
  • Watch out for rugs and curtains. Rugs block air from getting into your heater, so make sure your heater is about three-fourths of an inch higher than your rug. Curtains should stop at least four inches from the heater. Also, make sure nothing is blocking the airflow to your heater.
  • HAZARD: For families with young children and pets, look to buy a baseboard heater that won't tip or at least has an automatic shut-off switch. 

Last (and the least): Steam radiant  

Photo by Dominik Kuhn on Unsplash

If you have one pipe leading to a cast iron radiator and you hear a high-pitched whistling, then you probably have a steam radiant heating system. (You also probably live in a house built in the 19th century that hasn't been renovated or upgraded. Very trendy but not as safe as it should be.) Steam units use a boiler to heat up water and create steam, which travels through the pipes to your radiator. As the steam cools, it condenses back into water and returns to your boiler to restart the process.

High-maintenance maintenance

Checking your system is always important, no matter what type of heating system your house has. However, it's extremely necessary with a steam radiant system, which is old and in need of more TLC than newer units. Here's some must-do maintenance to add to your list:

  • That whistle we mentioned? It might mean your system needs servicing.
  • Bleed trapped air from hot water radiators to allow hot water to move freely through the pipes. This may be easier said than done as bleeding radiators involves using a key that fits into the valve on the end of the radiator. Insert the key and turn until water drips out, which also releases the air.
  • Clean radiator air vents to ensure they are working properly. These vents are located halfway down the side of each radiator.
  • Check your radiators and pipes for cracks or leaks. A small drip can lead to a big problem if left unattended. Examine the pipes around the boiler for similar issues. CAUTION: Never touch any hot water pipes.

Steam radiant systems usually require additional maintenance on the steam boiler including draining, feeding, and overall servicing by a professional. Consider upgrading when financially feasible to a safer, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly system. 

Keep safe and warm this winter 

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

Maintaining your heating system can be difficult, but with vipHomeLink, it doesn't have to be. Our app reminds members to change their filters, clean their radiator air vents, and to keep the area debris-free. In the unfortunate event that your heating system doesn't work, vipHomelink stores all your critical home information, including your model number and heating system info, so you'll have it ready for your HVAC professional.

Make sure to stay safe and warm this winter with help from vipHomeLink. Not a member? Sign up now, and the first 90 days are on us!

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