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Know Your Heating System and How to Keep it in Good Working Order?


 Heating usually makes up approximately 40% or more of your utility bill, and conducting proper maintenance of your heating system can actually help you save money. The first step in keeping your heating system working is knowing which type of system you have.

Furnaces and Boilers are the Most Common Type of Heating

 Most of us have either a furnace or a boiler in our home. Furnaces heat air and distribute it through ducts to the various rooms in a house. Boilers heat water and distribute steam via radiators or hot water via pipes in baseboards or radiant floor panels. Steam boilers operate at a higher temperature than hot water boilers and are considered less efficient.

Types of Heating Systems

Forced Air: Forced air systems use a furnace to heat the air which is then blown through the house via ductwork and vents. First cold air is pulled from the home into the system and passed through a filter to remove allergens. The air is then warmed by passing through an air handler and then the blower motor pushes it through the ducts heating your home.

Baseboard: Electric baseboard heating are units attached to the baseboard that pulls cool air in from the bottom and pushes the hot air out from the top.

Steam Radiant: Steam heating systems are typically found in older homes that have yet to be renovated or upgraded. They feature radiators made from cast iron that distribute the heat. Steam units use a boiler to heat up water and create steam which is sent through the pipes to your radiator which warms your home. As the steam cools it condenses back into water and returns to your boiler to start the process again. 

General Money-Saving, Maintenance Tips:

  • Most experts recommend doing maintenance on the system twice per year, in the spring and fall. Remember, if you are not comfortable conducting all the maintenance yourself, you can call an HVAC professional to handle it.
  • Furnaces should be checked during the fall, before turning the heat back on for the winter months.
  • Make sure vents, baseboard heaters and radiators aren't blocked.
  • Check air ducts and heating pipes to make sure they are properly sealed. Make sure blower components are clean. Airflow problems can reduce your system's efficiency by up to 15%.
  • Make sure all electrical connections are tight. A professional can measure both voltage and current on the motors.
  • Moving parts should be lubricated, so they do not cause friction, which shortens the life of the system and increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • It is good to have all the gas or oil connections checked, including gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. This might be best handled by a professional. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchange can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.
  • Check and inspect the condensate drain in the central air conditioner, furnace or heat pump. A clogged drain can cause water damage or affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Use a programmable thermostat to automatically change the temperature when you are unable to, cutting your energy bill by at least 10%.

Maintenance for Forced-Air Systems:

  • Central HVAC systems that rely on forced air, require the air filters to be changed at least 1x every 3 months. A dirty filter not only increases energy cost but also can lead to equipment damage and more allergens in the air. The new high-efficiency pleated filters have an electrostatic charge that works like a magnet to grab the tiniest particles including those that carry bacteria. (Note: vipHomeLink provides convenient reminders to alert members with forced air HVAC systems to periodically change their filters.)
  • The area around the system should be checked and free of debris, with at least 2 feet of clearance. Shrubs or plants next to the system should be trimmed to ensure ideal flow and circulation of the unit.
  • At least once per year, clean the condenser coils. A condenser that is dirty can increase the consumption of energy by 30%.
  • Clean the vents and registers once per year for good circulation.

Maintenance for Steam Radiant Systems:

  • Bleed trapped air from hot water radiators to allow hot water to move freely through the pipes. Bleeding radiators involve using a key that fits into the valve on the end of the radiator. The key is inserted and turned 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. If the air hole becomes plugged, it can make the system less efficient.
  • Check your radiators and pipes for cracks or leaks. A small drip could lead to a big problem, if left unattended.Examine the pipes around the boiler for similar issues. CAUTION: Never touch any hot water pipes.
  • These systems usually require additional maintenance on the steam boiler including draining, feeding and overall servicing by a professional.

If you have purchased a home with radiators you may really want to consider replacing them with something that requires less maintenance.

Maintenance for Electric Baseboard Systems:

Clean the heating coils regularly to prolong the heater's life and maintain its efficiency.

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