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Maximizing furnace efficiency

Posted October 23, 2013 in Advice Column

When homeowners here in Appanoose County area receiving their utility bills this winter, they will often wonder if they’re getting good value for their energy dollar. Did you know, however, that you could increase your furnace efficiency, and save money, by following just a few tips?

Here are some ways that you can increase your furnace efficiency and cut your heating costs:

• Minimize heat loss with duct insulation. Some rooms in the home, like upstairs bedrooms, may never get warm, because of heat loss from ducts that are routed through unheated areas, like your crawl spaces or attic.

• Seal air leaks with duct mastic. Another common problem is warm air leaks through poorly sealed or disconnected joints in the duct system. Don’t use duct tape. It’ll dry out and allow the leaks to return. Duct mastic is a putty-like substance that you spread over the leak. It then hardens to form a seal.

• Adjust or add dampers (zoning) to control air flow. Close certain dampers in your ducts so that heat is redirected to the areas or rooms where you need it most. If you’re not familiar with adjusting dampers, call in an experienced HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician, since you may cause a comfort or safety issue. Even better, ask your contractor to install a zoning system so that you can conveniently control dampers via thermostats in specific areas of your home.

• Add air returns for proper circulation. Many home-comfort systems were originally designed with inadequate cold-air returns in bedrooms and other living areas. This results in restricted air flow through the heating system. Your contractor can inspect your system, and then make recommendations for retrofitting.

• Use a programmable thermostat. Lower your home’s temperature when you’ll be away or asleep and you’ll save a significant amount on monthly utility bills. A programmable thermostat will make the adjustments automatically, according to your presets.

• Adjust fan settings for higher output. Settings can be changed to turn the fan on sooner after the burner starts up, and keep it on longer after it shuts down, so circulating air can absorb more heat. This reduces waste through your flue or vents. Consider increasing furnace efficiency by choosing a variable-speed motor for continuous air flow and consistent temperatures.

• Keep your system running smoothly by having it serviced annually by a technician. Any combustion heat source will create soot and residue that will lower the efficiency of the heat source. For optimum efficiency they should be cleaned once a year before heating season starts.  Other items are checked during annual maintenance — blower and fan motors are lubricated, proper draw at the chimney or exhaust is checked as well as blockage of the flue, and condition of the heat exchanger is checked. So best not to let maintenance go too long for reasons of both efficiency and safety.

Information provided by Steve Gilbert, vice president, Gilbert Plumbing and Heating, 641-437-HVAC (4822).

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