The Safe Way to Heat Up

Cosy gas log fire in architect designed modern luxury open plan family home

Cosy gas log fire in architect designed modern luxury open plan family home

Chilly weather is on its way. Between October and December, the average high temperature in Louisville drops from 68.4 degrees to 45.4. So how can you safely and efficiently prepare your home for the cooler weather?

Tim Dawson, owner of John Waters Inc., recommends homeowners get a heating and cooling professional to do a maintenance inspection and cleaning before using their heater this fall. From crickets in exhaust pipes to birds making nests in vents and becoming a fire hazard, there are numerous issues that can occur if your home goes unchecked. For example, flue gases that do not vent properly can lead to carbon monoxide in the home, which can be lethal. So if you think of the spring inspection of your air conditioning as all about comfort, think of the fall inspection as all about safety.

According to John Waters’ Mike Becht, who has more than 40 years of experience in heating and cooling, “If you have a crack in the heat exchanger of the furnace, that’s more serious than the flue being stopped up because you are putting carbon monoxide throughout your house.”

It is not just older homes that have venting problems. Any home can have one. That’s another reason why an inspection of your furnace or heat pump is so important. A typical inspection to verify whether or not your system is clean and in good repair currently ranges from $53 to $139. That cost usually includes a check-up in the spring as well.

If your system has more than venting problems and merits replacement, it is most often due to its age. Older houses almost always have furnaces that aren’t nearly as efficient as those installed today. Becht estimates that units that are 20 to 25 years old had an original efficiency of 80 percent, and those units replaced ones that were 60 percent efficient. New units can be more than 95 percent efficient. Improving from 80 percent efficient to 95 translates to using 15 percent less gas, resulting in a more modest LG&E bill.

When replacing a unit, Dawson recommends making sure you have the correct size HVAC unit for your home. While that sounds obvious – simply replace the one that was there before, right? – it may not be. Factoring in the maturity of trees that provide shade to the house, as well as any additions built on to the house, is a good idea to ensure your home is both comfortable and efficient.

Department of Energy Recommendations

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends homeowners prepare for cooler months both inside and outside the home. In the yard, make sure your gutters are clean. If left full of debris, clogged gutters and drains can form ice dams that prevent your drainage systems from working correctly. This can lead to water seeping into your home.

Also, keep the outside air out and the inside air in by checking for cracks around windows and door frames. Warm air will escape out of cracks and can make your heating system work harder, meaning you pay more to heat your home. Use caulk to seal cracks and openings between door frames and doors and weather stripping to seal moving components like windows. Silicone caulk is best for exterior use because it is impervious to the elements.

Inside, remember that sediment build-up on your furnace can cause your system to work less efficiently or potentially become a fire-hazard. Changing your air filter regularly is a must. A dirty filter will decrease air flow and energy efficiency. During the inspection, make sure your home’s ducts are examined. A home with central heating can lose about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system. Tightly sealed and insulated ducts can potentially reduce your annual energy bills by $120 or more.

Fireplaces, Ceiling Fans and Space Heaters

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, clear out ash and charred wood, but leave the chimney cleaning to a professional. Have the chimney cleaner check the damper to ensure it can be tightly closed to prevent drafts. You may also want to drain out the water heater and clear out any debris that has settled in the tank. In addition, if your ceiling fans have a reverse switch, use it to run the fans’ blades in a clockwise direction after you turn on your heat. According to Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, the fan will produce an updraft and push down into the room-heated air from the ceiling. (Remember, hot air rises.)

Many homeowners use a portable space heater to augment their home’s heating system. While they can offer some quick and strong localized heat, they also can be dangerous if not used properly. Dawson recommends using space heaters on a “very short term, temporary basis.” He adds, “Nine times out of 10, those heaters draw quite a bit of amperage and the cords on the heaters themselves tend to get hot or the cord isn’t quite long enough to reach the receptacle where the homeowner wants to plug it into. Therefore, they get a cheap little inexpensive extension cord, and they don’t want anybody to trip over that or see it, so they tuck it under the carpet or rug, which increases the danger of that heater in general.” VT

Story by Kevin Sedelmeier