Here's How to Clean & Test Your Furnace Before Winter

dirty air vent

Furnace maintenance is an essential part of the ongoing care and upkeep for a furnace heating system in any Columbus, OH area home. A combination of professional and DIY maintenance steps improves the system’s energy efficiency and performance so it will provide reliable warmth throughout the winter months. A professional heating tune up, scheduled annually, cleans important furnace components and inspects the critical system parts to ensure your furnace runs properly once cold weather arrives.

While your furnace is cleaned during a maintenance tune up, it’s possible your furnace will become dirty through the winter months. Heavy use of a gas furnace over winter can create more chances for dust, dirt, and debris to enter the system and build up inside. A dirty furnace isn’t just a cosmetic issue, as buildup can hamper the performance and energy efficiency of some components and even damage them. Your heating bills can increase, or you may be faced with a surprise repair visit to fix or replace a broken furnace part.

Keeping your furnace clean throughout winter will make for a pleasant heating experience and your home will maintain its comfort during the season. Buckeye Heating & Cooling explains how to clean furnaces and test their operation to ensure the job was performed correctly.

Why You Should Clean Your Furnace

As air circulates through the home and HVAC system, dust and dirt can make their way through the ducts and into the furnace. While the furnace filter does a good job at trapping particles and keeping them out of the inner furnace chambers, it isn’t capable of removing all particles from the air. A dirty filter doesn’t do much good at all, as contaminants are able to pass through the filter and into the system since the filter has no space left to stop them.

Filters should be replaced on a regular basis, which may need to happen more often over the winter since heating systems see heavy use in Columbus. Even if you keep on top of your system’s filter changes, you may still notice your furnace appears dirty. This is just a natural consequence of the increased use these heating systems see when it’s cold outside.

Dirt and dust create problems in furnaces by stressing components and restricting airflow:

  1. Dirt and dust bits that come to rest on components inside the furnace build up over time. Eventually, they exist in such a significant volume that they burden the part and diminish its ability to perform as it should. The dust and dirt place the part under increased stress, forcing it to work harder and even consume more energy to run. The increased stress and energy consumption cause the part to sustain wear and tear at a faster rate, which will ultimately end in the need to repair or replace that component.
  2. Dirt and dust have the chance to recirculate all the time. If these particles are picked up and moved through the living areas then back into the return ducts, they must once again pass through the filter. The more times air passes through the filter, the faster the filter will clog. Once the filter is clogged, it becomes a barrier that limits air movement through the furnace. The system must work harder to circulate air into the home with this barrier in place. The furnace can overheat because of poor airflow, parts can be damaged, and ultimately the heating system requires more energy to run.

How Often to Clean Your Furnace

Typically, furnace cleaning will be a part of your annual heating system maintenance tune up. Most Columbus homeowners elect to scheduled this service in the fall, so that any issues can be resolved prior to the need to run the home’s heater on a regular basis in the winter.

For some furnaces, once a year cleaning during a tune up is all that is needed. If you find your furnace is dirty mid-season, it’s important to clean it right away. Continuing to run a dirty furnace can increase energy consumption, drive up heating bills, and risk damage to your heating system.

Signs Your Furnace Needs Cleaning

Schedule annual furnace tune ups to ensure your system receives the detailed cleaning it needs once per year. In between these service visits, here are some signs that tell you your furnace is in need of an extra cleaning:

  • Your living areas have more dust than usual, and cleaning doesn’t appear to get rid of the problem.
  • Your family members notice an increase in asthma and allergy symptoms when they are inside the house.
  • Your furnace makes a banging noise when it starts up (this is a sign the burners are dirty).
  • If you open the furnace access door, you can easily see a layer of dust and dirt sitting on top of the inner components.

Steps to Clean a Gas Furnace

During a furnace maintenance tune up, your technician will conduct a thorough cleaning of all necessary areas of the system. In between services, here are the steps you should take any time your furnace needs to be cleaned.

1. Disconnect Power

Never clean a furnace with power still feeding into the unit. Turn off electricity at the main electrical panel and on the unit’s switch. Close the gas valve on the supply pipe leading into the unit – when the valve is closed, it will sit perpendicular to the supply pipe.

2. Inspect the Filter

Pull out the existing filter and look it over to determine if now is the right time to replace it. If your filter’s surface is completely filled with matter, it should be replaced. If you have trouble determining if the filter is clogged, hold it up to a light – if the light shines through, the filter has more life left; if you cannot see the light, replace it now.

For disposable filters, simply throw the old one in the trash and install a brand-new replacement furnace filter within the furnace filter cabinet. If your system uses a reusable filter, you need to clean it every time it becomes full. Vacuum debris from the filter’s surface then rinse out the filter with water. Let the filter dry fully before you replace it within the filter cabinet.

3. Blower Assembly Cleaning

The blower assembly contains the system parts that circulate air through the ducts and into your home. The assembly contains the blower motor and blower fan. Most new furnaces have these components connected through a direct drive, but older models may use a belt drive system.

  1. Open the access door to the blower chamber and set the door aside. If you had to unscrew the door, keep track of all fasteners as they must be correctly reinstalled. Some furnaces won’t start up if access panels aren’t installed correctly.
  2. The fan is positioned on a track in many furnace units, allowing you to easily slide it out. If the equipment is in a fixed position, you will need to remove the control board to access it. If wiring must be removed to lift out the control board, make note of connections before disconnecting it to ensure proper reinstallation. There may be bolts holding the assembly inside the chamber which must be removed.
  3. Sweep dirt and debris from the fan blades using a soft brush or cleaning cloth.
  4. A larger brush, such as a paintbrush, can be used to clean debris from the blower motor.
  5. Use your vacuum hose to reach into the blower chamber and remove dust and debris that have settled inside the compartment.
  6. Wipe down the blower assembly and chamber with a damp cloth to remove any leftover material.
  7. Secure the blower assembly and replace the circuit board in the proper order. Reattach the access panel to close the blower chamber. Turn the electricity and gas back on.

4. Combustion Chamber Cleaning

Natural gas is combusted in the combustion chamber to generate heat energy. When gas burns, soot is a natural byproduct. It’s normal for soot to accumulate inside the combustion chamber and upon parts in this area of the furnace, but it should be cleaned off regularly as soot can lead to corrosion and damage parts of the furnace. The system’s pilot light, electronic ignition, and burners are commonly impacted by soot buildup, requiring cleaning.

  1. Turn the furnace’s exterior power switch to the OFF position. If the furnace is still warm from use, allow it to cool completely before performing this cleaning step.
  2. Take off the access panel to the combustion chamber, keeping a record of any screws removed for proper installation.
  3. Flip the power switch back to ON and adjust the thermostat’s temperature so it is high enough to initiate a new heating cycle. This should start the burners. Watch the flame – if the flame is blue and steady, the burner is in good condition. Burners with yellow and/or inconsistent flames need to be cleaned.
  4. Turn the power switch OFF and close the gas valve to the furnace.
  5. Use a medium-bristled brush to clean soot and carbon from each burner, as well as the combustion chamber.
  6. Blow dust and dirt from the pilot light assembly or hot surface ignitor using compressed air or a straw. Do the same for the flame sensor.
  7. Vacuum off the burners and use the vacuum to clean out the combustion chamber, removing all dirt, soot, and debris from the sides.
  8. If needed, use a soft cloth to wipe down the burners and burner assembly for further cleaning.
  9. Replace the panel to close the combustion chamber. Turn the power switch to ON and open the gas valve.

5. Testing Your Furnace

Anytime you clean your furnace, it’s important to test the unit after you’re finished. This test will help you make sure the job was done correctly and that the system is working as it should.

Wipe down the exterior of the furnace cabinet with a soft cleaning cloth. This will remove dust and dirt stuck to the outside of the unit.

Test the furnace to ensure all components are correctly reinstalled after cleaning.

  1. Check to see that power and gas are on to the furnace.
  2. Verify that the furnace filter is in its correct position.
  3. Adjust the thermostat’s temperature to trigger a heating cycle.
  4. Check inside the combustion chamber to verify the burners are lit and are burning steady blue flames.
  5. Check vents inside the home, feeling for warm air.

Caring for Your Furnace

If you clean your furnace correctly, it will work just fine once you complete the job. Should you have troubles when performing furnace cleaning or would rather leave this task to the pros, call Buckeye Heating & Cooling today to schedule service.

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