As chilly autumn nights set in here in Virginia, it’s a good time to check smoke and CO detectors and to schedule annual furnace or fireplace maintenance.
Fall is upon us, and while some people resist turning on their heat longer than others, if you haven’t yet cranked up the thermostat, you probably will soon — chillier nights are on the way! We all know that most heating systems are meant to last for many years, but it’s important to remember that expecting furnaces and home heating appliances to work properly year-after-year without regular maintenance is a recipe for trouble. You may be in for an expensive emergency house-call, or worse: the National Fire Protection Association reports that faulty heating equipment is a leading cause of fires and fire deaths in U.S. homes. The experts recommend a yearly heating system checkup to avoid both fires and the buildup of harmful and deadly combustion gases — such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide — in your living areas.
Check Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
The first thing every homeowner or renter should do, before turning on the heat or lighting the stove, is to replace the batteries in all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Many newer units combine the smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector functions, and some even have built-in lifetime batteries (like this one from First Alert), but it’s still important to make sure the device is within its serviceable time-frame, which is generally 10 years.
Central Heating Systems
Next, schedule a home heating system checkup and maintenance. As well as keeping you and your family safe, regular furnace maintenance can save money in more ways than one. You’ll maintain efficiency and spend less on fuel if your system is clean and working optimally, plus you’ll extend the life of the system by keeping it in good repair. And keeping your system running well might also save you from the costly repair of broken pipes and water damage, one of the messier consequences of winter heating failure.
Aside from changing filters and bleeding radiators, which you can do yourself if you are so inclined, furnace maintenance work is best handled by licensed HVAC professionals. Hometips.com describes the process a licensed contractor might follow for the yearly checkup of a number of common central heating systems, and has some handy diagrams to help identify the parts or type of system you have.
Other Methods of Heating
If you heat with a stove, fireplace, or vented combustion space heater, be aware that these appliances present a different set of possible problems and maintenance needs. This includes regular chimney cleaning — wood burning in particular can cause creosote buildup that can ignite inside the flue and cause a dangerous chimney fire. Wood smoke is also a known cause of respiratory irritation, and people with allergies or asthma may benefit from a clean-burning, well-sealed appliance. And as with any form of combustion, carbon monoxide is an insidious danger that can easily kill, so ensuring that your heater is properly and safely vented is absolutely essential.
As with central heating, it’s recommended that you hire a professional to perform annual maintenance for all types of decentralized combustion systems. You can find a local professional and useful tips through the National Fireplace Institute.
Electric Space Heaters
A portable electric heater can be an efficient way to boost warmth in a space that doesn’t have adequate heating, or a good way to customize temperature for people occupying different rooms in the same home or office. Electric units are the only type of unvented (not attached to a chimney or stove pipe) space heaters that are recommended for use in your home, since they don’t produce combustion gases. They do, however, still cause an estimated 6,000 burns and 25,000 home fires in the US each year, and should be used with caution. The U.S. Department of Energy advises purchasing a unit that has a tip-over safety shutoff, and to avoid using extension cords.
We at Burnett & Williams hope that you stay warm, cozy, and safe as fall weather settles in on us here in Virginia!
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