We live in a part of the country where we enjoy four moderate seasons. Summer temperatures climb to about 105 degrees or so, for about a week or two, and then drop back into the 80s and 90s until the cool breezes of autumn arrive. Winter temperatures rarely drop below 34. No matter how moderate the climate, however, there still are chilly winter evenings when we get cold no matter how many sweaters we put on. That means furnace time.

A central heating system can become an expense if not properly maintained. And, worse, an unmaintained system can become dangerous. If you spend $250 or more a month on your heating bill you could be wasting as much as $600 a year – if you have not properly maintained your central heating system. It doesn’t make any difference what type of central furnace you have.

Even a simple window-mount heat pump can be damaged beyond repair if not regularly cleaned. The coils can become clogged with dust and debris, and in no time, the system can fail.

Central systems that have heat exchangers can become whole-house gas chambers filling every room with undetectable, poisonous carbon monoxide gas. Please don’t begin using your central furnace this winter until you have had your heat exchanger checked by a bona fide heating contractor. While he’s there ask him to replace the filters, check the fan belt and oil as needed.

Although we don’t recommend that you attempt to check your heat exchanger, we do feel it is safe for you to check the condition and adjustment of your blower-fan drive belt. A worn or frayed fan belt isn’t dangerous, but it can increase your electric bill unnecessarily. If the belt isn’t tight enough it will allow the drive motor to turn extra revolutions for each rotation of the fan. Each time the drive motor turns without rotating the fan, money is wasted. Be careful though. If the belt adjustment is too tight, it can damage motor and fan bearings, and both are expensive items to repair. A frayed fan belt should be replaced even if the tension adjustment is correct. When the fan belt becomes frayed it soon will split. And, if you have our luck, it will do so after dark on a cold evening when all the stores are closed. It is a good idea to have an extra one on hand. Drive a nail in the wall next to the furnace. Wrap the extra fan belt in an old towel or rag to keep it clean, and hang it on the nail.

System lubrication is a task that just about anyone can perform. Proper lubrication will cause quieter operation and will increase bearing life. Best of all, the free, smooth-running bearing operation that results will reduce stress on the drive motor and will ensure cheaper motor operation. Although there is no such thing as too much lubrication, excess lubricant can be thrown off the bearings and onto the interior of the furnace. And, oil makes for a dust collecting surface.

The burners also are important. They heat the exchanger, which warms the air that is blown through the ducts that is blown out the registers that heat the home.

Therefore, the burners have a great deal to do with the operating efficiency of the system. Make an investigation of the burners to be sure that the flames burn blue. An orange flame indicates that the fuel is not burning clean and hot. Often the burners corrode or rust and the flame ports become clogged resulting in reduced efficiency.

The filters in your furnace are probably made from hemp, fiberglass or nylon and are bound in a cardboard frame. If this is the case, chances are your filters are the disposable type. We purchase ours by the case and replace our filters monthly. There are, in fact, electronic filter units that can be built in to your central furnace system. Although they are expensive, they can be cleaned and will outlast two or three furnace replacements. With these systems maximum filtration is achieved. To properly maintain an electronic system, simply remove the filter drawer, hose it down in the garden, let it dry and slip it back into place.

This type of filter should be cleaned two to four times a year depending on frequency of use and conditions where you live.

In many instances your local public utility will offer free inspection services and make maintenance recommendations.