Jennings Heating and Cooling service technician Matt Lewis inspects a furnace during an annual check up at a home in Hudson, Ohio, Thursday, September 17, 2009. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Furnace maintenance 101: Check your filter

BY Matt DeYoung

mdeyoung@grandhaventribune.com

Cooler weather is just around the corner, and that means many families across West Michigan will be flipping the switch on their thermostat from “Cool” to “Heat.”

Phil Zwier, service manager at Carmichael Heating and Air Conditioning, has some simple advice for those about to turn up the heat: Check your filter.

“Of course, the No. 1 thing is always to check or change your filter,” Zwier said. “It’s always recommended that you should look at it once a month. If there’s a lot of dust or dirt build-up on your filter, you should change it.

“For what they cost, that’s the No. 1 thing a homeowner can do to maintain their equipment.”

Jennings Heating and Cooling service technician Matt Lewis inspects a furnace during an annual check up at a home in Hudson, Ohio, Thursday, September 17, 2009. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Zwier explained that your heating system sucks cold air into your furnace, where it’s heated up before being blown into your home.

“When you restrict that filter, you’re increasing the internal temperature of your furnace,” he said. “There is a safety on that, but you can wear out your safety, it costs more money, and you’re going to end up with a repair replacing a limit switch because you didn’t change your filter.

“It also makes your system work a lot harder, which then costs you more money to heat your home.”

Zwier said filters range in cost from $5 up to $20 or more.

“You can easily spend $15-20 on a filter, but in my opinion, if you don’t have allergies, don’t buy one of those,” he said. “The more expensive the filter, the more particles they can collect – smaller particles. At the same time, if you’re collecting more particles, you’re plugging up your filter faster.”

Zwier estimated about a quarter of the calls he responds to each year can be traced back to homeowners not replacing their filter in a timely manner.

Beyond that, he suggests following manufacturer’s recommendations for annual furnace maintenance.

“We can test to see if your equipment is running within factory specs,” Zwier said. “We can recommend that a part’s weak, you can either replace it now or get a service call down the road. You can avoid having it break down on the coldest day of the year, avoid calling someone out on a weekend and paying them overtime, by having a tech in your house doing a tune-up.”

Zwier said the average life span of a furnace is 18-20 years.

Another suggestion Zwier offers is to consider a humidifier.

“If you have a higher humidity level, you don’t get the static electricity,” he said. “Not only is your skin not so dry, but also, just like summer, when it’s humid, it feels warmer than it actually is. If you have proper humidity in your home, you can feel warmer at a lower temperature, so you’re saving money.

“It can make a huge difference how you breathe and how you feel.”

Your air conditioning unit is most likely done for the year. Many manufacturers sell a cover for air conditioners, but Zwier cautioned that covering your air conditioner could invite unwanted guests to the party.

“”When you wrap them up nice and tight, you make a nice haven for mice,” he said. “They get in there and chew up your wires. Air conditioners are made to sit outside. If you’re going to do anything in the fall, at least cover the top so leaves don’t fall down inside it.”