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Improve the performance of your heating system

By Jennifer Spero |
Just like your car, your furnace or boiler needs a regular tune up. Ask your service person to run these efficiency tests, while taking other energy-saving measures yourself.

Just like you need an annual physical, your furnace or boiler needs a regular checkup too. A tune-up and routine maintenance can save you from 3 to 10 percent on fuel consumption.Wilson, Alex and Morrill, John (1998) Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings. Washington, DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy: 99

How to improve the performance of your heating system

There are two types of heating system maintenance operations: those that you can do yourself and those that should be done by a professional heating system technician.Wilson, Alex and Morrill, John (1998) Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings. Washington, DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy: 95

Easy maintenance you can do

There are some simple actions you (or your landlord) can take to improve heating system efficiency. One word of caution: Be careful working on hot water or steam heating systems or you could get burned. If you're unsure about performing a procedure, call your service technician or landlord to do it.Wilson, Alex and Morrill, John (1998) Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings. Washington, DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy: 95[1]

  • Clean or replace air filters. If you have a forced hot-air furnace or heat pump, check the air filters once a month during the heating season. If they're blocked by dust, it strains the blower and ups your electric bill. Clean or replace the filter as needed. Filters are available at hardware stores for about a dollar. Buy a supply of filters in the fall, and have your service technician show you how to replace them.Morrison, James W. (1979) The New England Energy Saving Handbook for Homeowners. New York: Harper & Row: 150
  • Keep baseboards, registers, and radiators clean and unblocked. Vacuum them and make sure they're not covered by furniture, rugs, or drapes. Don't cover the tops of radiators.
  • Bleed trapped air from radiators. For steam heat systems, use a radiator key to let out air once or twice a year. There's usually a valve at the top of the radiator. Put a pan underneath the valve and open the valve with the key until all the air is gone, and only water comes out. Have your technician show you how to do it if you're not sure. Air gets into your hot water system, and ends up in the radiators at the top of your house. Where there's air, there isn't water, reducing the efficiency of your steam heat system. Be careful as the water is hot.Morrison, James W. (1979) The New England Energy Saving Handbook for Homeowners. New York: Harper & Row: 149
  • Drain sediment from your steam boiler. If you have steam heat, remove sediment from your boiler every three weeks during the heating season by draining a bucket of water from your boiler. Ask your service person to show you how to do it. Sediment insulates your boiler from the burner's flame, causing the heat to escape up the chimney rather than heating your house. Be careful: steam boilers produce hot steam under pressure.Morrison, James W. (1979) The New England Energy Saving Handbook for Homeowners. New York: Harper & Row: 151

How often should I get a tune-up?

How often you should schedule maintenance on your heating system depends on the type of system you have: If you heat with oil, tune up and clean your heating system once a year; with a gas-fired system, every two years is sufficient; with a heat pump, schedule maintenance every two to three years.[1]

Why do regular tune-ups?

Having a qualified technician tune up your heating system can:

  • lower your heating costs
  • prolong the life of your heating system
  • reduce breakdowns
  • lower repair costs
  • reduce the amount of carbon monoxide, smoke, and other harmful emissions produced by a fossil-fueled furnace or boiler

How do I find a qualified technician?

Just like maintaining your car, it's important to find a good heating and cooling specialist and sticking with them. A good service person will answer questions and show you steps you can take to maintain your system and troubleshoot heating problems. The company that supplies your home heating fuel can usually provide this service. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Heating Contractors," "Furnaces-Heating," "Electric Heating," or "Oil Burner-Equipment and Service."Morrison, James W. (1979) The New England Energy Saving Handbook for Homeowners. New York: Harper & Row: 140

Improving the performance of your heating system helps you go green because…

  • Tuning up your heating system reduces the amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions produced by fossil-fueled furnaces and boilers that pollute the atmosphere.

The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook reports on a Denver, Colorado study that found a $150 tune-up will save a homeowner an average of 12 percent in heating costs. The Handbook's calculations conclude that an average US family with a freestanding house of about 2,000 to 2,100 square feet can save $385 and prevent 3,000 pounds of CO2 or 24,700 cubic feet of natural gas emissions over a period of five years.Stoyke, Godo (2007) The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers: pages 8 and 112

If you're a financial-minded type, the The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook calculates the internal rate of return (IRR) of "investing" in a heating system tune-up to be 42.6 percent and the payback period to be 1.9 years.Stoyke, Godo (2007) The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers: 112 Compare that to the return on your stocks or mutual funds—it's a great return on your investment.

The Handbook also calculates a carbon return on investment, or CROI. Measured in pounds per dollar, it indicates the effectiveness of each dollar spent on preventing additional carbon dioxide from being pumped into the atmosphere. (The higher the number the better, for both IRR and CROI.) Using this metric, tuning up your home heating system saves an average of 19.9 pounds of CO2 emissions per dollar spent.Stoyke, Godo (2007) The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers: 112 It's not only a great return for you, it's a great return for the planet as well!

External links

Footnotes

  1. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy - Heating Systems: Furnaces and Boilers
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