Heat Check:
A Pre-Season Heating Inspection Can Save You Money

According to home heating experts, hard-earned dollars are needlessly going up the chimney because pre-winter efficiency and safety inspections are being neglected.

You can't expect any appliance to run year after year without some maintenance, and your heating system is no exception.

An annual safety and efficiency inspection by a qualified service technician is widely recommended, especially if the heating system is idle during much of the year.

The serviceman should inspect the chimney and the vent pipe, or flue, between the equipment and the chimney. It should have the proper upward pitch to it. A leak or blockage in this pipe or in the chimney could fill the house with deadly carbon monoxide gas.

The high temperature limit control, which keeps the heating system from getting too hot, should be checked to ensure that it is functioning properly. The pressure relief valve on a boiler should be checked for proper operation and safe discharge.

On gas-fired equipment, the pilot light may have gone out during the summer. It will need to be re-lighted. The gas valve should be inspected for proper operation, gas pressure, and be free of leaks. The pilot and main burners should be cleaned and the heat exchanger should be checked for cracks. On oil- fired equipment, the serviceman should replace the oil filter and the burner nozzle for proper operation and do a thorough cleaning.

With gas-fired furnaces and boilers, the burner's efficiency is pretty much determined by its design. But on an oil-fired burner there are a number of factors that can affect efficiency. The nozzle could be dirty, the draft may have changed or the burner may have been jostled out of adjustment. These items should be checked and adjusted at least once a year.

The serviceman should use a CO2 analyzer, a 'smoke gun', a draft gauge and a thermometer. These devices are absolutely essential in determining how to adjust an oil burner. Occasionally, a serviceman may convince a homeowner that he can adjust the burner just by looking at the flame. But there's just no way you can look at the fire and tell what the efficiency is. Measurements must be taken. To further improve efficiency, the heat transfer surfaces of the boiler should be cleaned and checked for leaks.

Moving on to the distribution system, there are different items to check. On warm-air furnaces, the blower motor should be oiled, cleaned and checked. The blower wheel should also be cleaned and checked. If it is a belt-driven motor, the belt should be replaced if necessary and be checked for proper tension and alignment.

On hot-water systems, the circulator should be inspected and lubricated if it is the type that needs lubrication. The expansion tank above the boiler should be checked to see that it's charged with air. This tank maintains the proper pressure in the system.

If the tank doesn't have a proper air charge, when the system cools down it can develop negative pressure and actually suck in uncontrolled air through vents and seals. That uncontrolled air can cause gurgling in the pipes and result in radiators not heating sufficiently.

Calling for service before peak-heating season arrives is highly recommended. A preventive maintenance inspection of your heating system now can save dollars over the winter and eliminate a midnight emergency call for service when the boiler quits on the coldest night of the year.

If the serviceman feels the heating system should be replaced, the homeowner should advise him of any additional insulation, storm windows, or other changes to the house. Reducing the heat loss of a house may mean a smaller boiler or furnace can be installed. And if the present equipment is around 20 years old, its efficiency may be low compared to modern designs. Most of today's heating systems operate above 80 percent efficiency, many above 90%.