Out of sight, out of mind. This phrase applies to many things in life, but we can say it is particularly true for the portions of your home that lurk in the basement – specifically your furnace.
Most of us don’t even think about them until they are not working. But with the proper care and knowledge about your system, yours could keep your family happy and warm for many winters to come.
Here are a few things you might not know about your home’s heating system:
1) Furnaces are the most common heat-source in American homes
Furnaces heat a building by sending conditioned air through air ducts which run through the floor, walls, or ceiling. They are powered by gas, electricity, oil, or a combination – because they’re the most economical, natural gas-powered furnaces are the most popular.
2) They have three main components:
- A burner or heating element
- A heat exchanger
- A blower
Your furnace will have either a burner or a heating element depending on the type of heater you have – burners for gas furnaces (the most popular), heating elements for electric.
The exchanger’s function is to separate the breathable air from the combustion gas. The blower then sends the conditioned, breathable air through the ductwork and into the various rooms of the building.
3) Furnaces are nothing new
This type of heating system has been around for centuries. The Roman empire was the first known culture to use a warm-air system for heat in public places and large homes. This system, called a hypocaust, worked by heating air with fire in an open space below the floor and sending it through passages into the rooms above. It could only be used in stone or brick homes and was incredibly dangerous due to the potential for fire or suffocation. Thankfully, furnaces today are much safer for use in homes. Following the Romans were monks who used furnaces to heat the running rivers to stay warm in their monasteries.
(Fun fact: the word “furnace” comes from the Greek term “fornax,” meaning “oven.”)
4) They can live long, healthy lives
There are many factors to take into account – including preventative maintenance – when determining how long a furnace will last. On average, conventional furnaces last 18-25 years while high-efficiency furnaces have a slightly shorter life of 15-20 years.
If you are looking at replacing your old furnace, make sure you take into account the lifespan of the new unit as well as the yearly savings. High-efficiency units may not last quite as long as their conventional counterparts, but they can save you more on utility costs.
5) Your furnace’s installation is regulated by the government
That means both the local AND federal government. While the safety of furnaces has increased exorbitantly since the ancient Romans used them, there is still a level of danger involved. If not installed or maintained properly, it could cause many problems including a fire from a faulty burner.
This is why you should always have a trained professional install a new furnace rather than try to do it yourself. Not only can the lifespan of the unit decrease, but it can cause unnecessary problems for the period of time it is in use.
6) If you have or are looking at purchasing a gas furnace, there are five standard types
- Horizontal gas furnace
- Package gas furnace: also comes with an air conditioner
- Upflow gas furnace: airflow enters the bottom, and the heated air exits the top
- Downflow gas furnace: opposite of the upflow, airflow enters the top, and the heated air exits the bottom
- Lowboy gas furnace: shorter units designed for tight spaces
7) If your home has a gas furnace…you are not alone
Gas furnaces are the most common heating units found in homes across America. This is primarily due to the fact that they have such high-efficiency ratings and can be used in rural or remote locations. They can operate off of natural gas (if it’s available in the area) or propane, which make them very convenient for homes with no natural gas lines.
8) You should always look at what’s covered in the policy
Contrary to popular belief, not every component of a furnace is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. In fact, it’s common for the more expensive parts to not be covered by the warranty. Make sure you do your research and read the fine print before making any purchase.
9) Never store things around your furnace
Heating units are typically located in the basement where many families keep seasonal items between uses. This is a bad idea for several reasons. If you need to get to your furnace in an emergency quickly, you have no quick route to access it. And if you have a gas unit that uses a burner, you could have a potential fire hazard on your hands.
10) Always, always commit to preventative maintenance.
If nothing else, preventative maintenance can help you spot small problems before they become significant problems. But regular maintenance on your furnace can also help prolong the lifespan of the unit and keep your energy costs down. In fact, most manufacturers require annual maintenance to maintain the warranties. Make sure you add an annual check-up to your maintenance list, especially after the 5-year mark.
If you notice your furnace beginning to make unusual noises or not performing as well as it should, contact a professional contractor for an inspection. They can also help you set up a preventative maintenance schedule so your system stays in tip-top shape and keeps your family warm for many years.