You may have heard of Murphy’s Law how if anything can go wrong, it will. It is easy to think that is true when the furnace quits working on the coldest day of the year. The trusty furnace is a major household appliance that can run for a couple of decades without much trouble. Homeowner intervention is limited to replacing or cleaning filters once a month when it is in use. However, the rest of it is not up to Murphy’s Law as to whether your furnace will keep working or not. Annual cleaning and maintenance is what keeps your furnace operating without needing a sudden and expensive furnace repair on a weekend night.
The Importance of Annual Furnace Maintenance
Older furnaces that run on natural gas, oil or propane can develop cracks in the heat exchanger, which can allow gases that contain deadly carbon monoxide to enter your home. Minute quantities can result in headaches or other symptoms but may not trigger a CO detector. Newer furnaces have more technology to save energy and increase comfort, but this also results in more parts that can fail if not properly adjusted and maintained.
How Dirty Filters Can Break Your Furnace
You might think that not changing or cleaning your furnace filter will just let a few more dust particles through to blow around in your house. However, dirty filters impede airflow. A forced-air furnace is designed to operate at a certain rate of airflow over the heat exchanger. There are limit switches that detect rising temperatures of the heat exchanger. Lower airflow due to a dirty filter can cause a high-limit switch to burn out and the furnace to shut off. High-efficiency furnace filters can trap enough particulate matter to drastically reduce airflow through your furnace. It is critical to replace filters per the furnace manufacturer’s instructions.
Parts of Furnaces That Often Fail
Home furnaces get their heat generating capability from electrical coils or fire from fossil fuels. Forced-air natural gas, propane and oil furnaces have burners that heat a chamber called a heat exchanger. The hot gases from the flames travel through the exchanger to be vented through a chimney or pipe outside. Newer furnaces reburn exhaust gases. Air from a blower is forced over the outside of the heat exchanger, which creates heated air to blow through vents. Electric furnaces use electrical elements to heat the exchanger.
Oil furnaces have a pump to move the oil, a filter and an orifice that atomizes the oil to be burned. Pump failure, clogged filters or worn out atomizers are common problems of oil furnaces. Natural gas and propane often have limit switches, exhaust gas circulating fans or another technology fail. Electric furnaces may have electrical elements burn out. Hot water heat has burners to heat the water and a pump to circulate it. Water pump failure is a common problem of hot water heat. Heat pumps are like reverse air conditioners and can have refrigerant and other failures.
Routine maintenance according to the recommendations of the manufacturer of your furnace will keep it running at peak operating efficiency. This will go a long way in preventing your furnace from succumbing to Murphy’s Law and failing to come on when the thermometer dips to record lows. Plus, maintenance can prevent one failed part from causing other part failures resulting in higher furnace repair costs.