Tips to Prevent a Furnace Breakdown this Winter

Nationwide, millions of Canadians will soon be dealing with frigid temperatures and furnaces that will be working overtime keeping homes warm. But what if your furnace stops working during a cold snap?

Dave Walton, Director of Home Ideas at Direct Energy, said they saw a 24 per cent increase in service calls in 2014 in Ontario alone when the temperature dropped below -15 C. A lot of these emergency calls could have been prevented if homeowners knew the warning signs, he said.

 “Strange noises, frequent cycling, rust, leaks and trouble reaching the set temperature” are all early warnings a bigger problem could be coming Walton said.

“If you notice any of these signs, call a licensed technician to inspect the furnace before it completely shuts down.”

One of the most common issues in homes with furnace problems, Walton said, is blocked cold air return vents. These should have a clear space in front of them free from furniture and other items that prevent airflow.

Vacuuming out your air intake and warm air registers is a good habit to keep your furnace running longer, as is having your ducts professionally cleaned every few years.

Winter Energy-Saving Tips

It’s about to get cold and snowy outside, but we’ve got some useful tips and suggestions to keep you warm during the winter, and make your home more energy efficient.

  • Seal your windows! Weather stripping around doors and windows can reduce energy needs by up to 25%.
  • Use an energy-efficient portable humidifier during winter months to increase comfort.
  • Let the sun shine in! Keep your curtains and shades open during the day so the sun can naturally warm up your home.
  • Wood-burning fireplaces may look cozy, but they actually pull heat up the chimney and let cold in. Keep the flue shut tight when you’re not relaxing by the fire.
  • LED holiday lights can reduce your electricity use by as much as 75-80% compared to incandescent bulbs, and they last longer.
  • Unplug your household electronics. Keeping them in standby mode waste about 10% of residential electricity load.
  • Using the cold water setting on your washing machine can reduce energy use by as much as 90%. Energy Star washers save water and energy.
  • Clean the burners on your gas stove to improve efficiency and use a medium flame to conserve gas.
  • Using a 6” pot on an 8” burner can waste more than 40% of the burner’s heat. Use the right size pot with the right size burner.
  • Slow cookers are a great way to cook. A typical meal costs an average of 17 cents of energy usage for a family.
  • Need to reheat leftovers? Use the microwave! Microwaves use up to 75% less electricity than stoves.

What you need to know about home insulation

While most homeowners don’t give much thought to what’s behind their walls, proper insulation is of key importance to having a comfortable, healthy home. Besides keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer, insulation can help lower your energy bills, prevent mold growth and also keep unwanted noise out.

What insulation does

Insulation helps keep outdoor air from getting inside your home and conditioned indoor air from escaping. This is achieved by trapping pockets of air and slowing down the in/out process.

“In winter, heat flows directly from all heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements, and even to the outdoors,” the U.S. Department of Energy states on its website. “Heat flow can also move indirectly through interior ceilings, walls, and floors — wherever there is a difference in temperature. During the cooling season, heat flows from the outdoors to the interior of a house.”

The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) compares a properly insulated house to dressing for the weather.

“A wool sweater will keep you warm if the wind is not blowing and it is not raining. On a windy, rainy day, wearing a nylon shell over your wool sweater helps keep you reasonably dry and warm. A house is similar,” the CMHC website says. “On the outside, underneath the brick or siding, there is an air barrier that does the same thing as the nylon — it keeps the wind from blowing through. Then there is the insulation (like your sweater) and a vapour barrier, which helps keep moisture away from the house structure where it can do damage.”

How insulation is rated

Insulation is rated based on a measurement of resistance the material has to the movement of heat. This is most commonly referred to as an R-value. The higher the R-value the more effective the insulation is. Local building codes list recommended R-values for each area of your house (these R-values are required for new construction). Improper installation of insulation can lower the R-value of the material you are using so it’s a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s instructions or hire a professional to do the installation.

What you need to know about furnace filters

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give your furnace much thought as long as it’s keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. But in order to keep it working to its optimal performance — and help prevent a possible malfunction — you need to either change or clean your furnace filter on a regular basis.

Sounds simple, but in reality there are so many options for furnace filters that choosing the wrong one can do more damage to your furnace than good and could potentially cause your furnace to break down.

How a furnace works

A traditional forced-air furnace draws air in via return ducts, warms it over a heat exchanger then, with the help of a blower fan, pushes the heated air through a series of ducts that branch off into rooms throughout your home. The furnace runs until the temperature inside reaches your desired thermostat setting. (If you have whole home air conditioning the process is similar with the air being cooled in the summer by an outdoor compressor unit and a series of coils inside your furnace).

What a furnace filter does

The main purpose of a furnace filter is to protect the blower fan from all the dust, hair and other gunk the return duct pulls in. While it will also help the quality of your inside air (as it is removing contaminants from being recirculated), its job is not to actually clean your air as many people believe.

How filters are rated

Furnace filters are rated using the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV). MERV ratings range from 1 to 16. The higher the rating the more particles the filter can remove.  Higher rated filters allow less air to flow through though and can force your furnace to work harder and possibly malfunction. A MERV rating between eight and 11 is adequate for most homes. To be safe, you should check if your furnace manufacturer has a maximum MERV rating your model of furnace can use.

Some home improvement centres, such as Home Depot, use their own rating system on products sold in their stores. These ratings are similar to the MERV scale but do vary slightly. It’s best to confirm what their rating converts to on the MERV scale to ensure you’re using a filter safe for your furnace.

Smart Energy Choices to Stretch Your Reno Dollars

That’s going to be how much!?”

Renovation decisions can often cause pocketbook stress, but incorporating these energy-efficient ideas can actually improve your bottom line in the long run. That goes for new-construction as well.

SOS for homeowners

Have you heard of the saveONenergy New Home Construction program? Local electric utilities are working with trades to ensure that new homes are built or renovated with energy efficiency in mind. Other programs such as the saveONenergy Heating & Cooling Incentive can put money back in your purse with up to $650* in incentives.

Shop smart for appliances

Size and model count! Larger fridges suck more energy, so consider the number of people in the house. A couple only needs a fridge that’s 12 cubic feet, while three or four people require a unit that’s 14 to 17 cubic feet. The rule of thumb is to add 2 cubic feet per person. Additionally, look for the ENERGY STAR® symbol and the EnerGuide rating that identifies the amount of energy an appliance consumes in a year.

Choose energy-efficient windows and doors

Panes can be a pain. Drafty windows and doors are tremendous sources of air leakage that end up costing you in the long run. High-performance windows are built to retain heat in the winter.