DIY furnace prep

How to Prepare Your Furnace for Winter

by Benjamin Roussey


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The ideal time for preparing your furnace is before the winter sets in. You will want your furnace to function optimally in the cold season to keep you and your family warm, so you need to make sure it is ready. A breakdown during winter will be more inconvenient, take longer, and cost more. You'll be happier and warmer if you take time now to prepare your furnace for the winter months.

Furnace Room Cleaning

Usually the room where the furnace is kept is also a storage room, especially during the months when the furnace is not in use. In most homes, the furnace is literally covered with stored objects, and the whole room is quite cluttered. You need to relocate all the things that are placed against or near the furnace and thoroughly clean the surrounding space. Do not forget to vacuum the outside surface of your furnace to remove dirt and cobwebs. Make sure the furnace is fully visible, especially all the pilot lights.

Replacing or Cleaning the Furnace Filter

As the name suggests, the furnace filter filters out dirt during the intake of air. The filter has to be regularly cleaned, usually once every 30 days. If you have been ignoring this task, it definitely has to be done before the winter. If you run your furnace with a clogged filter, the furnace will take longer to heat your house, and you will run a much higher energy bill.

Cleaning or replacing the filter is an easy task. First, thoroughly vacuum the floor area around and under the furnace. Then locate the access panel, which is usually on the lower side or front of the furnace. Make sure the furnace is turned off, before you pop open this service panel. In most furnaces, you only need to pull out the panel, but in some, you might need a screwdriver to unscrew the panel.

After removing the panel, you will see a framed rectangular mesh or screen, which is inserted either vertically or horizontally. You need to slide out this frame and check for dust or dirt buildup on the mesh. If your furnace has a metal or plastic mesh, you can clean the filter by hosing it with water. Sometimes the dirt might be quite sticky, and you might need to use some cleaner. Make sure you dry it thoroughly before putting it back. If the filter is cardboard or paper, then replace it with a new one.


Cleaning Ducts or Vents

The hot air from your furnace is blown out through ducts or vents. Hence, these openings should be clean and free of any obstructions. First, clean the vent exterior by giving the surface a good wipe, and then check if there are any objects inside the vent creating a blockage. You might be surprised to discover objects like small toys and other household items that have found their way inside the vents. This is a common problem especially when you have floor vents (and children!). Remove these obstructions and ensure the air is blowing freely.

Checking the Fan Belt

The blower belt or the fan belt is one of the most important parts in your furnace, and you need to check its tension and inspect it for signs of wear. If the belt is loose, your furnace will take more time to heat your rooms, and you will be using more power or gas. To access the belt, you will need to unscrew the air handler cover. You will easily notice the fan belt, since it is large and made of rubber. Check the belt to see if there are any cracks or frayed areas. If you find these signs, then it would be wise to replace the belt. Checking the tension of the belt is an acquired skill; however, you can check if it deflects not more than three quarters. If it is loose, you will need to tighten it. To do that, first loosen the attachment bracket, and move the motor assembly for increasing the tension on the belt. Once you feel the right tension, tighten the attachment bracket in its place.

Lubricating Bearings

Older furnace models have many moving parts with bearings, which need to be oiled. If you do not oil regularly, the bearings will wear out, your furnace will not function efficiently, and the condition might lead to repairs that are more expensive. For lubricating the bearings, you will need to find the oil caps, which are usually over the bearing shaft. It is also important not to over oil these bearings, as it can create a fire hazard and more issues.

Tightly Close the Blower Doors

The blower doors should be tightly closed, since that will keep heating byproducts such as carbon monoxide from being mixed with the warm air that is circulated throughout your home.

Consider Installing a Programmable Thermostat

You can save a lot on your energy bills by installing a programmable thermostat. This device will enable you to set the level of temperature of the furnace according to varying conditions. For instance, you can program the thermostat to increase the temperature during bedtime, and automatically lower it when you have left the house. Thermostat technology has improved significantly during the past few years. Now you can set the temperature through the Internet when you are away, or you can even program it for a full week.


Benjamin Roussey is from Sacramento, CA, and grew up doing all varieties of home improvement projects around the home since his parents did not hire contractors or outside help to maintain their home or vehicles. As a result, he has acquired a multitude of home handyman skills in plumbing, carpentry, electrical and everything in between. He also has two Masters degrees and he served four years in the U.S. Navy.

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