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A-1 Mechanical Blog

Tips for Running Your Furnace Efficiently [Homeowner’s Guide]


As the leaves change colors and temperatures drop, you’ll need tips for running your furnace efficiently. Because your furnace hasn’t run all summer, your first step is to schedule maintenance with one of our HVAC contractor technicians.

We can help you maintain a high efficiency furnace so you can save money in the long run on energy bills and avoid expensive heating repairs this winter.

Continue reading for our tips for running your furnace efficiently. We’ll give you practical to-dos to get the most comfort from your heating system, use the least amount of energy, and keep your furnace running as long as possible.

Our HVAC contractor techs recommend furnace maintenance as early as possible so you can avoid being without heat in the middle of January. During inspection, we’ll also make sure your furnace runs safely and efficiently.

Furnace Efficiency Tips (Plus Bonus Tips to Lower Heating Bills)

  1. Unblock air vents and registers
  2. Change furnace filters
  3. Program thermostat for winter; upgrade if necessary
  4. Schedule furnace or heat pump maintenance
  5. Remove airflow obstructions from furnace or condenser
  6. Use sun during the day; thermal curtains at night
  7. Set ceiling fans to clockwise during winter
  8. Use the oven for cooking, if feasible – not for heating!
  9. Seal drafts around doors, garage doors and windows
  10. Rethink hard surfaces
  11. Monitor humidity levels; consider a whole house humidifier

Unblock Air Vents and Registers

If you have rearranged furniture since the last time you ran your furnace, you’ll want to make sure there’s nothing blocking the registers, radiators, or baseboard heaters. It’s not uncommon for furniture, toys, or even heavy curtains, to block air vents.

If a room feels colder than the rest of your house, you’ll want to first make sure that nothing is blocking the air vents. Resist the temptation to close off rooms or vents. This is a myth that it saves “heating load” or money on heating bills. What this actually does is disrupt the pressure balance in your home.

Your furnace works harder trying to balance the air pressure. Working harder means more stress on your furnace, more energy consumption, higher utility bills, and an increased risk of repairs or worse, a furnace breakdown and replacement.

Be sure to dust regularly and occasionally, remove the vent and give a quick vacuum using a brush attachment.

Check and Change Furnace Filters

Your furnace filter traps allergens floating in the air like dust, dirt, pollen, and pet hair. However, you’ll need to make sure you change dirty furnace filters every three to 12 months so your furnace continues to run efficiently.

Manufacturer’s recommendations vary, based on the type of HVAC equipment, the filter model, and the household environment.

A dirty filter causes your forced air furnace to run inefficiently. This is because your furnace has to work harder to produce the same amount of heat. Unfortunately, this can cause the house furnace to prematurely break down or drive up your energy bills in the meantime.

For example, a clogged filter may cause the blower motor to overheat and trip safety sensors to shut down the furnace. Clogged filters might push the components to the point that the heat exchanger develops cracks early.

A cracked heat exchanger allows toxic carbon monoxide to escape and put your family at risk. Overall, check your filter monthly and change when it’s dirty, usually every three months. Households with smokers, pets, or members with respiratory illnesses often find monthly is best.

Program Thermostat for Winter

The best way to save money this year is to program your thermostat for cold weather. This means setting your programmable thermostat for as low a temperature as is comfortable. The lower the temperature on your thermostat, the less energy your furnace uses to heat your home.

We recommend lowering the temperature when everyone is out of the house. You may also want to lower the temperature in your home if you plan on going away on a winter vacation. Remember to keep the temperature above 55 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the pipes from freezing.

If you still have a manual or dial thermostat, you have a lot to gain from an upgrade. A programmable, WiFi or “smart” thermostat allows you to dramatically increase your energy efficiency.

Program settings to coincide with household routines, like an empty house during school or work hours on weekdays. Program a different setting for weekends when everyone’s home. The more advanced, the more you can do with it. Adjust WiFi thermostats, for example, using an app on your smartphone.

Change the temperature from work so it’s toasty when you get home if the temperature suddenly drops. In bed upstairs and it feels stuffy? Change the temperature on your smartphone or tablet without leaving your room.

“Smart” thermostats “learn” household routines after a couple of weeks of manual programming. These modern tools bring more customization to your comfort and save energy without the “one size fits all” approach of older manual thermostats.

Interested? Click here to learn more about thermostats. We’re happy to visit and recommend the best pairing for your furnace. We’ll install it and teach you how to use it so you get the most value from it.

Schedule Furnace Maintenance

We always recommend customers schedule their furnace tune ups in the fall so any repairs are complete before the first snow. Our HVAC contractor technicians are able to change dirty filters and do any necessary furnace repairs. The cost of furnace maintenance is less than what you would pay for premature furnace replacement in the middle of winter.

If you use a heat pump, be sure to schedule a tune up for heating season and again in the spring for cooling season. Because heat pumps both heat and cool, they need two seasonal maintenance visits.

Remove Airflow Obstructions from Furnace

Most of us house our HVAC equipment like furnaces and air conditioning air handlers in basements or even garages. We also use these areas for storage. Be sure to keep a three to five-foot area around your furnace clear for good airflow. It’s also a safety issue because you’re burning gas.

Same goes for the outdoor AC compressor unit. It’s less relevant if you use a furnace during the winter, but if you use a heat pump, keep the same buffer zone. Regardless, whether you use a heat pump or an AC, the outdoor unit needs good airflow too.

Keep shrubs, trees, and vegetation two to three feet away. Don’t try to camouflage it with a fence or plants. If you need a fence to protect it from dogs marking it, for example, use a wrought-iron or wide-spindle style.

Use the Sun’s Warmth

Our grandparents used what’s now known as “passive solar.” Planting deciduous trees on the south and east sides of the house shade it during hot summer days. When the trees lose their leaves, they let the sun’s warmth through to warm the house in the winter.

Evergreens, on the other hand, planted strategically, provide a wind break. In winter, keep sunny windows bringing in the warmth. As the sun sets, close the blinds or insulated curtains to “trap” the heat indoors.

Set Ceiling Fans to Clockwise

If you have ceiling fans, switch the blades’ rotation to clockwise for winter. This will draw cool air up and push the accumulated warm air down the walls to where you are. This keeps the rising warm air from hanging out around the ceiling while you shiver below.

Use the Oven for Baking

In the summer, we encourage folks to use the microwave or a toaster oven, to reduce the heat-producing elements in the house. In winter, bake all you like. It’s great crock-pot weather, of course, but when you use your oven it shares the heat with the immediate area. Roast a chicken instead of buying a rotisserie chicken at the deli. Try new cookie recipes and share your creations.

Never use an oven to heat your home by leaving the door open. Never.

Seal Drafts

Are you losing energy from your windows, doors, and garage doors? Seal them where you can to avoid losing heat (and money).

Graphic courtesy of EERE

Rethink Hard Surfaces

Tiled and marble floors may be pretty and easy to wipe up spills, but they’re also cold. Put down more area rugs this winter. They’ll feel great, look cozy, and insulate against drafts.

Monitor Humidity Levels

The more moisture in the air, the warmer we feel, because perspiration has a harder time evaporating. This is why, in the summer, why it feels hotter when the humidity is high. In the winter, we experience the opposite problem.

A lack of moisture in the air accompanies cooler air. It also brings increased static electricity, dry nasal passages, and more sinus infections and nose bleeds. It’s also bad for wooden furniture, instruments, and floors.

Consider a whole house humidifier. They help control the amount of moisture in the air so you’re more comfortable and you can turn down the furnace because the air feels warmer.

For more energy efficiency tips, enjoy the video. Just ignore the part about closing off rooms!

For More Tips for Running Your Furnace Efficiently, Turn to A-1 Mechanical for Help

Our Grand Rapids and Lansing HVAC contractor technicians are dedicated to making sure your furnace works this winter with a range of heating and cooling services. If you wish to schedule a furnace inspection, tune up, or ask questions about your home heating system, call A-1 Mechanical at (517) 348-0302.

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