Don’t get caught in the cold

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, October 28, 2010

Having your heater checked out before winter sets in can save time, trouble and — in some cases — your health. Vinie Copeland, president of Aire Serv of Suffolk franchise, uses equipment to check for cracks in the heat exchanger and adjusts gas pressure on the regulator.

As the mercury in thermometers is dropping, most people are eager to pull out fall and winter decorations and pull on their boots and gloves.

But homeowners should take the time to ensure their homes and heating systems are just as ready for the change of season.

“You want to make sure your heating system isn’t going to go out at 2 a.m. on a 10-degree night when companies are swamped with calls and you have to wait 10-12 hours to get your heat back on,” said Vinie Copeland, president of Aire Serv of Suffolk franchise. “If you do preventative maintenance now, your chances of that or any other malfunction happening go down.”

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Dominion Virginia Power recommends replacing or cleaning filters of forced air furnaces monthly, having your heating system inspected, inspecting your home’s ductwork to ensure no heated air is escaping and sealing up windows and doors with weather stripping or caulk.

“Air leaks are the first thing we look for,” Copeland said. “They can be at the windows, doors and access doors going into an attic. You need to make sure there’s a rubber sweep or something at the bottom of the door and that that your windows are properly sealed. Double pane windows are a good idea.”

If your home isn’t keeping heat like it should, Copeland also recommends taking a look at the insulation in you home. Once the walls are built in a home, it’s hard to do much about insulation, but take a look in your attic.

“Especially if you’ve been living there awhile, your insulation can get moved around while you were getting Christmas decorations or something,” Copeland said. “Either put it back, or put in thicker insulation. It can save homeowners a lot of money over the years.”

One of the most important check ups doesn’t just keep you warm, but it can keep you healthy, as well.

“The emissions from a heater with stress spots or cracks in the heat exchanger can contribute to high levels of carbon monoxide exposure,” Copeland said. “The air we breathe indoors can actually be more dangerous than the air outdoors, so it’s important to check any fuel-burning appliance or heating source to make sure it’s working properly annually.”

While death by carbon monoxide poisoning isn’t common, it can cause less fatal health effects such as headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.

Warning signs that you may have a potential carbon monoxide leak include a gas flame burning orange or yellow instead of blue, sooty stains on heating appliances or around heating registers or a noisy furnace.

Before you turn on the heater for the winter, Aire Serv recommends taking the following precautions:

Install a carbon monoxide detector outside the sleeping quarters on each floor of the home.

Keep generators in a well-ventilated area and away from the house.

Have the furnace and any heating equipment checked by a heating specialist. In addition to cleaning your system, checking refrigerant levels and adjusting your system as needed, your contractor should look for cracks or damage to the heat exchanger.

Remove any clutter around the furnace, particularly flammable items.

Check your furnace air filter monthly and replace as necessary. Air flow can be restricted if the filter is dirty.

Remember that your pets are as attracted to the warm fireplace and heater as you are, so make sure they can’t burn themselves or knock a heat source over.