Homeowner can improve efficiency of central heaters


September 25, 1993|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

A pre-winter tuneup for your home's central heater can often pay off with significant fuel savings as well as increased safety.

An annual checkup by a technician is best for any type of heater, including electric heat pumps, and is most important from a safety standpoint for older heaters fired by oil and gas.

Oil-fired heating equipment is especially subject to a buildup of soot in the internal combustion surfaces, smoke pipes and ZTC chimney. These areas should be vacuumed and cleaned by a technician, who can also change the burner nozzle and filter and adjust the fire so the heater works at peak efficiency.

While tuneups should be left to experts, there are a number of things homeowners can do.

Before firing up a gas or oil heater, check the flue pipes that run from the heater to the chimney for rusty spots or holes. Squeeze the pipes (wear an oven mitt if the pipes might be hot) to see if the pipes feel soft or weak. If defective pipes are found, repair or replace them.

Also, remove the clean-out plate near the base of the chimney and check for debris such as bricks or mortar or a large accumulation of soot. If debris indicates the chimney is damaged, or if the chimney is exceptionally dirty, have it checked by a technician.

Defects in the flue pipes or chimney could release dangerous carbon monoxide into the house.

Utility companies recommend that gas heaters be given a safety-performance check when first fired up. Following is the procedure:

If the gas heater does not have electric ignition, make sure the pilot is lighted. If necessary, light the pilot following steps on the heater's instruction plate. Turn the thermostat to the highest point and make sure the heater fires up. Set the thermostat at a comfortable level.

After a gas heater operates for about 10 minutes, check the draft. This is done by holding a lighted match under the outer edge of the draft hood -- a hat-shaped fitting on top of the heater or an opening at the top of the heater jacket.

If the draft is working properly, the match flame will be pulled toward the draft hood. A defective draft will blow the flame away or blow it out. If the draft appears defective, turn the heater off and don't use it until it has been checked and repaired by a technician.

Check the flames on a gas heater by opening the fire door (wear an oven mitt). Safe gas flames are blue.

Excessive moisture condensation on windows and other cold surfaces, in a house with gas heat, can be a danger sign. Extreme condensation is sometimes a symptom of a blocked chimney or flue.

Clean air filters are important for efficient heat from warm-air furnaces, which deliver heat through ducts. Ordinary air filters should generally be changed about once a month during the heating season. Some high-efficiency filters, such as 3M's Filtrete filters, can be used for longer periods, and some filters can be cleaned and reused.

Skill in "bleeding" radiators is important in houses with boiler-type heaters and old-style radiators without automatic vents. Bleeding simply lets air out of the radiator so hot water can enter. A cold radiator often needs only to be bled to restore heat.

To bleed a radiator, make sure the boiler is fired up and the water-supply valve to the radiator is open. The supply valve is on the pipe entering the bottom of the radiator.

A radiator key or screwdriver and a cup are the only tools needed to bleed a radiator. Using the key or screwdriver, slowly open the air valve at the top of the radiator while holding the cup under the valve. Hissing or sputtering means air is escaping from the valve. When water spurts from the valve into the cup, the radiator is bled and the air valve should be closed.

Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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