Stay Warm This Winter!

4 Heating Tips You Need to Know

By Paul West

Brrrr! Are you dreading that annual increase in your PG&E bill? For many Bay Area residents, energy consumption nearly doubles during the colder months. So this month, we’ve asked our local heating and furnace man, Paul West, to answer our questions on all things heat-related.

* My house is always cold. What can I do to heat things up without paying a fortune?

The first task on your winter to-do list should be to have your furnace inspected. Having your furnace checked and filters replaced (if needed) will insure proper combustion and help your heater to work safely and efficiently. Most modern furnaces don’t require much maintenance other than a good once-a-year going over, with costs ranging from $112 to $125.

Another important reason to have your furnace checked: Any appliance that burns gas can have the capability of building up carbon monoxide – an extremely dangerous situation. Although carbon monoxide poisoning is not as common on the West Coast as it is in the East, illnesses and death have occurred in this area in recent years. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are subtle – most people aren’t even aware when they’re in danger. The symptoms typically include only a feeling of drowsiness or a dulling of the senses.

As an extra precaution, I recommend purchasing a carbon monoxide detector at your local hardware store. They’re relatively easy to use and can be real life savers.

Finally, if your furnace isn’t venting properly, you may experience a build up of moisture in your house, which can, in turn, cause mold. Certain strains of mold have been found to be highly toxic, and even deadly.

* Should I turn my heater off when leaving for the day, and turn it back on at night? There is some thinking that it’s better to leave the thermostat to a constant, lower setting when you’re at work during the day. However, I recommend turning your heater completely off when you’re out of the house for any length of time. Most furnaces these days take less than 20 minutes to heat a house, so it’s not worth the money and wasted energy to keep it on all day. If your house takes longer than 20 minutes to heat up, it may be time to schedule an annual furnace maintenance.

* Should I replace my heater? Depending on whether or not it’s been maintained properly, your heater should have a lifespan of 20 years or more. On the other hand, if your heater is made earlier than 1992, a new, energy-efficient heater may end up saving you money in the long-run. Replacing a heater and ductwork can be $7,000 and up.

* What are the advantagous and disadvantagous of various types of heaters? San Francisco, with its mixture of old and new houses, is host to many different types of heaters. Gravity furnaces (those without blower systems), are often found in older houses. While many people like these workhorses because of their reliability and lack of noise, the ducts aren’t usually insulated, so can lose as much as 50% of the heat generated. What’s more, gravity heaters have no filters, so can collect a great deal of dust and debris. This can be a problem, particularly if you have allergies. You can have the ducts cleaned, but in my mind, that’s just postponing the problem.

What’s more, most old gravity furnaces have ductwork that is covered in asbestos paper. If kept in good condition, this shouldn’t be much of a problems, but if the paper gets wet or damaged, asbestos fibers can break loose and become part of the air you breathe.

More modern furnaces, on the other hand, can wield up to 90% heat efficiency. In 1991 the U.S. Department of Energy instituted new regulations regarding furnace efficiency, requiring any new heater manufactured after 1992 to have at least 78% fuel efficiency. Post-1992 heaters, therefore, tend to be more efficient than the older ones.

When choosing a new heater, I recommend opting for the highest-efficiency you can obtain because the price differential is small, while the potential energy savings are great. Look for the yellow “Energy Guide” label, which indicate ratings from 78% 96.7%.

Here’s to a warm and safe winter!

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