Fall maintenance tips
The days are getting cooler, and nights can be downright chilly.
In Canada, there are several ways homeowners keep the cold at bay. But did you know an estimated five per cent of fire claims can be traced to heating appliances: 45 per cent of these claims are caused by a wood-burning fireplace, and 20 per cent are caused by a malfunctioning furnace? And, during winter months, heating equipment like portable space heaters are the leading cause of home fires.
That’s why fall is the optimum time to ensure your heating system – whatever type you have - is in tip-top shape. Let’s take a look at the various heating options:
- Gas furnaces - The majority of Canadians have this type of furnace to heat their home because it is safe and reliable. These furnaces are more efficient and advanced, using sophisticated technologies to connect with other home appliances like smart thermostats.
- Propane – This is a common choice for homeowners in rural areas or places where other fuels are scarce, expensive or unavailable. A propane tank is installed outside your home and connected to your furnace. The tank needs to be refilled by a local service company.
- Oil – Often used in rural areas. This fuel type is readily available in most parts of Canada but has decreased in popularity because of operating cost, efficiency and emissions.
- Electric - Electric furnaces heat air that moves through the ductwork by a fan. It produces heat using electric heater elements controlled by circuit breakers.
- Heat pumps - During the summer, a heat pump keeps your home cool by removing heat from inside your home and moving it outside. During the spring and fall, it does the reverse. It is more efficient than a furnace or baseboard heating at milder temperatures, and only kicks in when temperatures drop, helping to reduce your CO2 emissions. There are also geothermal heat pumps which use heat from a ground source.
- Woodstove/pellet stove - These are often used in combination with a primary heat source as a way of saving money.
- Wood or gas fireplaces – Normally used for ambience or to support the primary heat source.
- Electric baseboard - These convert electric current directly into heat. While easy and cheap to install, they are costly to use.
RELATED READING: Canadian Red Cross tips on how to heat your home safely
Each heating source will have maintenance that is specific to how they function. Reliance Home Comfort and other heating experts recommend these tips for homeowners:
Ventilate the area
- Keep the furnace room floors and the area around the furnace free of debris.
- Clear away any boxes or suitcases from around air intakes or vents.
- Don’t lean anything against the furnace or water heater.
Store items elsewhere
- Don’t place kitty litter near your furnace – ammonia fumes from the litterbox can corrode the heat exchanger and odours can circulate throughout your home.
- Don’t keep cleaning or laundry products in your furnace room.
- Never leave combustibles in the furnace room, such as gasoline, paint and paint thinners.
- Always keep the area free of dust and debris.
- If your furnace area doubles as a laundry space, don’t hang laundry or a clothesline from your equipment – it’s a major fire hazard and reduces airflow.
- Replace your furnace filter regularly, as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Look for rust spots on or around your furnace – it could be a sign of an issue in need of repair.
- Listen for unusual noises like popping or rattling – if you hear anything call a professional.
- Schedule maintenance on a regular basis.
- Inspect oil burners annually. A puffback can occur when your oil burner malfunctions, sending soot throughout your home.
- If your furnace uses air ducts, have them cleaned every 2-5 years by a professional. Dust build-up inside the ducts can limit efficiency.
- Get your chimney cleaned by professionals annually. When wood is burned, the smoke that rises through the chimney cools, causing water, carbon and volatiles to condense inside the chimney flue into creosote. A thick buildup of this oily residue is a fire hazard.
Does my type of heating affect my insurance?
The heat you use matters to your insurance company because it helps measure the risk of insuring your home. The type of fuel used for your furnace may increase the frequency or severity of your claim. For example, oil-based heating systems may leak which is costly to clean up, particularly if oil gets into the water or ground. With oil tanks, factors such as age and location on your property will be used by insurers to determine if it can be covered.
Heating that uses natural gas or electric sources is more common and may be less expensive to insure. Oil and wood-type heat sources may have a surcharge because there is more risk which could increase the likelihood of a claim.
Bottom line? Stay safe and stay warm!