Make sure heating system works properly, safely

What kind of heating system do I have? There are two types of heating systems commonly used. The first is a furnace fired by natural gas; the second is an electric heat pump. Since heat pumps operate by pulling energy out of the exterior air, they must have backup heat for really cold weather (approximately 32 degrees and colder). If you have a dual-fuel system, it can be more difficult to figure out whether your primary heat is natural gas or a heat pump. Although not foolproof, a good way to tell is to look at the thermostat. If the thermostat has a setting for “emergency heat,” then you probably have a heat pump.

How do I maintain my heating system? The most important step in maintaining a heating and cooling system is to have a service contract with a licensed HVAC contractor. In most cases your HVAC contractor will service and inspect your heating and cooling system twice a year, once in the fall before the heating season and once in the spring before it’s time for the air conditioner to operate. Regular checkups from a licensed HVAC contractor are important because the technician is trained to perform maintenance.

In addition to regular, professional inspections, there are several important tasks that homeowners can do between visits to help ensure that your heating system will operate safely and efficiently.

● Clean dust off the supply and return registers.

● Inspect the metal vent (flue) for rust, holes or cracks if you have a gas-fired furnace. Holes or cracks in the flue can allow carbon monoxide into your house.

● With gas-fired furnaces, remove the cover on the burner compartment and look for a buildup of rust on top of the burners. If there is rust on top of the burners, it can restrict the flame. In this case you should have the furnace cleaned and inspected for safety by a licensed HVAC contractor.

● If your ducts (the pipes that carry the heated or cooled air) are visible (in the attic, basement or crawl space), inspect them to ensure that they are properly connected.

● Finally, with any kind of heating system you should clean or change your filters regularly. How often you change filters depends upon the kind of filter you have.

What is the best kind of filter? Filters come in four basic types: standard fiberglass, electrostatic, high-density pleated filters and electronic.

Fiberglass filters are inexpensive and available at most hardware and home improvement stores. Although they remove the fewest dust and dirt particles from the air, they may be adequate for people without allergies or respiratory problems. They should be replaced each month.

Electrostatic filters use a static charge to attract dust and dirt particles. These are relatively inexpensive, and although slightly more effective than fiberglass filters, their real advantage is that they can be cleaned instead of replaced.

Pleated filters use a denser mesh material to trap dust and dirt particles. They can be expensive, with initial installation costs ranging from $300 to $500 and replacement filters costing $50 to $100. They need replacement once or twice a year.

Electronic filters magnetize dust and dirt particles to attract them to the filter. Although they trap the greatest number of particles, they are also the most expensive. Installation costs can be as high as $900. The frequency of cleaning will depend upon the system you install.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.

Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.