5 Tips for Maintaining Your High-Efficiency Furnace

Having a high-efficiency furnace in your home is an excellent way to save money on your yearly energy costs. Traditional furnaces transfer heat energy into the air using a device called a heat exchanger. Whenever they do so, however, some of that heat is lost as waste; we call this loss inefficiency. As much as 20 percent of the heat your furnace generates is unusable, which essentially means you are paying to generate heat that is then vented away.

High-efficiency furnaces utilize a second heat exchanger to recapture some of that waste heat before it is lost. Combined with a few other tricks, they can heat a home with as much as 95 percent efficiency or more. In practical terms, this translates to some impressive cost savings. Over time, however, you may notice your energy bill ticking back up, even if you aren’t using the furnace more. This is the inevitable result of normal wear and tear on the furnace. Over time, it can lose efficiency if it isn’t regularly maintained.

Follow these five tips to ensure your high-efficiency furnace maintains peak performance:

1. Clean Your Ducts Regularly

Your home HVAC system works by first generating heat, then transferring it to the air. Once this happens, it can circulate this now-heated air throughout the home by way of a system of ducts. The constant circulation of air, however, will carry with it any dirt, dust, and other impurities in the way. Over time, this dirt and dust will build up inside of the ductwork. This, in turn, will restrict the airflow and force the furnace to work harder to keep up. Unclean ducts can also create issues such as allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems for the inhabitants of a home.

One of the most important things you can do to maintain the efficiency of your furnace—as well as the air quality of your home—is to regularly have a professional from a company like Entek HVAC clean the ducts and replace the filters in your HVAC system.

2. Make Sure Your Thermostat Is Functioning Properly

The thermostat is the interface between your furnace and you: it’s the device you use to control the temperature in your home. By utilizing a thermometer to determine the overall temperature of a home, the thermostat determines when to cycle the furnace on or off. Problems can arise, however, if the thermostat and furnace don’t communicate properly, or if the thermostat isn’t properly sensing the overall ambient temperature. If the thermostat fails to tell the furnace to shut off when the desired temperature is achieved, it will continue to run unnecessarily, driving your energy bill up.

There are several reasons that a thermostat might malfunction. Commonly, electrical problems are to blame. If this is the case, a professional HVAC technician who has been certified to work with the complex wiring in a high-efficiency furnace should perform repairs for you.

3. Check the Exhaust Gas Recirculation

One key element of any HVAC system is proper ventilation. As the furnace burns a fuel source to generate heat, exhaust gas is created. This exhaust gas is composed of toxic elements, such as carbon monoxide, meaning that it must be safely vented out of the house. However, sometimes—particularly with high-efficiency furnaces—the furnace’s air intake is installed too close to the exhaust vent. When this happens, the gasses that were supposed to dissipate away from the home can get pulled back in. These gasses may then interfere with the ignition of the furnace, leading to a less efficient system.

Since improper installation is often the culprit behind these air circulation problems, simple maintenance is not enough. Usually, the best option is to have a qualified professional redo the job. They can either install separate vent and air intake pipes, or a concentric vent kit, which will allow the air to flow into the ignition unobstructed.

4. Regularly Clean the Heat Exchangers

The main reason a high-efficiency furnace is so effective is because it makes use of two heat exchangers instead of one. This means that its ability to render heat energy usable for the home is vastly increased. However, two heat exchangers also means two systems that will require maintenance. Like any other part of your HVAC system, the heat exchanger can build up dirt and grime over time. Even a seemingly small amount of dirt can cause the efficiency of your furnace to drop.

A professional HVAC technician can test if your heat exchanger is beginning to lose efficiency. Using specialized equipment, they will discover if dirt and grime buildup is forcing the furnace to work harder than it should and thereby driving up your energy bill unnecessarily. You may also be able to detect problems yourself if you notice that the heat exchanger is caked with layers of soot or if it produces an unusual smell whenever the furnace operates. Even if none of these issues are detected, the heat exchanger in your HVAC system should be cleaned regularly every few years as part of a routine maintenance program.

5. Always Check the Condensate Drain

During the course of normal operations, your high-efficiency furnace will produce condensation. This moisture needs to be safely drained away from the furnace using the condensate drain. However, over time, that drain can become clogged. During particularly cold weather, it can also freeze over, which will equally impede its ability to drain away moisture. If the condensate drain becomes fully obstructed, it will start to back up. This will then trigger safety features that will shut down your furnace. Of course, this often happens during the coldest days of the year, when your furnace is needed the most.

As part of routine maintenance, your HVAC professional will make sure the condensate drain is clear. HVAC professionals are also available for emergency calls should this critical element of your furnace become frozen.

High-efficiency furnaces are a great way to reduce your energy usage. Be sure to keep yours operating at the top of its game with regular maintenance. If you’re in the Vancouver, WA, area, contact Entek to schedule a checkup for your furnace.