What is the best furnace tune up?

So often we’re bombarded with advertisements from companies offering a furnace tune up to get you ready for the season.  Some of those companies are simply getting their pocket books ready for the season judging by what they actually do on their “tune ups”.  For most, standing over their shoulder to watch wouldn’t help much with knowing if you got your money’s worth. 

So, what should be getting done in a proper furnace tune-up?

Many companies will describe their “multi-point inspections or furnace tune-ups” with the hopes that if they list more points there must be more value.  And while that may in fact be true, it must be qualified by what they are actually inspecting, and hopefully more than simply inspecting, but rather, maintaining.  A 10-point inspection by one company can be far more valuable than a 50 point inspection by another!

There are many components of a furnace that require a visual inspection.  That said, some inspections cannot be performed without some careful and trained disassembly in order to properly diagnose.

For instance, you cannot see a flame sensor unless you remove it.  And even removing it for a visual will not assist at understanding if it performs within the values which are required.  A multi-meter with ‘in-line micro amp’ feature must be used.  If it is not functioning properly, it can be cleaned using the proper techniques. Afterwards, it can it can be retested to ensure the cleaning was effective.

There are many vital components of a furnace that must be scrutinized in order to give a clean bill of health. 

  • Blowers must be pulled, not only to clean the blowers properly but also to even see the secondary heat exchanger.  These new high efficient furnaces have parts to them which must be inspected for safety but also for efficient and proper operation according to the engineered data plate on the inside of the cabinet on your furnace.  Every year we have new customers who have never had a company do what we do on a regular and routine furnace tune up.  Sometimes it is even the simplest of tasks that get overlooked! 
  • A simple temperature rise across your furnace will tell you so much. Every furnace is designed by the engineers to run in a specific range. Metal contracts and expands during the heating cycle.  Overheating the metal can cause metal to fatigue and even crack.  Dirty blower wheels, filters, secondary’s, air conditioner coils, duct work restrictions can all negatively affect this. In turn, reducing efficiency, equipment longevity, and comfort.

Anyone with a basic thermometer can take temperatures and simply compare them to the rating plate to see if the unit is operating within the desired parameters.  And yet, all too often this task is overlooked.  So the real question is, what should I ensure gets done on my furnace tune-up?  Good question!

Here is a list of mandatory checklist items we here at Weather Tech Heating & Cooling perform on a Furnace Tune-up:

Inspection of heat exchanger

This is one of the most vital components to have checked out on a gas furnace.  A heat exchanger contains the combustion process and delivers it  to the exhaust where it can safely exit the home.  If the heat exchanger is compromised in any way, there is potential for harmful, colourless, odourless gases, (Carbon Monoxide),  to infiltrate the home through the ductwork. It must be thoroughly inspected for obvious rust and damage but carefully scrutinized for hairline cracks which can cause the metal to expand and stress that crack even more.  Manufacturers defects, poorly maintained furnaces and many unique variables can contribute to a heat exchanger prematurely failing.  Yearly inspections are indispensable.

Removal, Inspection and cleaning of furnace blower

As stated prior, how else could a technician properly inspect the secondary part of the heat exchanger on a high efficient furnace?  One must slide this blower and motor aside and peer upwards to inspect the secondary for water/rust damage as well as for any debris which made it past the filtration device and plugged the fins of the secondary which is very much like a vehicle radiator.  When this clogs up, it will drastically lower the airflow from your registers but worse yet, will cause your furnace to run at a higher temperature.  While we used to oil motors, nowadays the blowers are all sealed and no longer require this, however, we still carry oil for those old units that are still in service!

Temperature rise

Taking a reading will tell the technician a fair amount about whether or not the unit has proper sized ductwork:

  • if it’s obstructed or restricted in any way throughout the entire home
  • if the blower is operating well
  • if the gas valve is set to the proper gas pressure.

Comparing the temperature differential between the return air duct and the supply air duct to the data rating plate will ensure the ideal temperatures are safe and conducive to a properly operating furnace. Simple task, yet one of the most important and all too often overlooked.  

Removal of flame sensor, clean, measure micro-Amps

This task is commonly missed by some service companies and when it is performed, is often done incorrectly.  The flame sensor or ‘flame rod’, must sit directly in the burner flame to be registering the proper signal.  If there are any inefficiencies in the combustion process, a layer of carbon and aldehydes may build up on this flame rod causing a weak or missing signal suggesting that the gas is not being burnt up and therefore will shut off the gas supply for safety reasons. Cleaning this sensor is regularly needed and must be done with the proper technique so that the rod is not damaged further by scoring the metal with rough sandpaper.  It may have the desired effects initially however, the build up of combustion byproducts will gather in these scars much more frequently. Again, a simple task which must be done a certain way to avoid prolonged damage. 

Condensate drain clearing

Due to their ability to remove so much more heat from the combustion process than their predecessors, high efficient furnaces, sometimes referred to as ‘condensing furnaces’ all have one thing in common, they need a drain.  The condensation accumulates within the secondary heat exchanger and ideally drains through several ports and eventually out through a drainage trap into a drain hose to a floor drain, or to a condensation pump which will pump the water away to the home’s drain.  Many times these ports in the furnace can get congested with all different kinds of sludge.  It is vital to the furnace operation to keep these ports clear and even clean the internal screens which are designed to capture the debris. Ensuring all the pressure switch ports and hoses are also included in this routine.

Electrical Voltages and Amperages

Every electrical component of your furnace must be measured and inspected for overheating, brittle wiring, browning of connections etc.  Motors must have the correct voltages and once running be tested for the amperage draw where it can then be compared to the rating plate.  Capacitors for motors must have their microfarad rating taken to ensure they are competent and not weak which would eventually prevent the motor from running altogether. A preventative way to protect your motor and prevent unnecessary breakdowns. Physically, connections must be inspected to be tight and secure.  Loose connections cause irregular voltages, premature component failure, arcing and potentially even fires. 

  • Natural gas leaks 
  • Fresh Air Intake / Combustion Air intake
  • Furnace termination inspection
  • Vacuum cleaning and wipe down of equipment
  • repair / address air leaks around ductwork
  • Inspect area for combustibles around furnace
  • Water heater venting and chimney
  • Furnace filter
  • Thermostat operation

Full cycle run of the furnace

Watching the furnace run through the order of operations.  Watching for any irregularities and or noises coming from the furnace or ductwork.  Inspecting how the burners ignite and what colour they are through the cycle.  

Listening to the customer and asking the important questions

Much can be learned through the eyes of a trained technician when watching a furnace operate however, it is ultimately the COMFORT of the customer which must be addressed.  To assume that just because the furnace is safe and creating heat for the home, does not fully encompass what must be accomplished.  Many times electrical equipment is known to have intermittent issues.  Therefore, just because everything performs well on the maintenance visit, does not mean all is well.

At Weather Tech Heating & Cooling it is stressed to our employees to ask the questions which are imperative to ensuring we have accomplished the task we were chosen to do.  Some of our customers had no idea that the HVAC issues they were living with was something they could have easily solved on a routine maintenance visit.  Questions on airflow, humidity, air quality, weird noises or smells are some of just a few of the concerns we can help with, and so often without extra costs involved!  If we prove we care, we just may gain a customer for life!

The list above is certainly not everything we do as each circumstance will dictate different demands, however, when hiring the right company to take care of the HVAC in your home, nothing replaces trained staff who know how to perform the tasks but also know why…for your all around comfort!

How’s the Weather in Your home?