October is National Fire Safety month. Your heating system, when not properly maintained, is one of the biggest fire and safety hazards in your home. In 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to 61,000 home fires that involved heating equipment, resulting in 480 deaths, 1,660 fire injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.
To operate safely, heating systems need to be inspected annually including being cleaned and tuned up by a professional. If you have a problem with your air conditioner, you’re going to be uncomfortable, but if your heater malfunctions it can actually be dangerous. A gas furnace in particular needs to be checked every year. All the safety switches need to be tested and the combustion checked.
If your furnace has a pilot light, it’s extremely important to make sure there aren’t any leaks in the heat exchanger. Leaks in the heat exchanger can allow combustion products such as carbon monoxide to get into your home, creating a serious safety concern. Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning is known as the “silent killer,” because you cannot see it, smell it or taste it, but it claims nearly 300 lives each year, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).
If you have electric heating system, it needs to be checked annually as well. Running electric heat puts an enormous load on your electrical circuits. The heating up and cooling down of the wires can lead to expansion and can loosen connections. A loose connection can lead to higher amperage and could burn wires. During a tune-up, all of the connections are checked to make sure they are tight. There are also safety switches and relay points that are checked during an annual tune-up to make sure the system is operating properly. For example, if your heat strip sequencer isn’t working properly and sticks closed, it can cause the heat strip to run continuously, greatly increasing your monthly electricity bill.
The investment in a comprehensive annual tune-up of your heating system is well worth the money. Even if there is nothing wrong with the system, you can sleep better at night with the peace of mind of knowing it’s in good shape.
SAFETY TIP: According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission smoke detectors should be tested every month and batteries changed once a year.