Furnace: Friend or Foe?

\"\"The 21st century has seen some amazing advancements for us humans. Some of the really annoying activities we used to be burdened with (e.g., talking to other people, walking) are no longer necessary in our remarkable modern world.

But we’re still positively primitive when it comes to heating our homes. Most home heaters involve some sort of fire, just like we’re cavemen or something.

My house’s controlled combustion of choice is a natural gas forced air furnace. Burning natural gas produces toasty warm air that’s circulated by a fan and ductwork throughout the house. It’s a lovely system, and natural gas is downright wonderful: it’s inexpensive, clean burning, and super easy (via pipe) to supply.

However, one of the drawbacks to natural gas is that it is indeed a gas. That’s worth remembering as you ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Score One for Preventative Maintenance

Last week I had my fall maintenance done on my heating system. My man James (he’s one of the best technicians, so I ask for him every time and we’re buddies now) found a leak in the gas supply line where it connected to one of our furnaces.

As far as leaks go, it was pretty small. He showed me where it was, and I couldn’t even smell it. However, James primarily does commercial work and has all sorts of super advanced kit. One such item is a handheld electronic natural gas detector – it’s kinda like a Geiger counter, only for natural gas. When he put it close to the join of the two pipes, it went nuts.

James explained that connections can deteriorate over time, so he always checks them as part of his maintenance. The fix was really simple and was included for free with my service contract.

I don’t think we were in danger of imminent death with such a tiny leak, but when I’m setting an acceptable level of natural gas leaking into my attic, I think I’m going to go with “zero”.

The people on my street are always sympathetic when they see the HVAC truck at my house. They’ll wonder what’s wrong with my system, and they’re always a little confused when I say I’m just doing seasonal maintenance. They’ll ask, “Is that really necessary?” In the past, I’d give a boring answer about prolonging system life and making sure the furnace was safe, and a tidal wave of disinterest would crash over their faces.

Now, I’m testing out an enhanced response. When one of the neighbors went through the routine with me last week, I tried a new line: “Well, it can catch things early. They actually found a small gas leak and fixed it. I don’t know how long it would have been before the house blew up, but it’s nice to know I don’t have a pocket of natural gas accumulating in my attic.” Amazingly, my neighbor wanted my HVAC company’s contact information, which is a good reminder that the best kind of marketing is fear-based marketing.

PSA: Fire Can Be Dangerous

I tend to mentally split my HVAC service contract: my AC service contract could save me a lot of money, while my heating service contract could save my life. That may be overly dramatic, but I still have a caveman’s healthy fear of fire. While most of the stuff the technician does is within my capabilities – and I am always tempted by the DIY muse – last week showed me the benefit of hiring a pro

If you use fire in any form to keep the ol’ homestead cozy on a cold winter night, you should be doing some sort of seasonal maintenance and inspection. What’s required will depend on your system, but I’m quite certain the recommended maintenance is more than “nothing” (though that may be the most common maintenance plan people use…). Good luck and stay warm!


3 thoughts on “Furnace: Friend or Foe?”

  1. Wait wait wait… WAIT. I thought you lived in Texas Paul? It’s in the 80’s there now and your telling me you need a furnace? Then, you slyly hint that you *have more than one* furnace?

    Just exactly how big is your house? How warm do you keep it? And when can I move in?

    1. A comment that almost demands its own post!

      Yes, we’re in Texas, but Texas is huge, and north Texas can actually get kinda chilly – we were in the low 40’s just last week. Plus, (think of this being said by a cowboy with a piece of straw in his mouth) “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.” The house temp was down in the low 60’s last week as I wanted my fall maintenance done before we slept with the furnaces on.

      On to furnaces. We have three. It’s one of the most ridiculous setups in the universe – the upstairs one gets turned on once per year (for the maintenance visit) – after that the downstairs warm air floats up and keeps it cozy. If the downstairs were designed by someone clever, or maybe my dog, we’d only need one, but you’re becoming familiar (after my hot water heater post) with the shortcuts made when my house was built. We set the downstairs in the mid sixties (lower at night), and that leaves the upstairs pushing 70.

      My house may not be that small, but it’s just about the smallest in our fair burg 🙂 Our location is an attempt to minimize cost (both house cost and education expenses) and maximize school quality. We’ve got great public schools but had to buy more house than we want to be in the district. We’ve got space we don’t need and an extra bedroom, and you can move in as long as you cook for us!

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