10 Steps to Prepare Your Home and Furnace for Winter

10 Steps to Prepare Your Home and Furnace for Winter
Jerad Kingery
Service Manager

I am the Service Manager for Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning. I and my team coordinate and perform all maintenance and repairs of the HVAC equipment we service.

About This Article

Time to prepare your furnace and home for the cold winter. What steps should you take?

The weather is getting cold, and once again it’s time to prepare for winter (unless you’re reading this in the summer for some reason, in which case, here’s a great AC article that might be a bit more timely).

Do you need to do anything to properly prepare your home and furnace for winter? Short answer: yes.

Unfortunately, most homeowners don’t do anything to prep for winter. As a result, their heating is “fine” in the winter, but it’s not as comfortable as it could be. We’ll talk about some of the downsides of ignoring furnace prep later on, but for now, it’s enough to know that it’s an important yearly step everyone should be taking.

If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume that means you’re ready to take some necessary steps. What are they?

We’ve listed them below, along with the rationale behind each one. The other good news is this: each of these steps is very easy. Outside of anything that may require an HVAC professional (repairs, tune-up, etc.) you can complete all of them in just an hour or two.

So let’s get going, because I want you to have the most comfortable winter of your life without spending a lot of money.

A technician working on a furnace

#1: Check Your Thermostat

This one seems obvious, right? But with the sophistication of many modern heating and cooling systems, there can be settings and functions that aren’t immediately accessible on modern digital thermostats.

Ideally, your HVAC contractor should have walked you through all the functionality of your thermostat. If not, though, you may have to refer to the user’s manual to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.

Outside of just the temperature, you may have zones set up in your home, or a humidifier that’s linked to the thermostat, or remote temperature sensors that track temperature throughout your home. Each of these needs to be configured properly to function well.

#2: Check or Replace Your Furnace Filter

This is a big one, and we see it skipped far too often.

What does your filter affect? Literally everything in your HVAC system. The airflow, how clean (or dirty) your air is, it traps viruses and allergens, and it allows your equipment to run more smoothly when it’s new.

An old filter...does none of that. And the downstream effects can mean you spring leaks in your ductwork, you lose years off of the life of your system, and your monthly bills will be higher.

Replace your filter when it needs to be. Your system (and wallet) will thank you in the long run.

RELATED: Furnace Filter Facts: All Your Questions Answered

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#3: Prepare Your Humidifier

This will only apply to some homes, but a humidifier can be a crucial part of your home’s comfort in the wintertime.

Low humidity levels are responsible for dry and cracked skin, increased chance of the flu and other airborne viruses, and feeling colder in your house.

So what should you do to prepare your humidifier? A few things:

  1. Make sure it’s set to the proper humidity level.
  2. Ensure that the water line to it is turned on.
  3. The water panel on a humidifier should be replaced once a year.

These can all be done by an HVAC contractor as well, but you may prefer to manually set the humidity level yourself.

RELATED: What Are the Benefits of a Humidifier? Winter Health & Comfort

#4: Set the Dampers in Your Ductwork

Some homeowners never touch the dampers in their ductwork, and that can be a safe option. Other times, however, you’ll want to adjust them to target specific areas of the home.

But you have to be careful, or else you'll hurt the airflow and overall comfort of your home.

So why would you want to adjust these? The reasons vary:

  1. Some houses have hot and cold spots that need more or less heating and cooling depending on the time of year. You can sometimes create more even heating throughout your home by adjusting dampers.
  2. Some rooms are not used in the winter and have lower heating needs.
  3. I’ve seen some adjust the dampers when hosting parties to make certain areas of the home warmer or cooler.

Again, this may not be needed, but it can also be a nice way to customize your comfort. Just be sure to readjust before seasonal changes.

#5: Clean and Open Heat Registers

Some of our customers will cover their registers when they’re not in use. This is fine, but you need to make sure they’re reopened when it’s time to use your HVAC system. Otherwise, it can negatively affect airflow throughout the entire home.

Registers also tend to collect dust and dirt over time, so cleaning around and just inside them can be a nice way to avoid clouds of dust when you turn on your heating unit.

burners in a furnace

#6: Declutter the Furnace Area

Show of hands, who has too much junk in their basement? There’s no judgment here. My hand is raised too.

Normally, storing things in our basement is fine. Occasionally, though, we have to make room for our HVAC system. Your furnace is literally breathing in much the same way that your lungs do. There is air more or less being inhaled and exhaled through the ductwork of the system, and the surrounding area needs to be clear in order to allow for this.

So if you’ve gotten in the habit of stacking boxes against the furnace, now’s the time to break that habit.

#7: Turn on Your Furnace Early

Here’s another big one. Why? Because it’s better to find out if you’re having any problems early rather than late. Would you rather fix an issue with your furnace in September, or during the first December freeze of the winter?

Some additional items you can check for when you run your furnace:

  1. Check each register to make sure air is coming out.
  2. Gauge the temperature coming from each vent to make sure you aren’t losing warm air somewhere in the process.
  3. Listen for any odd noises during startup and operation.
  4. Check around the base of the unit after it’s run for a while to make sure there are no condensation pools.

If there are issues, that’s the time to call your HVAC partner. And it will give them more information in diagnosing and fixing any problems.

#8: Test Your CO Detector

Carbon Monoxide is rare, but can be deadly. Ignoring it is to put you and your family at risk.

Most will simply require a quick test and possibly switching in new batteries. But we also recommend replacing your CO detector every 3-5 years. Some CO detectors aren’t as accurate after several years, even when they have power. The accuracy of these machines has improved in recent years. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.

RELATED: Carbon Monoxide in Your Home: Risks & Prevention

#9: Check the Pilot Light

Pilot lights are starting to become obsolete, but many older systems still have them. And if your system is still running well, there’s no reason to replace it due to age alone. So it’s important to know what to do if something is wrong with your pilot light.

The area around the light can collect buildup that eventually causes it to stop working. This is actually something homeowners can fix for themselves! But many aren’t prepared to do the work, and that’s ok. A licensed technician can usually fix a malfunctioning pilot light very quickly, and for not much cost.

ALSO READ: Furnace Pilot Light FAQ: How They Work, How To Fix and Re-Light

#10: Schedule a Tune-up

This is the last one, but it might also be the most important. The reason is that a lot of the items above can (and should) happen during a furnace tune-up.

Can you fix a pilot light? Sure, but any technician worth their salt can as well.

Can you replace your furnace? Yes, but by scheduling it as part of a tune-up can remove the need to remember when and how to do it.

There are also a bunch of items homeowners shouldn’t be doing that are part of any regular HVAC tune-up. The best way to ensure the efficiency and longevity of your equipment is with yearly maintenance.

RELATED: Why Do I Need a Furnace Tune-Up Every Year? Pros of HVAC Maintenance

comfort in winter

The Dangers of Avoiding Furnace Prep

Your system can run for years without many of the steps above. So why are they so important?

It’s a good question, and the answer lies in the long-term effects on your system.

If you forget to change your filter for two years, for example, your furnace likely won’t break down. But your air will be dirtier. The blower fan will have to work harder to move air through the filter, which will cause strain on the system. If the filter gets too clogged, it could cause breaks in airflow that result in no air coming through some of your vents. And you’re paying more for your furnace to work harder.

And that’s just the filter. Imagine if you neglected everything about your system.

The longer list of negative side effects looks something like this:

  • Increased energy bills
  • Hot and cold spots in your home
  • Dirty air and increased chance of catching airborne diseases
  • Short cycling of the furnace that can lead to water leaks and repairs
  • Longevity of the entire system, taking the lifespan from 15-20 years down to as few as 8-10.

Knowing all of that...do you have half an hour to check your system and give your HVAC contractor a call? Hopefully the answer is yes. You’ll be happy you did.

If you’re in the Columbus, OH area, we hope that call is to us. Click below to get started, and we’re looking forward to helping you have the most comfortable winter of your life!

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