A lot of clients ask me if a furnace tune up is really necessary and if so, how often should it be performed. Yes, you absolutely need to service your furnace from time to time and at a minimum, should replace the filters every six months.  Furnace maintenance is similar to dental maintenance. If you don't adhere to the dentist recommended cleaning every six months, of course it doesn't mean your teeth will instantly rot or fall out. But over time the lack of maintenance catches up with you and you find yourself with a mouth full of problems. Your furnace is pretty much the same.

So when should I start maintaining my furnace? My system is only three years old.

Furnace tune ups change as your heating system ages.  Standard maintenance on a 1 - 3 year old furnace usually involves a  quick cleaning, checking the flue, airflow, and filter replacements. As the system ages the service steps up a bit: minor replacement of small electrical components, gas pressure testing, motor re-balancing, carbon monoxide testing, or other diagnostics testing are added to the service. A newer system is going to have fewer service needs than a 15 year old one.

The biggest safety risk that comes with any furnace is a cracked heat exchanger and carbon monoxide leaks. Every winter we read heart breaking stories about carbon monoxide tragedies, don't let this happen to your family! Cracked heat exchangers, which can back draft from the water heater or a plugged flue pipe, leak carbon monoxide which is then circulated though your home by the furnace. Your family's safety more than justifies the $89 - $125 a typical tune up costs.

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So what does the service technician actually do during a furnace tune up?

A few services you may have heard of are "safety check", "certification", "check-up", "tune-up", "basic tune-up", "complete tune-up", and "annual maintenance check-up." The services provided by different heating companies varies quite a bit depending on who you call and what you pay.  We recently completed service on a furnace which had a significant hole in the flue pipe. The part that was concerning is that just a year prior another company had certified the unit safe to use. The point is, there is no industry standard when it comes to furnace tune ups. The same goes for boilers and air conditioner units.

At Bellows Plumbing, Heating, & Air our maintenance service is detailed and not a quick glance over. Our service includes:

  • The vent system is checked for blockage and/or leakage.  This includes the outside termination and the connections at the furnace.
  • A carbon monoxide and combustion analyzer is used to check the unit for leaks or back drafting.
  • The blower access door is checked to make sure it makes a tight seal at the furnace.
  • The fresh air intake flue, and louvers in some cases, are checked for blockage.
  • The heat exchanger, when visible, is inspected for rust and corrosion.
  • The burners are checked for proper ignition, burner flame, and flame sense.
  • The drainage system is checked for blockage and/or leakage.  This includes the hoses internal to the furnace.  The condensate drain and trap are cleaned, and the water replaced in the trap.
  • The blower wheel is checked for debris and cleaned if necessary
  • An amp-draw test is conducted on the blower motor and compared with what is listed.
  • The capacitor(s) and transform(s) are checked for the proper output
  • The wiring is checked for corrosion and damage.
  • Airflow to registers is checked and ducts are visually inspected for leaks or disconnected sections
  • The filters need to be checked and replaced.

Couldn't I just do this service myself? 

Of course... you could try it yourself, but I generally find most homeowners skip a number of crucial steps and don't have the necessary equipment. If your current HVAC contractor simply vacuums out your furnace, then I understand why you think you could do it yourself! In that case I'd recommend you consider getting a new maintenance contractor for the job. Hey, you might even try giving us a call!

Before you hire a company to do a tune-up on your furnace, ask what's included.  The company doing the work should be able to quickly list the important items they'll be checking.

Do I really need to pay $89 - $169 bucks every year for a professional to do it? 

This is what a professional charges to keep your heating working and your family safe.  For most heating contractors, $80 barely covers the trip charge.  Keep in mind, this isn't just about safety; it's also about preventative maintenance.  It's about sometimes catching a problem before your furnace quits working in the middle of the night or worse yet turns into a hazard for you and your family.

For more information or to schedule a furnace, boiler, or AC maintenance appointment please call our local office at 877-477-7151. Bellows Plumbing, Heating, & Air services, repairs, and installs plumbing, heating, and air conditioner equipments in: Santa Cruz, Aptos, Capitola, Scotts Valley, Felton, Watsonville, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Santa Clara, Los Gatos, Campbell, Saratoga, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Tiburon, Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, San Anselmo, Ross, Fairfax, San Rafael, Marinwood, Terra Linda, & Novato.