In April 2020, I visited a home in Oakville Ontario to look-over a newly installed fireplace on site that sits above a newly installed furnace in the basement of the same house. The builder wanted some documentation to show the homeowner and to establish a routine for HVAC inspections. (But really he just wanted to show off his work). Seasonal inspections ensure the system is operating at peak efficiency and the maintenance requirements are met, as outlined in the owner’s manuals for the two heating units in the house. Additionally and some might say most importantly, with your HVAC system making up roughly half of your home’s energy bill, routinely scheduled maintenance can save as much as 10% off your monthly expenses depending on the age of your heating equipment and infrastructure.
Canadian HVAC service professionals report that up to seventy percent of ‘no-heat calls’ in the winter are related to homeowners’ lack of maintenance of their furnaces and fireplaces. If allowed to continue without any maintenance, a furnace can stop working suddenly and that can leave a family in the cold. We know from our experience that knowledge is the necessary ingredient and not will-power. Homeowners with furnace issues are not lazy, but simply ill-informed. Home builders assume home owners know everything about the appliances they have purchased and installed but there can frequently be a knowledge-gap between these parties.
This Home Inspection was more of a Trades’ Exhibition
Home renovation contractor Eastview Homes is owned and operated by Keith Travers. He was proud of his work and likes to show off the houses he’s brought over the finish line, or close in this case. Keith is a friend and he’s been building houses since he was a teenager. He started in the trades as a certified journeyman carpenter even before finishing the Gold Seal Construction Management course at BCIT. Now with twenty-five years of experience under his belt, he’s fun to talk to about things and ask why certain standards are never questioned and how certain platitudes came to be accepted as Golden Rules. In addition to building several big structures in this province, and more in British Columbia, Eastview Homes has built or renovated over a hundred single family houses in the Greater Toronto Area and so he has lots of knowledge and he’s done just about every kind of home repair and home renovation project you could imagine.
In the living room of this lovely two storey home in Oakville Ontario, Keith’s crew removed a traditional fireplace and installed a Marquis Solace – HBZDV 4224 gas fireplace which is a direct vent unit that does not require a chimney. Direct vent gas fireplaces can be vented directly through a wall or roof. The direct vent draws its combustion air from outside while venting to the same outside atmosphere.
This particular unit does not require electricity and so in the event of a severe winter storm that knocks out power to the neighbourhood (which is exactly when homeowners need reliable home heating the most) this family dwelling will be warm and cozy.
I checked the installation for cracks, and noted the regions where there will someday be wear and tear, and I looked for other signs of future problems.
Heating Appliance Components that Power Home Inspection Considers
We check the system start-up and shutdown controls for proper operations and this includes the system’s remote control device and the master switch setting and whether or not it all works as advertised and in every position.
We inspect all electrical connections and test voltage on system components where applicable to prevent any component failure in the future.
We inspect all moving parts and the lubrication levels – more on that below.
We check the thermostat settings to make sure the system is properly running according to temperature settings.
We inspect the venting and condensate drain to ensure neither is obstructed.
We check the filters and make sure they are seated properly and their condition.
Inspecting Gas Furnaces in Residential Home
A gas furnace should be serviced at least once a year, preferably in the spring and fall. Not maintaining your furnace, whether it’s gas or electric, can cause it to run less efficiently, making it work even harder, increasing monthly energy bills. Annual maintenance, including a thorough examination and cleaning of the parts that commonly malfunction, like the air filter, the fan, the pilot light, and the heat exchanger, can usually prevent most problems.
We test for fumes. Gas and oil furnaces need regular maintenance because of the potential dangers of leaks and fumes. We also test the fuel pressure, airflow, thermostat controls, pilot or igniter, and more.
Is there proper lubrication? We test the moving parts. Motor engines and fans need special lubricant every couple of years or so. If they dry out, the motor can get damaged.
Dirty Fireplaces and Furnaces Can Also Be a Health Hazard
HVAC experts will agree with me when I claim that an annual furnace inspection and service will prolong the life of your heating system, save energy and decrease health risks. Furnace inspection can sometimes reveal carbon monoxide leaks, which are hard to detect because the gas is colorless and odorless. Carbon monoxide can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea and even death. An estimated 500 people die each year, and 15,000 people are taken to emergency rooms, because of exposure.
Cleaning your Direct Vent Furnace
It’s advisable for homeowners to clean both interior and outdoor furnace and fireplace components at least once a year. Here in Ontario, furnace cleaning costs ranges from $160 to $280, though prices can vary greatly based on where you live in the country and what your furnace maintenance includes. An HVAC company may have different rates for different levels of furnace maintenance.
Other thing to consider that might really benefit your home comfort and heating and cooling efficiency is cleaning the blower, the fan blades, and condensate-drain line all tend to get a build-up of dirt and grime that should be removed.
Don’t simple trust the professionals; trust Power Home Inspection to monitor tradespeople and their work in your home. The coil in particular can be difficult to clean without messing up the blades. HVAC professionals who service furnaces should have their work inspected to make sure they have left the machinery in a condition whereby it can operate at peak performance.
Ask Boris for a home heating efficiency calculation.