Getting your furnace and fireplace ready for the cold

Temperatures going down, thermostat going up

CREATED Oct 8, 2012 - UPDATED: Oct 8, 2012

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MEQUON - As the temperature goes down, we turn the thermostat up.  But many furnaces and fireplaces aren't ready for the cold just yet, causing many in southeast Wisconsin to call in the repairmen.

"Busiest time of the year, just starting up now.  Once it gets cold at night or the first snowflakes fall," chimney technician Dan Wise tells TODAY'S TMJ4's Jesse Ritka.

The freeze warnings issued by the National Weather Service over the weekend helped remind people of Steve Bintz's family heating and cooling business as well.  He says that the furnace filter is one of the most important things to check every year, "If they are not getting enough air across the heat exchanger, it will shut your furnace off."

No heat is hard to imagine with Wisconsin's winter waiting for us in the wings of fall.  So Bintz recommends a simple check to see if your filter can handle the entire cold air season: holding it up to a light bulb.  "If you can see the light bulb, you know you've got good air flow and you'll know when it's dirty; you won't be able to see the light and you know you need to change it."

But a clean filter can even create problems, one of the most common mistakes is putting the filter in the wrong way.  Bintz says your filter should have an arrow on the top of it, telling you which direction to point it, "Arrow always points toward the furnace."

A drainage pipe runs alongside most furnaces and Bintz says that is the next thing to check before cranking your heat.  The pipe should be clear of any dust, dirt or debris from the summer months, "This would plug up, this would consequentially be something that would give you no heat," Bintz explains.  He advises running hot water or bleach through it to kill any bacteria that may be in there as well.

But it's not just the furnace that needs a checkup, fireplaces and chimneys need a tune-up before winter sets in.  "If you haven't used your fireplace, you really don't know where you're at," Wise says.

From leaves and animals to years of soot and chemical build-up, chimneys may hold hidden dangers that can be avoided.  "It's just fuel that's waiting to burn, it's just a matter of conditions being right to burn so you just want to keep it as clean as possible," Wise explains.

You can check to see how dirty your fireplace is on your own Wise says: if you have a clay flue, you should be able to see the orange/reddish color of the clay; if your chimney flue is metal, you should be able to see the silver/gray color of that metal.  If you can't, that's when you need to call the professionals to give your chimney a sweep.  "The most important thing is that people do have it checked because it's not just this fireplace flue.  You may have masonry up there that's maybe not been checked for years," says Wise.

By keeping your heating device tuned up the temperature inside your home will stay safely, even when the trees are all bare.