The weather in Northern California can be wacky. I think anyone who’s lived here would agree with that. I know in our coverage zone alone, there are days I find myself in three distinct weather zones, from being blinded by Tule Fog on my way up north, freezing up in the mountains, to ending my day in the moderate Mediterranean climate of French Camp. Hey, it’s all in a day’s work around here.
Down in French Camp, just south of Stockton, the homeowners seem to use their AC unit far more than their furnaces. But a furnace is kind of like a close friend: it’ll only take so much neglect before it’s not there for you when you need it. I’ve talked about the trouble with overworked furnaces, but have I mentioned it can go both ways? An unused furnace can start to act up and cause problems for you as well. In French Camp’s warm climate, there are still a few chilly days each winter, and on those days you’re going to want to make sure your furnace is working well. So don’t neglect it over the weeks and months between uses.
Problem #1: Neglected, Dirty Filters
It may be your own darn fault if your furnace goes on the fritz. The biggest problem homeowners who don’t use their furnaces regularly face is themselves. There’s a long list of regular furnace maintenance that must be done on an annual or semi-annual basis, including replacing the filter. In my experience, simple maintenance procedures like having an inspection, cleaning, or, most importantly, replacing that old, dirty filter tend to take a back seat when a homeowner isn’t regularly using his or her furnace.
It’s human nature—of course you’re not going to think about something as often if it doesn’t factor into your daily life. But, take it from me, not replacing your furnace’s filter regularly is a big mistake, especially in a place like French Camp. While French Camp’s climate is pretty darn pleasant most of the time, it’s still in San Joaquin County, which is fairly dry. And dry counties have far more dust—dust that can clog up your furnace’s filter. This results in restricted airflow in your HVAC system, which means your furnace has to work harder and burn more costly energy to warm your house up on those occasions when you really do need it. And, it can also lead to sinus irritation.
Problem #2: Dusty, Unused Parts
Dust can be a problem when it gets stuck in your filter, sure, but dust can also damage other furnace components as well. When a furnace is used regularly, the air flowing through it makes it more difficult for dust to accumulate. But it’s like anything else in your house, garage, or basement—if it’s not used or moved, it gets dusty. Here are a few areas where dust causes trouble for your HVAC system:
- The blower: This is a piece of the furnace connected to the filter, and when it gets dusty, it has a far larger potential to break down. Excess dust is known to cause problems with the effectiveness of pulleys and belts, main components of the blower.
- Ductwork: When dust builds up in ducts, it obstructs airflow, forcing furnaces to work harder, wearing them out faster and raising heating bills. It can also cause problems for your lungs and your summer clothes in storage.
- The ignitor: One rare, but potentially catastrophic scenario is having so much dust gather in the innards of your furnace that it starts a fire when it’s ignited after not being used for a long period of time. However, I’ve mostly only heard of this happening in homes where someone practices a hobby like woodworking, that leads to a layer of wood-based sawdust coating the interior of your furnace. Still, it’s important to note that any build up caused by disuse is a hazard.
Problem #3: Mystery Smells and Sounds
If you don’t use your furnace for most of the year, you may forget what it sounds and smells like when it’s running at the top of its game. Let’s say French Camp has a particularly mild winter one year, and you don’t turn your furnace on once. Then, the following year, the cold hits, and you crank the thermostat. Did the fan always sound like that? Have you smelled that before? You won’t know what’s normal, and what could be a sign of a serious furnace problem. A lack of familiarity with your furnace, while seemingly not as serious as dust or blatant neglect, is still problematic.
A Couple Simple Solutions
There are a couple of easy ways to address these problems, one you can even handle on your own:
- Run your furnace: This sounds simple, but it’s true. Just run your furnace a bit more, even if you’re not all that cold. Running your furnace for a few hours every week during a mild winter goes a long way to keeping it healthy. The cost of the energy it takes to do this is far less than what you would have to spend to replace your furnace as a result of disuse.
- Filter replacements and checkups: Scheduling an annual checkup with a top-notch HVAC service company is a great way to keep your rarely-used furnace healthy. An annual maintenance call should involve filter replacement, a check for problems with the heat exchanger, cleaning any debris away from the blower, and a series of performance tests.
With these simple maintenance tips, furnaces can be kept clear, clean, and healthy, regardless of how often you have to call them into action. This is especially important in a climate like French Camp’s where the weather is usually mild, but winter still brings a few painfully cold days. You need to make sure when you do need your furnace, it’s ready and primed to kick into gear. And doing this maintenance is, of course, much cheaper than replacing the furnace or undergoing a costly repair.
So, enjoy the weather in French Camp. I know I do anytime I’m called out for an HVAC checkup. It’s a nice reprieve from winter after I’ve been somewhere like Placerville, snow fresh on the trees—and in my boots. The weather really is beautiful in French Camp. Hey, maybe that should be the town’s new slogan…
Out of use shouldn’t mean out of mind. If you’re not regularly using your furnace, get in touch with Bell Brothers, your local HVAC experts, to schedule an annual cleaning and checkup.