Winter Woes

It’s a situation that happens every winter. A cold snap brings frigid temperatures, and overworked furnaces give out, leaving your house an icebox. I found myself in this predicament as bitter temperatures took over most of the eastern seaboard, bringing ice and snow to South Carolina. I took steps to fix it myself, replacing the filter and hoping it would kick back on again. Unable to withstand the cold house, particularly for the sake of my three young sons, I decided to start a fire in our fireplace.

We haven’t used the fireplace before, and this home is relatively new to us, so I called an inspector to come out and evaluate our chimney and flue. What he found was simply shocking. The former homeowners had stuffed a pillow into the chimney to eliminate the draft. Without this inspection, I would’ve never known about this danger. I could’ve started a fire inside the chimney, which would’ve spread quickly to my entire house. The inspector also found cracks around the top exterior portion of my chimney, which could indicate structural defects that make it less safe.

I’m grateful that we had the inspection before lighting the fire, but it makes me worry about other homeowners who may be completely unaware of the risks inside their homes when they’re trying to get warm. After this experience, I wanted to share my story to encourage others to take steps to keep their homes and families safe.

The first step to a healthy furnace is to be sure to change the filter. How often should you change your furnace filter?  Professionals advise to change your filter based on system needs, and typically every three months. If you have allergies or pets, it’s wise to change it more often. A clean filter keeps your furnace running at optimal capacity, whereas a dirty filter will force your furnace to work harder. Write the date on the edge of the filter, so you don’t lose track of the last time you changed it. A yearly furnace inspection will help maintain the life of your unit, as well as give you an opportunity to identify and correct potential issues before they become serious.

Fireplaces are an excellent source of heat, but they can be dangerous. How much does it cost to get your chimney swept?  We paid $350, but prices vary.  Use a CSIA certified chimney sweep, which can be found here.  How do yo know when you need to clean your chimney?  Have your chimney inspected yearly to look for any defects or hazards—including bed pillows! Chimneys should be cleaned as needed, especially when there’s a buildup of creosote, a flammable material that can lead to a chimney fire if not properly removed.

By taking steps to maintain a safe and clean furnace and fireplace, you can stay warm this winter without worry.


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