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2 Tips for Maintaining your Gas Forced-air Furnace

2 Tips for Maintaining your Gas Forced-air Furnace

Last week I saw the weather forecast predict that the temperature was going to drop to 0 degrees Celsius.  So I turned on my furnace to make sure that it was working.  Thankfully, all was good.  Today, I put together two important tips for maintaining your home gas furnace.

Tip #1 – Have a licensed technician perform the annual check-up 

I have a furnace protection plan with Enercare that includes an annual service.  Prescreened qualified licensed technicians can be found through the Heating,Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) contractor locator website.

“The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) requires its contractor members to carry relevant trade, fuel safety and applicable licenses as well as worker’s compensation and liability insurance. You may be surprised to learn that many contractors simply don’t bother with licensing or insurance. They may pass on lower costs to you up front, but you could end up paying much more over time, not only financially, but in terms of your family’s comfort, health, safety and peace of mind.” (from HRAI website)

The annual service should check and repair if necessary each of the following:

  • carbon monoxide (CO) levels
  • condition of the chimney and flue
  • condition of air filters
  • operation thermostat and safety controls
  • pilot light
  • motor and fan
  • bower operation
  • condition of the fan belt
  • burners
  • condition gas piping

Tip #2 – Change the air filters regularly

Changing your furnace filter is a do-it-yourself activity, don’t wait until your annual service! The main purpose of a furnace filter is to protect the blower fan from all the dust in the return air. A build up of dust on the fan blades, lowers the efficiency and shortens the life of the blower and motor.  More expensive filters also help improve indoor air quality by removing allergens and other particles.

The type of air filter I purchased suggests it lasts up to three months.  I have a dog that sheds and I have been renovating, so I actually need to change my furnace air filter every 2 months.

New air filter beside a used air filter

New air filter beside a used air filter

If you have never replaced your furnace filter before, the first step is to find its location.  My furnace filter is located in a discrete location where the return air duct meets the furnace.  If I did not know where to look, I never would have found it. Apparently for some models it is inside the furnace unit.

Once you have located your furnace filter, check and record its size. Furnace air filters come in a wide range of sizes so you will want this information when  go shopping.  There is also a wide range of types and prices of filters; ones that last up to one month, up to three months and cleanable versions. I picked the filter that removes pollen and pet dander because I have allergies and a dog.  I see on the package that there are now filters that can control odors and others that can filter bacteria and viruses.

Replacing the filter is as easy as one-two-three.

  1. Remove cover and filter.
  2. Replace filter – make sure that the arrow on the filter is in the same direction as the airflow (which should be pointing to the furnace since it is a return air line).
  3. Replace cover and date so that you will know when it is time to replace it again.
Sealed and Dated

Sealed and Dated

Note: Arrow Pointing to Furnace

Note: Arrow Pointing to Furnace

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Preparing an Emergency Kit

Preparing an Emergency Kit

I discovered during a power outage that it would be useful to have an emergency kit.   I had most of the items that would go in to a kit, however I was not organised and some things were not easy to find.  If I were not home, my family would have scrambled.

I was thinking that flashlights, batteries, emergency phone numbers and insurance policy documents would be enough.  Not so, the government of Canada suggests that every home be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours.  Here is how I put my basic kit together using the list from the Government of Canada Website.

October 17 049

Contents of a 72 Hour Emergency Kit

I decided to put my kit together in two containers. Backpacks are recommended for their ease of grabbing and going. I chose coolers because I find it easier to find things in them, they are stack-able and I happened to have a couple coolers lying around.  I also put the items in grocery bags so that if I have enough time during an evacuation emergency, I can grab the bags and fill the coolers with frozen items.  The larger cooler contains the emergency food items. The smaller cooler contains the rest of the items on the list.

Large Cooler

Water – at least 2 litres per person per day

I put in 3 litres. There are three people and a dog in my house.  Well the dog drinks street water and never gets sick, so I am not worried about her. So I need at  least 18 litres. I already put jugs of water in my chest freezer because a freezer works better when it is full and when there is a power outage, the frozen food will stay frozen longer.  So I already have enough water on standby.  I will add six 500 ml bottles to my kit to cover our thirst until a jug melts.

Food that won’t spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods

I usually keep my refrigerator and pantry full so any emergency where I still have access to my kitchen, I will be fine.  I added food to the kit for the situation where I would have to grab-and-go. I put in high calorie cereal, peanut butter, crackers, cans of thick soup, cookies, apple sauce, pudding and trail mix.

Manual can opener

I already use a manual can opener, so my intention for adding one to the kit is for the grab-and-go situation.  I decided to also add utensils and plastic cups.  The plastic cups will serve as bowls for the soup.

Small Cooler

Crank or battery-powered flashlight (and extra batteries)

I already keep a small LED flashlight in my purse. It is great and not very expensive.  So I got two more LED flashlights and two packs of batteries for the kit.

Crank or battery-powered radio (and extra batteries)

I don’t get my news and weather from the radio anymore.  I use my cell phone to connect with the world.  I added a spare charger to the kit.  I think it would be wise to get battery back up for my cell phone.

First aid kit

I keep a comprehensive first aid kit for everyday use in my washroom.  For the emergency first aid kit I added the following items to the emergency first aid kit:

  • adhesive bandages
  • gauze 10 cm x 10 cm and a roll of adhesive tape
  • sterile wipes
  • gloves
  • tweezers, nail clippers, scissors
  • triangular bandages
  • 5 days worth of prescription medication
  • non-prescription medication for headaches, fever, and allergies

Extra keys (vehicle and home)

I connected the extra keys to the smaller flashlight so that they would be easy to find.

Cash in smaller bills, and change for payphones ATMs may not work in an emergency

I put $40 aside in a small change purse.  My concern is whether or not it will still be there in an emergency.  It may be too convenient to access the cash for non-emergency situations.

A copy of your emergency plan and contact information

I prepared a large envelop to contain the emergency plan and copies of important documents.  On the outside of the envelop, I wrote in large letters the following key phone numbers:

  • Fire, Police, Ambulance:  911
  • City of Toronto: 311
  • Toronto Hydro (to report outages, wires down): 416.542.800
  • Utility Companies – Enbridge Gas (to report emergencies such as smell gas): 1.866.763.5427

Special items such as prescription medication, infant formula, equipment for people with disabilities, pet supplies

I considered the extra items in the other categories.

Packed Emergency Kit

Packed Emergency Kit

There you have it.  My first emergency kit.  The next question is where do I put the kit?  I’ve decided to put the kit on the shelves next to my chest freezer.  This way it will be accessible, we will notice it every time we go to the freezer and yet it will be out of the way of the curious hands of my youngest child and her friends. (Also, part of my emergency plan involves the freezer.)  I am not closing the coolers tightly, because I usually get mold. I loosely taped the lids closed with dated masking tape so that I know when I last checked them. The government recommends that the batteries, food and water gets replaced annually.

Taped and Dated - 72 Hour Emergency Kit

Taped and Dated – 72 Hour Emergency Kit

Wires Down – No Electricity

Wires Down – No Electricity

I am going to share with you the story of the day I lost power.  It was a small incident that reminded me of the importance of being prepared for emergencies.   Toronto Hydro has an excellent brochure:  ARE YOU READY? HOW TO PREPARE YOUR FAMILY FOR AN EMERGENCY. I did not read it until after my power was restored.  Page 6 of the brochure has a list of what to do during an outage.  Let’s see how I did and what I could have done better.

It was a dark and stormy Friday night. The wind howled while my family slept soundly. Crash! A tree branch fell on the electricity wires leading from the pole to the house. Nobody heard the crash. The carbon monoxide monitor beeped every 20 seconds indicating that the battery was low. I woke to the beeps in the otherwise eerily silent and dark house, a house without electricity.

There were no numbers on my clock radio – my cell phone indicated it was 4 am. I looked out my bedroom window. Hmmm, my neighbour behind my house still had their patio lights on, maybe it was just my street. I went out my front door to view the street lights. That is when I saw it – the branch that knocked out my electricity service line! Live wires lay on the ground! Oh darn, I have to go into repair mode, doing nothing is not an option.

Check – I identified the source of the outage.

Check – Unplug computers, televisions, stereos and other electronics in case of a power surge.

City workers clearing tree branch that fell on service wires.

City workers clearing the tree branch that fell on service wires

I live I Toronto, so I have the benefit of the “311” line. The operator took my information and made a work order for the city crews to come clean up the branch. I explained that I did not have Toronto Hydro’s number handy, so she transferred my call once she was finished. I was hopeful after speaking to the Toronto Hydro agent that my electricity would be restored within a couple hours. Job done, I went back to bed.

I could have done better:  I did not have a list of emergency numbers handy.  The city help line appropriately connected me to the power company.  In Toronto, report downed power lines to 416.542.8000

The grey dawn light passing through my bedroom window greeted me as I woke. My clock radio was still blank. Ugh! I want my coffee. I dressed, leashed the dog and headed outside. One look at the downed wires and I put the back dog inside so that I could investigate. The branch took down more than the wires, it took down my service mast! Double darn-it! Now I need to call my insurance company and an electrician.

Done:  Stay away from a live wires.  Keep children and pets away too.

Electrical service mast pulled of outer wall.

Electrical service mast pulled of outer wall.

Service mast broke at joint above meter.

Service mast broke at joint above meter.

I got the weekend service for the insurance company.  At that time I did not know if I was making a claim or not, but I felt it best to get a claim started just in  case I needed it.  Really – how expensive is it to put the service mast back up?  A couple hours work at most and some pipe.  I thought it might be less than my $500 deductible. (On Monday I found out that it was almost 4 times my deductible!)  In any case, my insurance company hooked me up with an electrician.  I spoke with the contractor over the phone and found out that I wouldn’t be able to get an electrician until Monday at the earliest. Why do these things happen on weekends?  I was worried. Could Toronto Hydro hook up my power with my service mast down?

Note to self: I should add my insurance phone number and policy number to the emergency phone list I am preparing.  If I had contractors, I should also add them to the list.

It was time to plan for a long term outage.  I asked my neighbour if I could plug in an extension cord into one her outlets and use her electricity.   She thankfully agreed.  I ran the power cord from her living room to my basement where I plugged in my freezer.  I unplugged my freezer occasionally to put in other appliances as needed: my water kettle (I needed coffee), the microwave oven and later in the day my lights,

Done: During an outage, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

By 8:00 in the evening I had power!  The electricians from Toronto Hydro made a temporary fix to my service mast so that the could hook up my service.  I happily signed an agreement that I would have the mast repaired properly within a couple weeks.

Other items in the brochure’s to do list include:

  • If you have electric heating, turn down the thermostats in case of a power surge
  • Don’t go near electrical equipment around areas of standing water, like a flooded basement
  • Never use BBQs, propane heaters or portable generators indoors
  • Never leave candles unattended, whenever possible, use a flashlight
  • Don’t use a gas stove as a source of heat
  • Secure windows and doors as well as outdoor furniture and equipment
  • Park vehicle in protected areas, if possible

Most of us have come to expect that electricity will always be there. The utility companies remind us to be prepared, outages can happen here. They do happen; big ones like North America’s largest power outage in 2003 or the ice-storm of December 2013 and little ones like my situation.

In this case, I relied on my instincts and experience and everything turned out fine.  I want to be better prepared for next time, actually I want my whole family to be better prepared for next time.  Not all of my family members know what to do nor where I keep important information.

Watch out for my next post where I put together my emergency kit and train my family on what to do in case of a home emergency.

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