6 Things to Do to Prepare Your Furnace for Extreme Cold Weather

Alexandra Frost
Written by Alexandra Frost
Updated August 27, 2021
Woman with a coffee looking through window at snow
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Nobody wants their furnace to quit when it’s freezing outside—these furnace tips can help prevent that

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In some areas of the country, winters aren’t just cold—they’re down-right bone-chilling. Whether you’re looking at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or will see negatives in the months ahead, you can prepare your furnace for extremely cold weather with a few simple steps. Doing this ahead of time can prevent costly problems, and help ensure you aren’t digging out a sleeping bag to get through a freezing night without heat. Use these furnace tips for extreme cold to stay toasty warm all winter long.

1. Change Your Air Filters

You’ve heard it before—changing air filters on time in your home makes for a safe, efficient, and healthy environment. Filters that are too old and dirty can cause increases in allergies, and can cost you more money as your furnace tries to work harder to keep up. 

Filters should be changed every one to three months, according to My Green Montgomery, a Maryland-based government initiative for more environmentally friendly practices at home. They explain that you’ll wear down your furnace quicker if you are not keeping up with this task.

To change the filter, check your current size and type before purchasing, as an ill-fitting replacement can damage your system. This step helps your furnace run efficiently in the cold winter months, allowing it to just fight against frigid weather, and not a dirty filter as well. There are many other benefits of a clean filter as well, including decreased energy costs.

2. Help Prevent Fires and Health Problems

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urges you to check out your furnace to see if you have a “combustion appliance,” meaning it burns fuel for warmth. Some furnaces, along with wood burning stoves, fireplaces, and heaters, fall in this category, and they can produce combustion pollutants that can injure or kill you. 

If you’ve experienced symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, watery eyes, or other issues while heating your home, turn off your system and have a professional contractor check on your furnace. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk the EPA wants more people to know about as they heat their homes in the winter. While most furnaces won’t have this issue, preparing for the colder months means ruling out these safety issues. If you supplement your furnace with space heaters in the winter, check that you’re following the directions exactly to prevent fires.

3. Give Your Furnace an Annual Check-Up

Like people, your furnace needs an annual physical to ensure everything is functioning properly. For some homeowners, the best time to do this is before the freezing winter months are upon us, at which point many contractors have a busier schedule.

To take a more proactive approach, consider scheduling your furnace service during the fall, and make sure to ask the technician the following questions:

  • Is my furnace prepared to make it safely through the winter months?

  • Is there anything I can do to make my furnace run more efficiently this winter?

  • Are there any safety concerns that could result in a fire or expensive repair that are indicated in your furnace inspection?

  • Can you clean and test key components of my furnace?

Always ensure you’re working with a licensed and insured contractor for your annual furnace tuneup.

4. Plan for an Eventual Furnace Upgrade

Furnaces, unfortunately, don’t last forever, and ones that are past their typical lifespan can become costly and dangerous. So, planning for the winter this year might include making a budget to eventually replace your furnace, which might last 15-20 years. Your contractor completing your annual inspection can let you know about how long your furnace has left, allowing you to financially plan to invest in a new one.

One perk of a newer furnace is that your heating bill will probably go down, as furnaces become more efficient each year, and your older one might be costing you way more money. High efficiency gas furnaces today operate at around 98% efficiency, a significant improvement from furnaces in the past, The Green Montgomery initiative explains.

5. Clean and Clear Your Vents

Cleaning dust from inside of floor heat vent
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Maybe you put up some beautiful new curtains this summer, or moved some furniture around. Home decor can get caught up in vents, or get too close to hot air coming out of the vents, and cause both a fire hazard and a decreased efficiency for your heating system. If you notice one room is colder than others, consider if you might have a couch on top of one of the vents.

In addition to checking for the vents’ clearance from furniture, open them and clean around them to make sure there is no debris or small objects preventing your furnace from operating efficiently. These can inhibit a fully working heating system, and can also be a fire hazard. 

Follow these furnace tips for extreme cold to clean your vents:

  • Remove vent cover screws and wipe with a damp, clean cloth.

  • Carefully reach into the ductwork, wiping with a clean, damp cloth, to about an arm’s length in. This will ensure the area near the vent is free of objects and clean for winter heating. 

6. Don’t Overwork Your Heating System

When you get a chill hanging out in your home on a cold winter day, what’s your first instinct? If it’s to crank the thermostat, you may be overexerting your heating system. By adjusting the thermostat a few degrees when it’s already struggling to keep up, you may not benefit from the few degrees difference, but can put your system into overdrive. 

Instead, strategically time your thermostat using an app controlled timer, or preprogramming option, so that you can set your thermostat to rest while you are out of the house for hours, such as during the workday. Then, set it to increase about an hour before you return, ensuring you are warm and cozy when you get home.

Also, consider other means of warming up rather than changing your thermostat, such as using an electric blanket safely, putting on a sweater, or adding a base layer to your winter outfits.

These furnace tips can help ensure you and your family stay warm even in extreme cold.

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