furnace in spring

Is it Time to Shut Down Your Furnace for Spring?

As cold weather moves out of the area, residents of Boston will turn their attention to spring (and summer soon after that).

Warmer weather means many things in regards to the upkeep and maintenance of your home, both inside and out. For example, once the last cold spell is in the past, it’s time to shut down your furnace for the spring season.

It sounds easy enough to do this, right? After all, it’s only one button or switch.

Even though you can quickly shut down your furnace, you’ll regret the decision to rush once the cold weather rolls around once again. Not to mention the fact that you could make a mistake that puts your system at risk of damage.

So, when it comes time to shut down your furnace for spring, here’s what you need to do:

1. Know what type of system you have

The type of system you have will help you determine what to do first.

For example, if you have a natural gas furnace with an electronic ignition – which is most common today – you don’t have to do much in regards to turning it off. Its design ensures that you won’t use any gas over the warmer months.

Conversely, if you have a furnace with a standing pilot light, it’s best to completely turn the gas off. If you don’t, the pilot light will burn even when it’s not in use, thus increasing your gas usage and costing you money.

2. Change your air filter

Many people forget to do this because they assume that their air filter only comes into play when their furnace is on. However, this doesn’t hold true. It’s also important to the overall performance of your air conditioner.

As a general rule of thumb, change your air filter every 90 days.[i] You may need to do so sooner if you suspect that it’s clogged, such as the result of a recent home renovation project.

If you do this while shutting down your furnace, don’t forget to remind yourself to tackle the task in another three months (right around the time when summer is in full swing).

3. Declutter the area around your furnace

During your annual spring cleaning, pay close attention to the area around your furnace.

Your furnace needs plenty of breathing room, so make sure there is a minimum of 30 inches of clear space between the unit and any objects (including walls).[ii]

Of course, you shouldn’t check on this during the springtime only, as it’s a fire risk regardless of the month.

Final tip: if there’s anything wrong with your furnace – such as if it’s not blowing hot air – don’t wait until fall to assess the situation. It’s best to tackle the issue now, so it doesn’t catch you off guard the next time a cold spell hits the area.

If you have questions about shutting down your furnace and/or starting your air conditioner for the first time, reach out to us for professional guidance and to schedule an appointment.


[i] https://www.bobvila.com/articles/how-often-to-change-a-furnace-filter/
[ii] https://www.angieslist.com/articles/building-furnace-room.htm

examining air vent from furnace

These Furnace Emergencies Require Immediate Attention

A furnace emergency during a cold Boston winter is the last thing you need. Not only does it impact your ability to stay warm in your home, but it can also put your safety at risk.

For this reason, if you suspect a furnace emergency – regardless of the cause of the problem – it’s critical to take immediate action.

But here’s the problem: most homeowners don’t have enough knowledge of HVAC systems to pinpoint trouble and make a repair on their own.

Fortunately, even basic knowledge of furnace emergencies can help you understand when it’s time to call in a professional. Here are five times when it’s important to take action:

Total Furnace Failure

This is exactly what it sounds like. Your furnace isn’t doing its job, so no hot air is entering your home. There are many potential causes, all of which are best diagnosed by an HVAC professional.

Smell of Gas

If your home smells of gas, it’s time to get out. Don’t hesitate, but instead head directly for the closest door. From there, call the police and your gas company to let them know what is going on.[i]

Note: if you know the location of your main gas shut off valve, you can turn it off before leaving your home. This minimizes the risk of a serious event.

Your Furnace Blows Cold Air

You want cold air from your air conditioner, not your furnace. So, if you face this problem during the cold winter months, turn off your system and call a professional.

It could be something as simple as your pilot light going out. It could also be much more complex, such as a broken condensate pump.[ii]

Electrical Concerns

Does your furnace cut off before it finishes its cycle? Does your breaker trip every time it comes on? Is there an electrical hum or buzz coming from your furnace?

Electrical issues are serious, as they can damage your furnace and electrical system in general. Not to mention the fact that an undiagnosed problem could cause a fire.

Loud Noises!

You know what your furnace should and shouldn’t sound like. If this changes – such as loud noises coming from it – there’s a good chance something is wrong.

From pops to thuds to bangs, don’t let a noise go undiagnosed. Even if it’s not affecting the performance of your system right now, this is likely to change in the future.

A furnace emergency is nothing to take lightly. If you put it off, you could cause additional damage to your unit and your home. And in the most serious of cases, ignoring trouble could put your safety and well-being at risk.

Don’t hesitate to contact us to share your concerns, ask questions, and schedule a service visit. It won’t take us long to diagnose your problem, explain what is happening, and provide an overview of the steps you can take to get your furnace back in good working order.

[i] https://www.peoples-gas.com/all-about-gas/safety/smell/what-to-do.php
[ii] https://www.pickhvac.com/gas-furnace-troubleshooting/blowing-cold-air/

technician repairing home furnace

3 Reasons Why Your Furnace is Not Blowing Hot Air

With winter weather in full swing in Boston, it’s safe to assume you’re relying on your furnace to keep you warm.

While you expect your furnace to provide efficient service, you never know when something could go wrong. For example, just as you’re settling into bed for the evening, you realize that your furnace is not blowing hot air.

A furnace blowing cold air is a big problem, so it’s important to pinpoint the issue and resolve the problem as soon as possible. Here are three of the most common reasons for this:

1.  An Issue with Your Thermostat

If you have an issue with your furnace blowing hot air, this is typically the type that you want. You can solve many thermostat related issues on your own, including the following:[i]

  • The thermostat is set to cool: Maybe someone in your house, such as a child, did this by mistake. Or maybe you clicked the wrong button when attempting to turn up or down the heat. Either way, make sure your thermostat is set to heat.
  • The fan is set to “on” instead of “auto”: Your furnace is not designed to blow an unlimited amount of hot air. At some point, the fan will begin to blow cold air. Since you don’t want your furnace blowing cold air during down time, be sure it’s set to “auto.”
  • Low or dead battery: If you have a digital thermostat, it’ll tell you when the battery is low. If you neglect to swap it out for a fresh battery, it can cause problems regarding how your furnace operates.

If your furnace is blowing hot air, your thermostat is the first thing you should check. You may find a simple solution to your problem.

2.  Clogged Furnace Filter

When was the last time you changed your furnace filter? If you can’t remember, there’s a good chance it’s been too long. And if your furnace isn’t blowing hot air, this could be the culprit.

A furnace filter is designed to protect the unit from debris, such as allergens, dust, and hair (and that’s just the start).[ii] Without this, your blower fan would come in contact with all types of materials that could impact performance and shorten its lifespan.

An old, dirty filter is unable to do its job as intended, which can result in stress on your unit. And too much stress can cause the burner to overheat, which will result in it blowing cool air into your home.

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix, as long as the old filter didn’t cause any damage to the furnace itself. All you have to do is swap out the old filter for a new one and restart your furnace. After a few minutes, you should once again experience a steady flow of hot air throughout your home’s ducts.

3.  Burner Related Issues

There are many parts of a furnace, with the burner among the most important. Since it’s vulnerable to dirt and debris, there’s a chance a clog could prevent fuel from reaching it.

If this happens, your fan will still blow, however, cold air will come from your ducts.

This isn’t a DIY fix, as your safety and the well-being of your burner is at risk. It’s best to call in a professional who can diagnose the problem, clean the burner, or replace it if necessary.

Need Furnace Maintenance?

At Boston Standard Company, the last thing we want to hear is that your furnace is not blowing hot air during the cold winter months. But if you run into this problem – or any other – don’t hesitate to contact us.

We can visit your home, troubleshoot for the issues above (among others), and provide a timely and cost-effective solution.

[i] https://www.familyhandyman.com/heating-cooling/furnace-repair/simple-furnace-fixes/
[ii] https://globalnews.ca/news/1621011/what-you-need-to-know-about-furnace-filters/

repairing a furnace

5 Common Winter Time Furnace Problems

As a Boston resident, there’s no hiding from cold temperatures, snow, and ice during the winter months. It’s inevitable, so the best thing you can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

While the cold weather is sure to impact you when you venture outdoors, you can always head home to warm up. But that only holds true if your furnace is in good working order.

Regardless of the type, age, or condition of your furnace, something can go wrong [i] when you least expect it. Here are five common winter furnace problems that could throw you for a curve in the months to come:

1.  Furnace Won’t Kick On

All you want is for your furnace to kick on so you can get warm (and stay warm), but it’s not cooperating. There are many potential issues, some of which are more serious and complex than others:

  • Faulty pilot light igniter or sensor
  • Dirty air filter
  • Malfunctioning thermostat
  • Electrical problem
  • Closed gas supply

If your issue is as basic as a closed gas supply, you can simply turn it on and enjoy the warmth. However, if it’s more complex, such as an electrical short within the unit, it’s best to consult with a professional.

2.  Furnace Won’t Blow Hot Air

There is no shortage of potential reasons for a furnace not blowing hot air. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Not enough gas making its way to the furnace
  • Pilot light is out
  • Dirty flame sensor
  • Clogged condensate line
  • Damaged heating ducts
  • Furnace that is too small for the size of your home (be careful of this when replacing your furnace)

In some cases, your issue can result from two or more of the above, which adds another layer of challenges to the repair process.

3.  Furnace Isn’t Blowing Enough Air

This is typically the result of a dirty air filter. If you don’t change you filter as recommended by the manufacturer, it could clog to the point of not allowing enough air to pass through.

Many homeowners run into this issue during the winter months because they neglected to change their air filter during the summer season. Remember, your air conditioner uses the filter in the same manner as your furnace.

It only takes a few seconds to swap out a dirty filter for a clean one.

4.  Furnace Won’t Turn Off

A furnace that won’t turn off is better than one that won’t turn on, right?

While this makes sense during the cold winter months, it’s still a serious issue that requires your immediate attention.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Pinpoint what’s happening: there’s a difference between the furnace failing to shut down and the air handler not turning off.
  • Feel the air: if the air coming from your vents is cold, your air handler is working but your furnace isn’t running. In this case, check that your thermostat is set to AUTO. Conversely, if the air is hot, your furnace is working but the burners aren’t turning off as designed.
  • Inspect the furnace: if everything checks out with your thermostat, the problem is likely a pilot light that has gone out or a defect in the fan’s relay switch.

With so many potential issues, it’s best to consult with a professional HVAC company.

5.  Clogged Condensate Line

Condensation is associated with more than your air conditioning unit. Most of today’s high efficiency furnaces produce water, which is drained from the system via a tube. [ii]

Over time, the tubing has the potential to clog, which can result in your furnace shutting off unexpectedly or not heating your home efficiently.

Fortunately, you can fix this issue by clearing the clog or simply replacing the old tubing.

Furnace Troubleshooting Experts

As a resident of Boston, it’s important to have a plan in place for staying warm throughout the winter.

If your furnace gives you trouble, don’t hesitate to contact us. We can visit your home, troubleshoot the issue, and ensure that everything is in good working order before leaving. It’s our goal to keep you warm this winter season!

[i] https://www.hometips.com/repair-fix/furnace-problems.html
[ii] https://www.familyhandyman.com/heating-cooling/do-your-own-furnace-maintenance-this-winter/

Changing your habits can save money on energy bills*

Changing your habits can save money on energy bills*

*Your mileage may vary.

A recent study by researchers at the Australian National University showed that behavior has the potential to save 10%-25% on residential energy costs. Saving 10%-25% on energy costs sounds good, especially since the average Massachusetts household spends more than $2,500 on energy costs each year. That means optimizing your energy consumption could reduce your energy bills by $250-$625 per year.

Now, for the bad news. Another equally relevant Israeli study showed that providing people with a lot of personalized energy consumption data had no positive effect on their behavior.

At all.

In fact, study participants who had been given very detailed information about their energy consumption actually used more energy than those who just received general tips on how to reduce their utility bills. Those with the most information about their specific energy habits could have easily spotted costly consumption behaviors. Yet, the exact opposite outcome occurred, even after adjusting for external factors like weather changes and weather extremes.

It’s easy to focus on the “save money on energy bills” part of the headline here (especially when $625 is at stake), but it is harder to succeed at the “changing your habits” stuff. So, if knowledge can’t help you when it comes to changing your energy consumption patterns, is there a strategy that can work?

How to lower your energy bills

“Automating” energy-saving habits is one way to change your actual energy consumption. That would include using a programmable thermostat- which won’t forget to turn the heat or A/C down. Motion-sensing light switches and timers also ensure that the lights get turned off when they’re not in use. Today, lighting won’t account for much of your home’s electric bill, as long as you have switched to LED bulbs. (If you haven’t, switch!)

Another major behavior change involves your buying habits. When you have to replace an appliance, look for EnergyStar-compliant models. Likewise, using WaterSense-compliant faucets, showerheads and appliances can reduce your water consumption significantly. These appliances and fixtures will cost more up-front, but they will quickly repay you in the form of lowered operating costs. You may also need to reconsider replacing appliances that still work well, but consume a lot of energy. This situation can happen easily with freezers and refrigerators. By replacing energy-hogging major appliances even though they may still work, you can reduce your utility bill significantly.

Take the time to seal the drafts and gaps in your home’s “thermal envelope.” Improperly insulated and sealed gaps can leak a lot of air into (and out of) your home. Closing these gaps will reduce your winter heating bill and your summer cooling bill.

Consider using fans to cool your home at night. Typically, the temperature drops after the sun sets. Bringing naturally cooled air into your home with fans can reduce the temperature and save money. But there’s a big caveat here. The humidity is a major factor. If the humidity is high, you’re better off leaving cool-but-wet air outside. You’ll ultimately spend less to cool the drier air that’s already in your home.

Your heating and cooling equipment consume most of your energy

Finally, take the time to understand how much your heating and cooling systems actually cost to operate. It’s very tempting to let an older, less efficient system run. A new, high efficiency replacement could pay for itself in just a few years through sharply reduced operating costs. A newer, high-efficiency system can help you lock in savings, while your older less efficient model locks in your expenses.

If you’d like more information about reducing your heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you how you can take advantage of rebates and tax incentives to lower your energy consumption affordably.

Photo Credit: Nan Palmero, via Flickr

MassSave Heating and Cooling Rebates Available for 2019

MassSave Heating and Cooling Rebates Available for 2019

MassSave is offering new rebates and incentives on residential heating and cooling products and installation. Now is a good time to consider upgrading, replacing or converting your heating and cooling equipment.

New heat pumps, furnaces or boilers can save money on your heating and cooling bills year-round. If your home heating and cooling equipment was installed before 1992, your savings could be even larger. The new rebate programs also allow you to save on conversions from one fuel type to another.

Just a note about the acronyms and abbreviations you’ll find below:
AFUE: Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency
EER: Energy Efficiency Ratio
HSPF: Heating Season Performance Factor
SEER: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

Here is a look at some of the new rebate programs.

Air conditioning

The available air conditioning rebates are based on the size and the efficiency of the air conditioner. If you have an old ducted air conditioning system or you want to install a new one, you can claim a rebate of $50 per ton rebate. This assumes that your new air conditioning system has a SEER ≥ 16 and an EER ≥ 13.

Air Source Heat Pump Rebates

You can claim a rebate of $350 per ton on air source heat pumps that have a SEER ≥ 15 and a HSPF ≥ 9.

If you would like to use an oil or propane system in combination with an air source heat pump, you can also claim a rebate of $1,000 per ton on an air source heat pump with a SEER ≥ 15 and an HSPF ≥ 9 if the replacement system also features integrated controls. Integrated controls manage the selection of either the oil/propane system or the air source heat pump, depending on the outside temperature. You could instead claim a rebate of $1,600 per ton if the selected air source heat pump meets the Cold-Climate Air-Source Heat Pump Specification V3.0 and features integrated controls.

You can claim a credit of $150/ton on a ductless air source heat pump, provided the selected system meets the Cold-Climate Air-Source Heat Pump Specification V3.0.

If you already use an air source heat pump and an oil/propane system in combination, you can claim a rebate of between $500-$1,500 if you add qualified integrated controls to your system. You can claim one $500 rebate for each zone, up to a maximum of $1,500.

Natural Gas Furnace and Boiler Rebates

If you want to install or replace a warm-air furnace, you can claim a rebate of between $950 and $1,250, depending upon the efficiency of the new system. To qualify for this rebate, the replacement furnace must be at least 95% efficient and must be equipped with an Electronic Commutated Motor (ECM) or an advanced furnace fan system.

If you want to replace a forced hot water boiler, you can claim a rebate of $2,000 on boilers with an AFUE ≥90% and outdoor reset controls. On new boilers with a AFUE ≥95%, the rebate climbs to $2,750, provided the new unit also has an outdoor reset control.

On combination condensing boilers/on-demand water heaters, you can claim a rebate of $2,400, provided that the new boiler has an AFUE ≥ 95% and is a single-unit device.

If you do not want to replace your boiler, but you’d like to make it more efficient, consider adding an outdoor reset control. An ORC can be added to an existing unit to help make your home more comfortable on milder winter days that don’t require maximum output from your boiler. Outdoor reset controls can lower your heating costs between 5% and 30%, depending upon the boiler and temperature conditions. If you have an oil or propane boiler, you can claim a $100 rebate on an after-market ORC. If you have a natural gas boiler, you can claim a rebate of $225.

If you’d like more information about these rebate programs, or would like to know how you can take advantage of them, please contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to explain your options, make recommendations and start the installation and rebate processes.

Photo Credit: Tekmar

Keeping the heat in while the heat is on

Keeping heat in when the heat is on

There’s no doubt that unusually cold winter temperatures are hard on heating systems. If your heating system is properly maintained, however, it should be able to manage colder temperatures without too much trouble. Nonetheless, keeping heat in your home can ease the burden on your furnace and make your home more comfortable.

Tips for keeping your heat in during super-cold weather

Don’t dial down at night. If you normally set your thermostat to 62°F, consider bumping it up to 64°F or even 66°F at night. A healthy furnace should be able to manage a drop in the mercury. At the same time, maintaining a higher temperature can prevent the unheated portions of your home from freezing overnight. If some pipes in your home are vulnerable to freezing, allow a trickle of water to run from the faucet. Moving water can help prevent freezing, and can relieve pressure in a freezing pipe.

Change your furnace filter. Keep your furnace happy by making sure it can breathe! Changing the furnace filter regularly can help ensure proper air flow to your heating system. In the fall, before heating season begins, have your furnace checked by a heating and cooling professional. Regular checkups can help ensure that you avoid unexpected breakdowns during the winter.

Seal drafts. Air leaks and drafts can make your home feel miserable. In addition to letting heated air escape, leaks can allow moisture in. The moisture level in your home has a lot of impact on your comfort level. Maintaining a proper humidity level can make your home feel warmer even when your thermostat turned down. Sealing drafts may not be a mid-winter task, but cold temperatures will sure help you find them! Windows and doors are likely leakers, especially if they’re older. You may also find generous gaps between your sill plate and the foundation. You may not use your basement for much, but that’s probably where your plumbing is! Frigid air slipping in at the sill plate can freeze your pipes, even when the heat is turned up. You can purchase spray foam insulation from a local home improvement store. It’s inexpensive and will seal these little spaces well.

Consider adding storm doors. If your home doesn’t have storm doors, consider adding them. Storm doors can create a little air gap between the outside and the inside. This little space can cut down on air leaks at the door.

Insulate! Insulation is one of the best ways to help your home retain heat. Many people don’t realize this, but insulation does break down over time. If you haven’t touched your insulation, an insulation professional can evaluate it for you. In many cases, you can simply add insulation to what already exists. If your insulation has been damaged by water or animals, you’ll want to remove and replace it. Replacing or adding insulation may not be a DIY job. Old insulation may have asbestos, formaldehyde or other unpleasantries hidden inside. Insulation that’s been damaged by animals may also be saturated with waste. A side benefit of contracting this work is that they’ll get the vapor barrier correct! Improper insulation work can lead to mold and mildew accumulation in your home.

Consider replacing your furnace. Mid winter probably isn’t the time to consider a voluntary furnace replacement. That being said, new high-efficiency furnaces can save a lot on operating costs. The added reliability of a new furnace also can give you peace of mind. If your current furnace was on the job in 1992, it’s probably time to consider a change. Furnaces older than this are not efficient at all. You can recover the cost of installing a new furnace through reduced operating costs in just a few years.

If you’d like more information about energy efficiency, or furnace repair or replacement, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Photo Credit: David Lewis, via Flickr

Should you repair or replace your old furnace?

Furnace repair: should you repair or replace your old furnace?

Furnaces never break at a convenient time. (Mostly because no one uses their furnace in the summer!) Worse, few homeowners plan for a furnace repair. The bill can represent a large expense, and some homeowners may wonder whether it’s better to repair or replace.

How old is your furnace?

Like most things, there’s more than one way to think about this! If your furnace is super-old, repair-v-replace may be a no-brainer. But what exactly qualifies as a “super-old furnace?” 1992 provides a good mile marker because the Department of Energy first started making furnace efficiency requirements then. Furnaces installed at that time had to be at least 78% efficient. That’s not to say that your 1992 furnace is still 78% efficient in the waning days of 2018. It’s not! Furnace efficiency deteriorates over time. Routine maintenance and repairs can help restore or preserve its rated efficiency, but your furnace just gets old.

The return on investment for furnace replacement

One way to answer the “repair or replace” question is by looking at the return on your investment. If your furnace was installed before 1992, it is wildly inefficient by today’s standards. You are spending money hand-over-fist to keep your old, inefficient furnace running. Replacing your furnace may have a high initial cost, but you can recover this through reduced operating costs. If this describes your situation, it’s worthwhile to sit down and calculate the point at which a new furnace will pay itself off. (It won’t take that long!) MassSave also offers low- and no-interest loans to cover the cost of furnace replacement. Believe it or not, you can still save money by borrowing to replace your pre-1992 furnace!

On the other hand, a repair cost is defined and it’s virtually certain to be less than replacement. However, repairing an older, less efficient furnace commits you to paying higher operating costs at least until the next repair. (When you have to make the repair/replace decision again.) Sometimes, repairing an old, inefficient furnace has a lower immediate cost, but a higher long-term cost. A higher operating cost could mean that you’re paying hundreds of dollars more per winter to keep your old furnace. That’s definitely not ideal!

The cost of fuel

If you’re using a more expensive fuel (e.g., heating oil), a breakdown could represent a chance to save big. Oil-to-gas conversion can reduce your home’s energy consumption, reduce your costs and let you switch to a cleaner fuel. The cost of heating oil this season has been relatively stable. (It’s actually dropped slightly since the beginning of heating season.) Price volatility is one reason, however, to consider switching to a lower cost fuel. Homeowners can spend 2 to 3 times as much per winter to heat with heating oil. Additionally, heating oil poses environmental quality dangers that other fuels don’t.

Ultimately, the repair-v-replace decision will be up to you. Making a lower-cost repair can help get you through the heating season. This may give you time to make a potentially big decision without being under pressure.

If you’d like more information about furnace upgrades, oil-to-gas conversions or calculating your savings on heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to schedule a consultation and show you how you can save on your heating and cooling costs.

Photo Credit: ewitch, via Flickr