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Tips to keep the home's heating system in shape

More than 60 million U.S. homes are heated by natural gas or propane each winter. Homeowners should be sure to have their gas appliances checked now to ensure efficient, reliable, safe and economical operation during the cold weather months ahead.

In fact, it is recommend that homeowners have their heating systems inspected every year prior to the onset of the heating season by qualified, licensed contractors or by their local gas company.

When a furnace is operating properly, it is more efficient, which means it saves homeowners money and provides safe, reliable comfort during the winter.

There are a number of steps homeowners can take to help their heating systems operate optimally. For example, check for signs of problems by inspecting the duct work and venting of the heating system. Look for cracks or openings around the flue or duct pipes. If there are signs of rust, it may be caused by excessive condensation inside the flue that could indicate an improperly adjusted burner. In this case, the burner needs to be adjusted by an expert.

Any heating-system inspection should include oiling the blower motor and fan as well as taking a look at the blower belts for signs of wear. A qualified repair professional should replace them if they are cracked or frayed. The burner chamber and pilot also need to be inspected and cleaned with a brush.

When cleaning, be sure to vacuum all registers, vents and baseboard heaters to remove any dust, lint and pet hair. While working with registers, it is good to remember that upper floor registers can be closed in the winter and then opened in the summer to allow efficient air control. If ceiling fans are used, remember to point the draft upward; hot air rises, helping circulate warm air throughout the home.

Also, check the chimney to make sure there are no bird or squirrel nests, accumulated leaves or fallen bricks to obstruct the airflow. Obstructions can create dangerous conditions. You may want to consider installing carbon monoxide monitors to further protect your family.

With rising heating costs, take simple weatherization steps such as caulking around windows and doorframes, and adding weather stripping to doors and windows to save money. Doors need to fit tightly and should be kept closed in all unheated rooms.

If heating equipment is old and needs to be replaced, homeowners should also call a contractor who is properly licensed. New furnaces are highly efficient and will save hundreds of dollars.

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