BUFFALO, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side recently told you that natural gas costs have risen sharply to the point that National Fuel predicts it will cost the average homeowner over $1,000 to heat their house this winter.
We have some of the seasonal suggestions for heating system care, but we also took a look at new heating technology on the horizon with climate change concerns.
Some of us may see it as the beast in the basement, but it's really the heart and body warming equipment we should shower with attention this time of year. That's your friendly furnace that should get its annual check-up from an HVAC contractor to check for leaks but also potential equipment issues.
"The licensed professionals know this equipment like the back of their hand," said Ian Donnelly, who is the project manager for T-Mark Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling. "When they're in there, not only taking a look at the equipment but also, is it leaking any gas or carbon monoxide?
"What is the blower motor demonstrating? Any signs of failure? Is the inducer motor starting to make maybe grinding sounds? Is there a bad bearing in it? Do you notice there's a little bit of a whining noise? Those are all telltale signs of problems to a trained ear."
Also remember to change furnace filters, which can be purchased from any hardware or home improvement store. They are usually easily changed in a furnace.
"If you do not change your filter and your filter gets clogged up, then that means the furnace is not breathing as it should," Donnelly said. "If it's not breathing as it should, then it's gonna take longer to heat. And if it takes longer to heat, it's burning more gas, and it's costing you more money.
"So it's a simple thing that you can do as a homeowner is to change the filter once a month during the winter months to make sure the system is as effective as it should be for the home and for the family."
And then consider a programmable thermostat to cut back on heat and gas usage when you're not home.
In addition, keep the heat in the house with proper insulation and seal, or caulk drafty windows and doors.
Then you can also save natural gas use by adjusting the hot water heater to a middle dial or range setting, if possible, to produce water heated at 120 degrees instead of the usual 130 to 140 degrees.
Some customers may eventually consider the more expensive tankless hot water heaters, which do heat water without limits on any tank capacity.
When it comes to your heating system, they're obviously not cheap, but an upgrade to a higher efficiency furnace with outside PVC venting might actually pay off with utility rebate programs.
"The difference between a chimney vented furnace and a high efficiency furnace is 15 percent. Those are real dollars," Donnelly said. "And when you think about that price increase, not only is your payoff pretty quick, especially with the increase, which we are seeing here this year, but it pays you back in dividends. It gets you away from the venting into your chimney. Chimneys have issues."
In 2019, the state of New York passed a climate change act, which is one of the most progressive in the country. Albany officials will require more use of heat pumps especially in new home construction in the coming years.
Electric powered heat pumps, which cool and heat a home, are more popular in the warmer southern United States. But technology is improving for colder climates.
Some may choose to look at hybrid systems of a heat pump and furnace combo, which are expensive at several thousand dollars, but also efficient as they switch from electric to gas. That switch-off is usually set when the outside temperature hits 40 degrees.
"With a thermostat and temperature sensor and the high quality equipment we install, it allows the home to have a first stage heat using electrical energy, and then kick over to gas once it's really required," Donnelly said.
There are more traditional single system air source based heat pumps, which may require more technology changes for cold weather in Western New York.