As many Lawrence residents have discovered during the past few weeks, a lot can happen to a home's furnace during its summer vacation.
Just as a car needs to be winterized, so does a home's heating system.
Bob Parish, manager of customer services for Kansas Public Service, said several parts of the furnace should be checked before it's turned on for the first time. For a fee, the utility company will check and repair home furnaces.
And business has been as brisk as the north winds that drove people to fire up their furnaces last week.
"One of the first things we take a look at is the flue pipe running from the furnace," he said. "We also take a look at the basic cleanliness of the furnace."
WHETHER A furnace needs cleaning can be determined by whether the pilot light burns year-round, Parish explained. Central heating and cooling systems can accumulate more rust on their burners if the pilot is extinguished during the warm weather months, he said.
Another thing people should do is change the system's filters during the winter months. Parish said filters should be changed more often when the furnace is in use because the heat attracts more dust particles.
Another part of KPS's system check covers the furnace's settings for drafting the exhaust through the flue, he said.
"We also check the actual burner flame to make sure it is burning correctly," Parish said. "Once we light the furnace, we'll check to make sure that the furnace cycle, using the thermostat up on the wall, is working properly."
The cycle check also includes a review of the limit switches, which signal the automatic systems to turn off and on.
AS A PREVENTIVE measure, the utility company will vacuum rust from the system. Parish also cautioned people not to block the cold air returns with furniture. Blocking the returns restricts the system's air flow, he said, leading to higher-than-necessary utility bills.
Parish said that running ceiling fans on the clockwise setting also lowers heating bills because the fans recirculate the lighter, warmer air to the lower parts of a room.
People who want to light the furnace themselves should keep the thermostat in the "off" position or turned down as low as it will go, Parish said.
"Because if you light that pilot, and then turn the knob to `on,' that burner is going to come on," he said. "And there's such a large influx of gas on a furnace, that even almost all of them will do the `whoooom,' and you can get your eyelids singed off pretty good."
People should pay close attention to strange odors during the heating season, Parish cautioned, but not when first turning the system on.
"We get inundated with calls, and all they're getting is musty air coming out of the vents," he said.