Heating Systems Need Care, Maintenance


by Jim Gier
Due to recent events here in Northern Gila County concerning heating systems and their problems, I am prompted to present this reminder.

Most of us tend to take our heating appliances for granted. This is a dangerous attitude, as a poorly maintained system can result in a tragic fire.

Do you have your chimney and stove or fireplace serviced at least once a year? Every year?

Do you have your gas fireplace (freestanding, insert or built-in) serviced every year?

How about your gas-fired furnace or wall heater? Do you have an expert check it over prior to the start of the heating season?

If your answer is no, are you fully aware of the consequences? Annual servicing and inspections are generally less expensive than a service call. The annual service can be scheduled prior to the start of the heating season, when service workload will make it easier to get scheduled in a timely manner. In most cases, an annual service will find conditions that can be corrected before the temperature drops to cold and you find out your unit won't function -- or before it malfunctions.

Any alternative heating appliance that uses fire has the potential to become a hazard. Vent and chimney systems slowly deteriorate with each use, some with catastrophic results. Gas units that take combustion air out of the house will also take humidity and chemical fumes in through the burner area, heat exchanger and vent systems. These components become highly corrosive, leading to a faulty burner operation, heat exchanger and vent failures.

On the units that have sealed combustion systems that utilize outside air for combustion, there are other problems. Spider webs can block intake or exhaust vents, as can bees and wasps. These conditions generally cause improper operation such as premature shut down, or extreme sooting necessitating disassembly to clean (a very expensive operation).

Heat-circulating fans on wood-burning stoves, pellet stoves, gas fireplaces/inserts, wall heaters and forced-air furnaces all need an annual cleaning -- if for no other reason than to maintain the unit's original efficiency.

With wood- and pellet-burning units, it is extremely important that these units and their chimney systems receive the proper service before the start of the season. Most of the remaining wood-burning stoves in Payson have chimneys that are 10 to 15 years old and are now starting to deteriorate. The interior steel parts are rusting out, changing the cooling airflow paths, creating hot spots that can lead to setting nearby combustibles on fire -- even though required clearances are present. To the untrained eye they are not obvious.

With pellet stoves, the area where all the motors and safety features are located need to be kept clean of lint and animal hair. The hot exhaust pipe passes through this area and it is sometimes hot enough to set it on fire. Even though it may be only a flash fire, it may last long enough to set the wiring on fire and possibly destroy the unit.

Ash disposal from wood and pellet stoves is something that no one should take for granted. The ash from pellet units has not been completely combusted if it still has some glowing embers. Be careful, don't dump it in the flower bed -- it can set your mulch on fire. Use a metal container and take it outside and put it on a non-combustible surface.

Ashes from fireplaces and stoves can retain sufficient heat for several days, even in a metal container -- enough that if improperly disposed of, they can set dumpsters and other trash containers on fire.

If you can't put your hand in the ashes, it's too hot to dump out. So put your ashes in a metal container with a metal lid, set it outside on the sidewalk or cleared ground. Even the double-bottomed ash containers are not 100-percent safe. Treat ashes just like you would a lit match and gasoline.

To be safe, have your heating appliance inspected by a qualified technician whether it be a heating/air conditioning person, a chimney sweep or the dealer where you bought your appliance.

Pine resident Jim Gier has been in the alternative heating systems business since moving to the area nearly 15 years ago. Currently an employee at Ace Hardware, he has been certified as a service technician by a number of appliance manufacturers.

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