The Homeowner's Furnace Guide

Table of Contents

We are proud to call Calgary home. But when the temperature drops, “home” certainly isn’t a place you want to be without a good furnace. Our winters are cold, dry, unpredictable – and yes, long too. This makes it all the more important to have a well-maintained furnace you can count on.

Unfortunately, like any appliance, furnaces often require repairs – or even replacement.

We’d like to share a few simple maintenance and repair procedures that most homeowners can do themselves. At the same time, we will explain common repair and servicing work that may require the expertise of a trained professional. Is your furnace on its last legs? If so, an HVAC specialist will be required to install a new unit – and can even recommend the right model.

If there is one piece of wisdom we can leave you with, it is to find a trusted HVAC specialist, keep their phone number handy and set up appointments regularly. It’s the easiest way to ensure your furnace is well-maintained, and your family is always toasty warm.

1. How your furnace works

Most furnaces found in Calgary operate using natural gas. The gas is ignited to produce a flame, which produces heat within a heat exchanger. The furnace fan blows air from your home over the furnace’s heat exchanger and the heat generated from the combustion of the natural gas is transferred to the air in your home. This is then circulated throughout your home via a network of ducts. Warm air enters each room through the heating registers. The air is circulated all day long and provides clean, healthy air for your family to breathe.

Your thermostat is likely the first thing you check when your home gets cold, but it’s not your thermostat that produces the heat. That important job is done by the furnace, usually situated in the basement. But how do furnaces work and what are some of the common reasons they can break down? To help give you a basic understanding of this essential home appliance, we’re going to look at some of the most important components, explain how they work, and where issues can arise.

Why do we use gas furnaces?

Because of our climate, our abundant natural resources, and our home building standards, nearly all residential in Alberta furnaces operate on natural gas. The benefit of gas furnaces is their reliability, relatively easy maintenance, and superior efficiency.

Most new gas furnaces have an efficiency rating between 90% to 98%. What does that mean? A furnace with a 98% efficiency rating will transfer 98% of the heat produced during the combustion of natural gas to heat in your home, (while only 2% is lost to the exhaust). In comparison, upwards of 30-50% can be lost on older, mid-efficiency, and standard-efficiency furnaces.

Today’s high-efficiency furnaces not only keep your home consistently warm, but they also help reduce your gas bill.

How do gas furnaces work?

Your thermostat serves as the brains of the operation. You set it to the temperature you want in your home and the thermostat signals to your furnace when your home drops below that set temperature. When that happens, your furnace kicks into action.

It works by first drawing in fresh combustion air into the burner box and through the heat exchanger, then igniting the pilot (or igniter), then opening the gas valve delivering natural gas to the burners.

Once the furnace is ignited, the blower motor is engaged, circulating air through the furnace, and then through the vents located throughout your home.

2. Why get a furnace tune-up

A professional furnace tune-up and inspection is part of the recommended maintenance schedule for a furnace. It helps detect and prevent furnace problems before they cause significant damage or cost you money. A regular tune-up will also provide peace of mind, knowing your family will be safe and warm.

Advanpro’s comprehensive furnace tune-up includes inspecting, testing, and cleaning all sensors, burners, exhaust, wiring, and motor functionality. We also test the switches and circuits and check the filters, gas pressure, and other mechanical components. We want to make sure all the moving parts and electrical connections are working well, and won’t cause issues in the future. When in doubt, book your furnace tune-up. 

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3. Common furnace problems

Regardless of where you live, or how cold and dry it gets, your furnace can break down – and the middle of winter is not a good time to be without heat. Here are the most common furnace problems.  
Dirty filters
If your filters get dirty or, even worse, completely clogged, your heater will struggle to push air through to heat your living space. Check your filter frequently, and replace it to keep your furnace working optimally. 
Wear and tear on parts
Over time, some furnace parts may begin to break down. Belts, bearings, filters, motors, limit, and pressure switches, control boards, gas valves, thermocouples, ignitors, and flame sensors—they should all be checked as part of an annual Furnace Tune-Up to ensure they are in good working order. You’ll want to call the pros in for this one!
Clogged condensate trap
Through the course of normal operation, high-efficiency furnaces produce condensate (water) which drains through the furnace condensate trap and into your furnace floor drain. Over time, these condensate traps can become clogged with dirt and impurities from combustion. If the trap becomes clogged, condensate will build up inside the furnace heat exchanger and eventually cause the furnace will stop running. The good news is a furnace tune up can address this!
Thermostat errors
When your thermostat malfunctions, your furnace itself may still be in good working order, but it may not be receiving the right instructions. (It’s the brain remember!) Check the batteries first, and if that’s not the problem, get someone in to diagnose and service it. 
Ignition issues
Your furnace may be getting instructions from your Thermostat to turn on but it fails to turn on, short cycles, or just circulates cold air. Regardless of your system, an HVAC pro should tackle this one.
Strange noises or rumbles
Some noise is normal, but if you start to hear clangs, bangs, rumbles, rattles, or squeaks, you may have furnace problems. New noises from your furnace are generally the result of issues with your blower motor or inducer motor. Sometimes these noises will temporarily go away but like most issues with motors, they will come back at an inopportune time. When you notice unfamiliar noises from your furnace, it’s best to call us to diagnose the issue. Identifying issues early can prevent further damage and possibly reduce the cost of a repair. 
On and off, on and off
Your furnace should run for a certain amount of time, then stay off. If your furnace is cycling on and off frequently and struggling to maintain your set temperature, this is a sign of trouble. Check your filter and replace if it is dirty, if the problem persists, get an expert in.
Low heat output
If temperatures outside are within a typical range and your home never seems to get warm enough, you could be dealing with a clogged filter, thermostat malfunction, or other mechanical issues. Troubleshoot the simple stuff, and make a call if you’re still not getting heat. 
Huge bills
Skyrocketing utility bills are a sign of problems. Increased energy use means your furnace is underpowered, dirty, or damaged in some way. Start with cleaning and a tune-up. 
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4. Simple do-it-yourself maintenance

While you’re likely not a furnace expert, there are some simple things you can do on your own to help care for your furnace. 
Replacing the furnace filter
Furnace filters help keep your HVAC system’s parts clean and running efficiently while removing remove dust, dirt, pollen, allergens, bacteria, and other air pollutants from your home’s air. When it comes to selecting the right furnace filter for your heating and cooling system, there are a few things to consider. 
Filter size and thickness

The typical sizes for a furnace filter are 16″ x 20″, 20″ x 25″, and 16″ x 25″. The size of your filter will be stamped on your existing furnace filter. It may be located on the filter rack you slide your furnace filter into on the side of your filter cabinet. The filter must fit snuggly in your furnace, as a good fit prevents unfiltered air from seeping around the edges of the filter. A filter’s thickness can range from 1″ to 5″, depending on the furnace make and model. As a general rule of thumb, a thicker furnace filter will last longer and do a better job of filtering the air in your home. 

Replacement filters can be purchased at most hardware stores or online through Amazon and other retailers. If you are not sure which size you need, check the filter currently in your furnace. 

Filter efficiency
The MERV rating system evaluates and compares mechanical air filters for overall effectiveness. The higher the rating, the better the filter is. If anyone in your home has allergies, asthma, or any other respiratory conditions, pets, or if you live in a dusty environment, you should aim for a MERV 12 or higher rating. Furnace filter cost varies based on MERV rating, filter material, thickness, retailer, and other factors. Providing it is changed monthly, a basic filter will remove the worst dust and debris and can be easier on your furnace (and wallet).
When to replace

Filters typically need to be replaced every 1-3 months depending on the type of filter you’re using. If you notice the furnace filter’s surface is gray and covered in buildup, you should go ahead and change it. Other signs you may need to change your filter are more dust in the home or longer heating and cooling cycles.

Changing your humidifier vapor pad 
Like furnace filters, humidifier filters need to be checked every 6 months and changed every 12 – 24 months.
Thermostat updates

If your thermostat is battery operated and is not working, the batteries may be dead. Many programmable thermostats feature a flashing “low battery” icon on their control screen. If you see a “low battery” warning, put in fresh batteries.

The thermostat is one household electronic that has seen many upgrades over the years. Today there are many options, including manual, programmable and smart ones.

Here are some things to consider if you’re replacing your thermostat:

Manual Thermostats
These traditional models getting replaced with all the smart thermostat technology available. Manual thermostats may be old school, but they work and are still recommended by most heating and cooling professionals. One consideration is that manual thermostats are not as precise when it comes to temperature accuracy, which means it may be difficult to keep the temperature consistent and exactly where you want it. They also won’t have humidity control or the ability to run your circulation fan.

Programmable Thermostats
A second option is programmable thermostats, which offer customization and energy savings. You can schedule and set your temperature and no longer have to adjust the temperature manually as the day heats up and cools down. With these added features, programmable thermostats will cost more than manual ones. You’ll also need to speak with a professional about which programmable thermostat is compatible with your system.

Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats are the top choice for tech-savvy homeowners who like to schedule and control the temperature settings throughout the day. Beyond the temperature controls, these toys can provide energy reports, run times, and notify you if your air filter needs replacing. They can also control humidity and run your furnace blower motor when the furnace is not running to ensure the air in your home is fresh and constantly being filtered. They also allow you to control your home’s temperature remotely when not at home and can notify you if your home’s temperature is dropping below its set point.

If you plan on replacing your thermostat, it’s always good to talk to a professional who can advise you based on your home, and your current system. There’s no sense spending money on something that isn’t going to help you.

5. Installing a new replacement furnace

Buying a new furnace is a major purchase, but it’s well worth it for homes with older standard or mid-efficiency furnaces. Even if your older furnace isn’t in need of repairs, you could still save as much as 50% in utility costs by upgrading to a new high-efficiency model. 

If you’re considering a new furnace, costs are often the foremost concern. In Calgary, a new furnace costs between $4,000 to $8,000, including installation. The exact price of a new furnace and installation vary based on the size and details of your home. 

If you decide to replace your furnace, it’s great time to further improve your comfort — and save on installation costs. It’s almost always less expensive to add a humidifier, air quality system, or air conditioner at the same time as your new furnace. 

Start your search with a free custom quote from Advanpro:

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6. Finding a furnace professional

Choosing professionals is like choosing any other experts—you want to do your research, ask the right questions, and feel like you’ve got the best person for the job. Here are tips on how to find the right duct cleaning company in Calgary.

Do your research and check credentials
Start with an online search. Look at their website to see how long they’ve been in business for, how long they’ve been doing furnace or HVAC services, and what other services they offer. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to call and ask.

Google Reviews are a good place to look. Ask friends for referrals too. Finally, be sure to check that the provider is a member in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

Also, ensure they have the required insurance coverage, WCB coverage, and are licensed to pull permits. If not, hang up the phone.

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Calgary trusts Advanpro.

Founded in 2007, Advanpro has established itself as a leading provider of Commercial and Residential Duct Cleaning, Heating, and Cooling services. Our company is committed to excellence and uses the industry’s best practices to protect and care for your home. 

We offer highly professional furnace cleaning and maintenance services and complete furnace repair and furnace replacement services. And if you’re looking for a brand-new furnace in your home, we also provide new furnace installations.