For most U.S. homeowners, the official end of winter comes when they switch their thermostat from its “heating” setting to either the “off” or “cooling” one. As everything thaws out in the spring, the days start getting longer and the nights become warmer. The home’s furnace—once essential to indoor comfort—is no longer to be used until the following fall and winter. However, that’s not the end of the story. Few homeowners know this, but you actually can—and should—shut down the furnace itself after winter. In this article, we’ll review the reasons why a furnace shutdown is necessary, the benefits of doing so, and how you can keep your furnace in great condition throughout the calendar year.
What is a furnace shutdown?
Surprisingly, many U.S. homeowners leave their furnaces running throughout the calendar year. Seasonal furnace shutdown tends to be a home maintenance item that gets left behind in the busy days of spring. While modern furnaces can be left on year-round without any significant safety or mechanical issues, you have the potential to save energy by shutting it off. This applies to both gas and electric furnaces.
Shutting down a gas furnace
Most natural gas furnaces have a standing pilot light that requires a steady flow of some gas to keep lit. While the natural gas use for the pilot may seem minuscule, it can really add up: most homeowners waste about $50 every year keeping the furnace pilot light running during the off-season. Add up those costs through successive years, and you could save hundreds by just making a small change to your spring cleaning checklist.
To shut down your gas furnace, turn off the gas valve supplying fuel to the system and its pilot light. You should see the pilot go out. Make sure you leave a note reminding yourself to turn the gas back on in the fall so that your heating system can get back to work heating your home.
Shutting down an electric furnace
As with all the electric appliances in your home, electric furnaces continue to draw power even when they are not in use. Sometimes referred to as “vampire appliances,” this passive energy use can sap your home’s energy efficiency and spike your energy bills. In the context of your electric furnace, you can avoid this by shutting off power to the circuit the furnace is on. Just double-check that nothing else is on that circuit that you might need.
Caring for your furnace after the winter months
Besides shutting the system off, there are several things you can do to care for your furnace in the spring:
Clean the area around the furnace
If you’re like many American homeowners who have their furnace in the basement, a storage closet, or garage, you’ve probably been tempted to store things next to it or near it. However, this is not recommended. Here are a few reasons why:
- Fire Hazard: For obvious reasons, anything flammable should be kept away from the furnace. Leave at least two feet of space between the furnace and any stored objects, and keep ignitable materials—such as paint, oils, rags, cardboard boxes, clothes, or wood stain—away from the general vicinity.
- Airflow: Your furnace requires air intake and outflow to work properly. Putting too many objects around the furnace can restrict this airflow, leading to efficiency, performance, and functionality problems.
- Filter: Add vacuuming around the furnace to your spring cleaning to-do list. If the area around your furnace is full of dust, dirt, or lint, the furnace’s intake filter is going to become dirty faster. Any lint build-up—common in homes where the furnace is next to laundry machines in a basement or closet—can also present a fire hazard.
Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Wherever your furnace is, you should have a properly working smoke and carbon monoxide detector. While rare, a crack in the furnace heat exchanger or flue pipe could lead to the leakage of dangerous carbon monoxide gas into the home. Also known as “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is colorless and odorless, making it difficult for humans to detect on their own. That’s why a working carbon monoxide detector is critical. Be sure to check the batteries and test the device every spring.
If you have reason to believe that something is wrong with your furnace or that you have a potential carbon monoxide leak, turn the system off and call an HVAC professional immediately.
Inspect the air registers
Take a walk around your home this spring and check out all the air supply and return registers. After a long winter of use, they may be getting pretty dusty. While you’re dusting the rest of your home, use a stepladder to clean these out thoroughly. This helps ensure that both your air conditioner and furnace are getting the air intake they need to function properly.
Another note: if you want to maximize the energy efficiency of your home, avoid keeping multiple registers closed in different rooms. This might seem counterintuitive: after all, doesn’t it make sense to shut off the flow of cold or hot air if you’re not using that room? However, in a whole-home forced-air setup, your furnace and air conditioner work to cool or heat the entire home. That heated or cooled air is still being pushed through the air duct to that closed register, so all you’re doing is making it more difficult for the system to make your home comfortable.
In fact, in most homes, it’s most efficient for the registers and doors to each room to be open.
Schedule your fall maintenance appointment
While the furnace is on your mind, you should take the time to call your local HVAC company and schedule a fall maintenance appointment. For most cooling and heating companies, annual tune-up appointment slots tend to fill up fast in the fall, as people call last-minute to schedule service. By calling in the spring, you can be one of the first to reserve your spot, ensuring that your gas or electric furnace gets looked at before the weather cools down.
While you’re on the phone, be sure to ask the HVAC team if they offer any kind of maintenance club or program to their customers. These recurring maintenance programs take the hassle out of having to remember to schedule annual tune-ups. Plus, most companies offer additional benefits as a ‘thank you’ for enrolling.
Here at ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing, for instance, our Guardian Maintenance Club members get a call from our team to schedule their fall tune-up and we provide them with priority service, a service discount, and a 90-day no-breakdown guarantee on top of it!
For all your furnace shutdown and service needs, call in an expert
No two homes are quite the same. If you want service advice and furnace shutdown guidance tailored to your home and your heating system, our recommendation is that you contact a local HVAC service professional in your area. They will be able to walk you through the shutdown process and advise you on how to best prepare your air conditioner for the warmer weather ahead—which will include a seasonal tune-up.