We earn a commission from brands listed on this site. This influences the order and manner in which these listings are presented.
Advertising Disclosure

Top 10 Ways to Get Your Heating System Ready for Winter

Patrick Sather
Maintain Your Furnace and Stay Warm This Winter
A new heating system can cost you anywhere from $2,000-$12,500 (and possibly more if you are looking into really high-efficiency models). When you’re shelling out that much cash, you want to be sure that your investment is going to last a while.

That is why most homeowners are happy to learn about the mistakes they’re commonly making with the upkeep of their furnace and HVAC systems. It might surprise you to learn that most homeowners are constantly doing something (unconsciously, of course) to undermine the integrity of these expensive systems. 

Want your heating system to last through the winter and for the long haul? Check out these 10 tips smart homeowners use to ensure they’ll be staying toasty and warm without a hitch (glitch, or switch in their heating systems) this winter.

1. Clean the filters regularly

Your heating system works hard to keep your nose and toes warm all winter long. Each time you run the machine, dirt, dust, and allergens are collected in the filter. This debris accumulates over time, and that’s bad news. Aside from the fact that it contributes to health issues for people who have allergies, asthma, or other breathing problems, build-up in a filter means your heating machine has to work that much harder to pump out the warm air that circulates through your home. 

Cleaning the filter allows the air to run through the system with less effort and much more efficiency, contributing to better health for your family and your heating system.

2. Get a home warranty plan that covers HVAC

Most homeowners have a home warranty plan of some sort; it might even be a requirement depending on your contract. If you don’t have a plan, that’s your first mistake. And even if you do have one, not all plans cover HVAC systems. 

For the uninformed, a home warranty is a type of insurance policy that covers systems and appliances around your home. This is not like home insurance that covers accidents. Rather, home warranty services will repair or replace your covered items in the event that one is damaged or breaks down. Heating systems are notorious for shutting down right in the dead of winter. With a home warranty, you can have the system up and running again in no time (good home warranty services even have emergency calls for these situations). Without an HVAC-inclusive plan, you’re up the frozen creek without a paddle.

3. Give your furnace plenty of space to breathe

Furnaces and other heating systems are frequently kept in remote areas of the home like basements, storage closets, or crawl spaces. It’s convenient, out of the way, and keeps the kids from hurting themselves. The trouble with this setup is that heat-producing machines require their own personal space. Like moody teenagers, if not given enough space, furnaces are unlikely to respond well and are likely to become volatile. 

You probably can’t change the location of your heating system (also like your teenagers), but you can still give it room to breathe. Make sure you don’t use your heating closet as a storage room. Remove any clutter, boxes, and stored items from around the furnace. Also, and this is really important, never keep anything flammable around your heating system. Things like paint, aerosol cans, gasoline, papers, and clothing can combust from the furnace’s heat, causing tragic losses. 

4. Insulate your water pipes

Much heat is wasted from uninsulated pipes. Picture this. You heat up the water for a nice shower but get called back to work. Not only don’t you get that long-awaited shower you were looking forward to. But the water in those pipes also grows ice cold by the time you get home. That’s a lot of wasted energy on the part of your heating system. You can reduce so much of that heat and energy loss by insulating your hot water pipe. As a nice extra, you’ll get hot and warm water to your faucet faster too. 

5. Insulate the attic

Would you leave the front door open for weeks at a time (ever, but particularly) during the winter? Of course not. Yet so many homeowners leave a much larger gap in their barrier to the outside world and its elements. The attic is a huge open door that allows cold air to rush in constantly and unobstructedly. One of the biggest ways to reduce heat loss and, therefore, the amount of work your heating system has to do, is to insulate the attic. Use a minimum of R-38 insulation (10”-14” deep) to keep your heater’s warmth from leaking out.

6. Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans

Here’s a fun one that’s also super easy and won’t cost you a thing. Bet you never thought of turning on the fan in the middle of the winter. In fact, fans can be used to warm up your home and create a more pleasant atmosphere even in the colder months. By reversing the fan blade directions, you push warm air that’s trapped at the ceiling (remember, hot air rises) back down to the floor where you can enjoy it. This makes your heating system’s work that much easier.

7. Replace worn-out weather stripping

Doors come with weather stripping to keep out the elements and any unwanted critters. Unfortunately, this thin rubber strip doesn’t last forever. Fortunately, weatherstripping is fairly cheap and easy to replace. Go around your home, check for torn, crumbling, loose, or missing stripping. You can also install a door sweep at the bottom of the door to prevent drafts.

8. Choose the right window treatments

Another fun one, although this one might be a little more costly than the fan reversal. But if you enjoy changing up your decor, then you might want to look into winter-friendly window treatments. From insulated blinds to thick drapes with quilted cushions, window treatments can help keep warm in and cold air out, the perfect combination for those winter months. And best of all, you get to update your home decor!

9. Upgrade your windows

Windows also let out tons of warm air from your furnace. So it’s worthwhile to invest in replacing your old windows. Insulated glass windows are the best at keeping the heat in, and many windows are made with this upgraded material. If not, it might be good to install storm windows (especially if your area experiences tumultuous weather such as tropical storms, snowstorms, hurricanes, etc. frequently). Storm windows actually go on the outside of your windows, acting as another layer of protection. This is good because it means they can be removed come the summer months should you want to let more air in.

10. Perform maintenance checks regularly

Finally, like all appliances, for optimal performance, have the heating system checked regularly. Have ductwork checked and cleaned, clean out dust from combustion chambers, clear out the blower, check the blower belt, check connections and wires, etc. This may be covered by some maintenance policies you have. Otherwise, it’s worth paying a technician to do the one-off job annually.

Patrick Sather
Patrick Sather is an award-winning personal finance writer and licensed broker who has worked for some of the largest financial firms in the United States, including TD Ameritrade and Pacific Life. A graduate of the University of Nebraska in both Economics and International Trade and English, Sather writes for Top10.com sharing his insights on life's most common financial decisions.