Cold Outside, Cozy Inside

Is your heating system ready for winter?
By Amanda Ruggeri 

As we enjoy our last few days of beautiful fall weather, it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming winter. The Farmers’ Almanac predicts winter temperatures to be above normal this year, but as we all know, normal in Minnesota is still very cold! Now is the time to start preparing by making sure that your heating systems are ready for the job.   


Furnaces require a maintenance check and a thorough cleaning by a licensed HVAC professional annually. It’s always a good idea to plan this early in the season before temperatures drop, so that there is plenty of time to address a problem, if needed. There’s nothing worse than losing heat in the middle of the night during the polar vortex! Furnaces have a lifespan of anywhere from 10 to 20 years, but to keep your furnace running at peak efficiency for as long as possible, an annual check-up is strongly recommended. 

A good practice is to replace your furnace filters when needed. Refer to your owners manual for information about how often to change them. The newer models, like Evolution by Bryant, have their own thermostats that will send an email when the filters are dirty and need to be replaced. Not only that but the thermostat does its own diagnostics and can alert you to any other problems with your system. This allows you to log in to your thermostat from anywhere to check the status—a handy feature while traveling. 


The quintessential portrait of a cozy winter home is centered around the warm glow of a fireplace. While wood burning fireplaces are a traditional image, in reality, their cons often outweigh the pros. Gone are the days of chopping wood and cleaning ashes. Other heating options are more energy efficient and practical. Gas fireplaces are cleaner and more convenient. Fireplaces are limited to providing heat only in one room, but new advances in venting systems for gas fireplaces allow homeowners not only to control the temperature output of their fireplace but to flip a switch to transfer the heat through the vents to another room. 


What if you own an older home with a wood burning fireplace? Nicole Haley from Haley Comfort Systems says that their project managers can help homeowners with every step of fitting a gas insert into existing wood burning fireplaces, from choosing the best system for your home to installation and possible redesign of the aesthetic of the fireplace and mantle. An efficient (and beautiful) fireplace can add thousands of dollars worth of value to your home, so an attractive retrofit is a worthwhile investment. 


Electric fireplaces are easy to install; there are freestanding models and some that hang on the wall. They provide instant atmosphere to a room but are more costly to operate than gas and provide considerably less heat. They are, in essence, good-looking space heaters but are very convenient for renters or for heating a small space for a short time. 


Almost all fireplaces can be an energy drain. But since wood-burning fireplaces have to be operated with the flue open, they end up letting much of the heated air from the house escape through the chimney. Gas fireplaces have a much smaller flue and are sealed up to be practically air tight, preventing significant heat loss. 

Along with heat loss from chimneys, don’t neglect other areas of the house where heat may be escaping. Fall is the time to inspect the weather seals on your exterior doors and windows and repair or replace any that are not tight. Insulation is also key to preventing heat loss. Keeping your house buttoned up will reduce your energy bills and keep your family cozy all winter long. 

Amanda Ruggeri was born and raised in Minnesota but still hasn’t adapted to the climate. You can find her wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace all winter long!