Now that we’re at the beginning of a brand new season, it’s time to plan ahead for weather conditions that will become more extreme. This awareness was drilled into me in school by the industrial arts teacher and at home by dad.
The average householder or apartment dweller in the Northern Hemisphere should check two major mechanical things that help us survive. They are the heating system for our abode and our mode of transportation. It will be too late and more expensive if malfunctions or breakdowns happen in the middle of a cold snap, so now is the ideal time to take care of these two essential items.
Obviously the heating system will be put through its paces in the next few months. We don’t want to have any unpleasant surprises with this. In order to avoid a breakdown or a building fire, furnaces and heating units should be checked ahead of the heating season. Most homes are equipped with some sort of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and cooling) system. (It is the standard gas powered HVAC system I refer to. If you have a different type of system, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for system checks.)
Even if you are not mechanically inclined you can still do a few things that will help keep you safe and save money.
First of all visually look at the furnace inside and out. There should absolutely not be any combustion residue or soot on or around it. Notch up the thermostat so the burner fires up so you can inspect the flames. They should be a steady blue color. If they show yellow or orange and/or flicker, this is not good, so a professional HVAC technician needs to fix the situation.
Turn down the thermostat and allow the furnace to cool, then switch off the furnace’s circuit breaker for safety. Remove the service panel of the furnace. Use the long nozzle of your vacuum cleaner to get rid of accumulated dust and lint. Use the brush attachment to clean the fan blades. If cleaning the furnace is something you don’t want to do yourself or cannot do, have the HVAC tech do this, too.
While the service panel is off, check the blower motor and fan belt(s). Again, if this is intimidating, have the service person perform this.
Replace the service panel, check the filter and replace a dirty one, then switch on the furnace’s circuit breaker. The heating system should now be ready for the cold weather season.
Unless you ride public transit or have someone else drive you around, your personal vehicle is a lifeline in the winter. You don’t want the vehicle to fail when you need it most.
First, and most easily, do a walk-around to check the tires. Are they properly inflated? Check for signs of wear and weathering. If the tread is down to the wear indicators and/or there are signs of sidewall weathering, have those tires replaced. This safety check should also be done regularly throughout the year, not just in autumn.
Next, open the hood and be sure it is securely propped up. If you know how to change the engine oil and your vehicle manufacturer recommends a winter weight oil, change to that now. While you’re thinking about fluids, visually check to make sure the cooling system and antifreeze are in good order. Be sure the various reservoirs for brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission lubricant, and windshield washer fluid are at the proper levels.
Extreme cold will stress the flexible parts under the hood, so examine hoses and the drive belts for the coolant pump, alternator, and accessories to make sure they are not brittle or cracked. Make sure they have the recommended tension, too.
Consult the manufacturer’s recommended replacement schedule for filter changes. Have a trusted mechanic change the fuel filter if it is time. Look at the air filter and make sure it is not blocked or clogged. Replace it if needed. Have your mechanic do this if you don’t know how.
Finally, inspect the battery. Make sure there is no corrosion nor leaks. If you own electrical testing equipment, check the voltage and amperage to make sure the battery will provide power for cold start ups. Also look over the spark plug wires and other wiring. If you are unsure, this is the time to have your trusted mechanic check the battery and electrical system. Electrical failure will render your vehicle useless, so check
the system now, and periodically during the winter.
When you take the time to tune up your furnace and your vehicle (or have the work done by trusted technicians) you can enjoy greater peace of mind and safety during the upcoming cold weather season.