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Home Heating Systems and  Maintenance

Service on heating systems should be done by qualified personal


Basically there are three types of furnaces,

1) The hot air furnace 

2) The hot water boiler

3) The steam boiler.

On any of these heating systems, you will usually find gas or oil burners that produce the flames that make heat inside the furnace. Heating system come with any combination of gas, oil or electric burners or heater.

Each of these heating systems are maintained differently.

Always disconnect power let system cool down before work on heating systems.


                                                 First they’re the Hot Air Furnace.

Hot air furnaces can be identified by the metal ductwork connected to it.

All hot air furnaces have return air filters.

I‘ve notice all too often some homeowner and landlords do not change their air filters often enough. Return air filters should be changed regularly in the winter months.

The amount of times you change your filters, depends mostly on homes environment such as dust.

But if you want to play it safe, change or clean your filters once a month in winter months and every two week in very cold weather. Filter changing or maintenance will also depend on type of filter because some filter are more denser than others, so read your manufactures specification.          

The biggest problem I’ve notice about some homeowner’s hot air furnaces, are the missing cover that may be standing in the corner of the basement.

If these cover are not on, please put them back on. These cover your seal the unit and allow a better transfer of air.

Cleaning hot air furnace

Cleaning the combustion chamber and heat exchangers on many hot air furnaces can be difficult for the average home owner to tackle. However if you are not into taking furnaces apart simply pull the flue pipe off and reach in as far as possible with a vacuum.


                                               Next we have the Steam Boiler

Steam boilers are recognized by the sight glass on the front or side of the boiler.

The sight glass is there so one can see the water level.

Unlike hot water boiler that fills the entire system with water, steam boilers fill to a certain level so that a head of steam can be product at the top of the boiler and up into the pipes and radiators.

All steam boiler are equipped with some kind of low water cut off.

Some of these low water cut offs are mechanical and need to be flushed out (or blowed down as the trade calls it.)

Some low water cut offs are electronic and may only need annual boiler draining. Always check with your service contractor about your boiler maintenance requirements.

Mechanical low water cut offs should be flushed at lease once a month under like winter conditions and every two week when extremely cold. Most of the times you should cut off the power while doing this, but every now and then do this with the boiler running, this tests its low water cut off action. The furnace should shut down temporarily and start back up once the water comes back to level.





Combination cut off and sight glass

Combination cut off and sight glass



Mechanical cut off

Mcdonnell & Miller 67


Mcdonnell & Miller 67 low water cut off

Mechanical cut off

Safeguard low water cut off


Safeguard low water cut off






                                                                 Steam Radiators

When the steam is on its way up to the radiators, it will be blocked by air in the pipes and in the radiators. To move this air out of its way you have steam air vent valves at the far end of your radiator. This steam air vent will let the air out, but will not let out such steam. These air vents sometimes go bad. If certain radiators are not getting heat it may be a bad steam vent valve

You can test most angle radiator steam vents by turning them upside down and blowing in them. You should not be able to blow through it.

Some steam radiators have steam traps. Unlike steam vents steam trap traps the steam in the radiator then releases the steam as condensate to the return side.

Remember to turn off the power before performing any work on your furnace. You can buy these steam radiator air vents at your local plumbing or heating supplier.


Cleaning steam boilers

Steam boilers are sometimes cleaned from the top by simply removing the top cover. After lifting the top cover you may notice grate that lead to the combustion chamber walls.

Some boilers have a side panel with bolts you remove and the boiler is cleaned from the side.

With other boilers that have no visible access the chamber has to be open and a brush inserted up into the chamber. Always pull the flue pipe off to check and for access.







steam radiator air vent

steam radiator air vent

steam radiator air vents

steam radiator air vents

steam radiator steam trap

steam radiator steam trap

 Testing vents




                                                        Hot Water Furnace

Hot water furnace differ from steam in the fact that hot water heating system are filled with water though out the whole system, and heats the water to approximately 160 to180º.While steam heats above 212º and its system is feed by the force of the steam in the system, hot water furnace are recognizes by the circulator pump usually mounted on the side or front. Most of these pumps are sealed and don’t need any maintenance. But some of the older or larger pumps may have oil ports for seasonal lubrication. A few drops of 40 weight oil at the beginning and middle of the season is all you need to keep things running smoothly on the older circulator pump.


Cleaning Hot Water Furnace

Many hot water and steam boilers are clean from the top by simply removing the top cover. After lifting the top cover you may notice grate that lead to the combustion chamber wall.

Some boilers have a side panel with bolts you remove and the boiler is cleaned from the side.

With other boilers that have no visible access the chamber has to be open and a brush inserted up into the chamber.

After cleaning steam or hot water furnaces a vacuum will have to be inserted into the front burner chamber to suck out any debris that have falling into the chamber.

A port hole may allow enough access to the burners chamber, however, sometimes the oil line or gas burner has to be disconnected to access the chamber.

                                                         Hot Water Radiators

Hot water radiator from time to time may have to be bled of it air, especially if there has been some kind of repair or maintenance work done to the system. 

Most hot water radiators system have small air bleeding valves in the radiator circuit.

These valves may require a small square bit key or flat head screw driver to open these valves to let air out from time to time.

You can go to your local plumbing supplier and pick up a radiator bleeding key and bleed your radiator if you know your circulator pump and system is running, and you have little or no heat coming to the radiators.






Radiator vent key

Radiator vent key

Hot water boiler

Hot water boiler

Radiator vent

Radiator vent







Written by: Chet Thompson



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