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(NC) Sooner or later, every furnace dies. Ideally, you don't want to wait for the unfixable breakdown to happen in the dead of winter before shopping for a replacement. Begin your research before you've got an emergency and you'll have time to choose a furnace and service company wisely. Here are some factors to consider.
Age. If your furnace is over 15 years old, it's unwise to trust it for more than a few years longer; repair costs are also more expensive for older models. If your 10-year-old furnace needs repairs that cost half of the installed price of a new furnace, then a replacement can make more sense. But if your 20-year-old furnace needs work, then even a small repair bill can mean it's time to replace the old clunker.
Heat exchanger. This is the heart of the furnace and it's impractical to repair it. Furnace replacement is often the only option if the heat exchanger is at the end of its useful life.
Efficiency. A new high-efficiency furnace can more than pay for itself over time. Moving from a furnace with an overall efficiency of 75 percent to a new furnace that delivers 95 percent efficiency saves you more than $20 per month for every $100 a month you spend on fuel.
Fuel type. If you've got natural gas available where you live but your furnace uses something else, then consider this when you switch to a new furnace. Natural gas is currently much less expensive than any other home heating fuel, and this is unlikely to change in the future.
Renovation plans. If you're thinking of finishing your basement in the near future, this is another good reason to consider replacing an older furnace. It's a lot easier to get the old furnace out and a new one in before your basement is finished, with less risk to newly finished floors and walls. New furnaces can also be substantially smaller than old ones. Finishing your basement after furnace replacement lets you make full use of any extra space freed up.
Make sure that the heating contractor you hire is properly licensed and provides a complete written contract for the work to be done. The Canadian Home Builder's Association offers free, unbiased information on how to hire a contractor the smart and safe way. Find more information at www.getitinwriting.ca.
Smoke alarms are an important defense against injury or death in house fires. Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association show that nearly two-thirds of home fire fatalities occur in homes with non-working or missing smoke detectors. Most building codes now require smoke detectors in all residential structures, which has resulted in a steep drop in fire- and smoke-related deaths. Homeowners should check with their local public safety office or fire department for specific information on these requirements.
As in real estate, location is key! Smoke alarms should be in installed every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on each level of the home.
Alarms should be placed high on a wall or on the ceiling. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement. High, peaked ceilings have dead air space at the top; in these instances smoke alarms should be placed no closer than 3 feet from the highest point.
For areas close to the kitchen, use a detector with a “hush button” that can be used to silence nuisance alarms triggered by cooking smoke or steam. Alternatively, consider installing a photoelectric alarm near the kitchen, which will not be triggered by cooking. No matter which type is used, never remove the unit’s battery to stop or prevent nuisance alarms.
There are two primary types of smoke alarm technology: ionization and photoelectric. According to the National Fire Protection Association, ionization alarms are more responsive to flames, while photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoldering fires. For the most comprehensive protection, both types or a combination unit should be installed.
Test each alarm monthly. It’s helpful to put a reminder in the calendar to do this on the first or last day of the month, for example. The units have a test button that will sound the alarm for a moment or two when pressed. Any alarm that fails to sound should have the battery replaced. If the test button fails with a new battery, replace the entire detector immediately. Monthly testing is also an ideal time to dust off the unit so that it continues to work properly.
Replace the batteries at least once a year. A common rule of thumb is to do this when changing to or from Daylight Saving Time in fall or spring. Remember, a non-working alarm is no better than no alarm at all. Some alarms now come with 10-year lithium batteries that eliminate the need for new batteries, but the unit itself must be replaced after its stated lifespan.
If the alarms are hard-wired to the home’s electrical system, make sure they are interconnected for maximum effectiveness – meaning that if one alarm is triggered, all of the others will sound as well. Any hard-wired alarms, interconnected or not, should be installed by a licensed electrician for safety and proper operation.
The newest type of interconnected alarms are wireless. This technology allows detectors to communicate with one another and, like their hard-wired cousins, will sound all of the units at the same time even if just one is triggered initially.