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Home furnaces struggle to keep up with frigid temperatures

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Three robins sit in a bush outside a window at Jerry Clark's home on Bluff Acres Drive in Greenwood on Monday morning, when the temperature was 14 degrees below zero.
Three robins sit in a bush outside a window at Jerry Clark's home on Bluff Acres Drive in Greenwood on Monday morning, when the temperature was 14 degrees below zero.

Don’t be surprised if your furnace runs nonstop and the temperature inside your home holds steady or even drops.

The thermometer showed minus 10 degrees Monday, with wind chills dipping as low as 40 degrees below zero. Those temperatures are much colder than the average home furnace is designed to handle, local heating and cooling company owners said.

Royal Heating and Cooling in Greenwood already has had an increase in service calls from people wanting a technician to tune up their furnace to prepare for the cold weather, owner Bobby Price said. Johnson Heating, Cooling and Plumbing also had a 30 percent increase in service calls on Monday.

Technicians were only going out on service calls Monday to homes that had no heat because a furnace stopped working, Johnson Heating, Cooling and Plumbing owner Ron Griesemer said.

But homeowners can take steps to keep their systems running by putting in new air filters and making sure attics, windows and doors are properly insulated to keep heat from escaping and preventing frigid air from blowing in.

When homes are built, furnaces typically are installed based on the average winter weather in the region, Price said.

In extreme cold, the temperature inside a home can drop even though the furnace runs constantly, Price said.

“These things are going to run nonstop. If you set it at 70 degrees they’re going to lose ground. At the height of the low temperature, if you’ve got it set at 70 don’t be surprised if you’re running at 65,” Price said.

Price typically goes on four or five service calls per day, but was going on about seven per day at the end of last week because residents wanted to make sure their furnaces were ready for the cold weather, he said.

Homeowners can do some minor maintenance themselves, including replacing their air filter. A filter that is even slightly dirty can cause a furnace to overheat and safety mechanisms will cause it to shut off, said Bill Miller, owner of Bill Miller Heating and Cooling in Franklin.

Technicians also reported that electrical surges due to power outages were knocking out furnaces in people’s homes, Griesemer said.

Residents also can place a towel on the floor around doors to help prevent drafts, and any exterior heat vents should be kept clear of snow, Price said.

Miller also suggests setting a temperature on the thermostat and then leaving it, which will allow the furnace to run consistently, he said.

“It’s much easier on that furnace to turn that temperature up to 68 or 70 and leave it there,” Miller said.

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