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Central Heating: Use & Care

Use & Care

Care for Your Comfort

If you own a furnace or boiler, you can save energy by improving the efficiency of your system through regular maintenance and minor modifications. There are a number of things you can do to take care of your furnace or boiler.1

Seal Your Ducts

Leaky ducts are notorious for decreasing the efficiency of warm-air furnaces, typically up to 30%.2 Seal duct joints and seams with mastic (not duct tape), and use fiberglass insulation to insulate hot air ducts that pass through unheated spaces.

Piping Hot: Boiler Insulation

Insulate your boiler’s supply and return pipes. Hot water and steam pipes passing through unheated areas should be properly wrapped with insulation. For steam pipes with wall thicknesses of 3 inches or more, you should use high temperature-rated pipe insulation, like fiberglass.3 Foam insulation with a thickness of 1/2 inch is suitable for hot water pipes.4

Pilot the Pilot Light

If you have an older model and can safely turn the pilot on and off yourself, consider turning it off in the warmer seasons and save more money on your energy bill.

Maintain Your Filters

Clean or change your furnace’s air filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Furnaces have to work harder when dust blocks the airflow, driving up energy consumption and bills. For less than $10, you can buy a reusable filter and vacuum it monthly to keep it working efficiently for the filter’s 1 to 2 year lifespan.5 Disposable filters are also available at hardware stores.

Cash in the Registers

Furnace warm-air registers should be cleaned regularly and not obstructed by drapes or furniture.

Warm Reflections

Radiators that are placed against exterior walls can lose their heating energy to the outside.6  Installing a reflector behind your boiler’s radiator will reflect heat into the room. It is important to choose a reflector which is the same size as your radiator, or slightly larger. You can make reflectors from foil covered cardboard, available at many building supply stores.

Complete, Regular Servicing

Unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer, gas furnaces and boilers should be tuned every 2 years, while oil units should be tuned annually. Make sure the technician you hire tests vents for leaks as leaky vents can let combustion gases into the home. Ask your technician to explain and quantify Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) improvements, if possible. AFUE is used to measure boiler and furnace efficiency as it measures the amount of heat delivered to your house compared to the amount of fuel supplied to the furnace.

Flip the Flue

Install a vent damper in the flue of your furnace or small boiler. By closing the vent during the “off” cycle, the damper prevents heat from being drawn into the flue and lost outside. 

Separate Zones

If you have a large home, consider zone-control radiators. With the help of a qualified contractor your boiler distribution system can be retrofitted to provide zone control for different areas of your house. Replace old, large, cast iron radiators with space-conserving baseboard radiators, wall-hung radiators, or fan coils.

Programmable Thermostat

Install a programmable thermostat. They cost of a programmable thermostat ranges from $30 to $100.7 These thermostats allow you to pre-set a heating schedule, while maintaining comfortable temperatures (remember to look for the ENERGY STAR® label). You can turn the heat down during sleep hours and when your home or rooms are unoccupied. According to Rocky Mountain Institute, you may be able to save $80 - $100 per year by turning your thermostat down from 70°F to 65°F at night and back up to 75°F during the day.8 For example, turning it down to 66°F for 8 hours a day can save up to 10% of your home heating costs.

Buyer’s Guide

Before you shop for efficiency upgrades, visit the Central Heating Buyer’s Guide for easy facts and figures that can help you choose the best equipment and materials for your home, needs and budget.


If you’re thinking about making efficiency improvements, the Central Heating Overview is a great place to get acquainted with the basics and your options, before you buy or install a heating system in your home. Return to Heating and Cooling.

1 Yardi, Ramola, Wang, K., Smith, A. (2004). Home Energy Briefs: #4 Space Heating. Snowmass: Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved September 28, 2012, from (p. 2). 
2Ibid (p. 3). 
5Yardi, Ramola, Wang, K., Smith, A. (2004). Home Energy Briefs: #4 Space Heating. Snowmass: Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved September 28, 2012, from (p. 2). 
6Ibid (p. 3). 
7Yardi, Ramola, Wang, K., Smith, A. (2004). Home Energy Briefs: #4 Space Heating. Snowmass: Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved September 28, 2012, from (p. 3). 

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