Keep your furnace clean for top efficiency

There is no avoiding winter. If you live in the Chicago area, you need to be ready for it. Part of that readiness involves making sure your furnace is tuned up and ready so that it doesn't fail on a freezing cold night. No one wants to come home to or wake up in a frigid home.

Eric Noack, service manager for ABC Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Electric, has some tips to keep your system functioning well during the cold months.

"First, it is really important you get your furnace inspected and tuned up regularly by a qualified HVAC professional. A furnace is a mechanical device and usually, the ones that we are called out to fix on an emergency basis are the ones that have not been cleaned and maintained. Between 80 (percent) and 90 percent of breakdowns are caused by dirt," Noack said.

Furnaces run year-round, even when the air conditioning is on. There is always air flowing through the furnace and ducts, even when there is no heat being produced. So you have to keep the unit clean and have the entire heating/cooling system checked every six months.

"The typical life expectancy of a furnace is 16 to 20 years. This will vary depending on the quality of the equipment and even more on the quality of the maintenance and service performed on the unit," Noack said.

Next, he said, you need to change your furnace filters at regular intervals in order to enhance the unit's dependability.

"The type of filter used is critical as well," Noack said. "Some homeowners have damaged their equipment by using an expensive, 'high efficiency,' one-inch-thick filter. It's better to use a less expensive filter changed more frequently. Writing the date on the side of the filter when installing can help to stay on a proper schedule."

If you have air quality concerns, he added, an HVAC professional should evaluate your system and home for possible solutions to the specific needs of your family.

Third, in order to save money on heating, you probably want to set your thermostat back by seven to 10 degrees when no one is home. The newest programmable thermostats will calculate what the furnace needs to do to get your house back to a comfortable temperature by the time you arrive home from work. Older ones will simply turn back on at the time you dictate.

Most homeowners feel comfortable with an interior temperature of between 70 and 72 degrees, as long as they have a humidifier on their furnace. Humidifiers make the heated air feel warmer. For those without a humidifier, a homeowner generally needs to keep the temperature between 75 and 78 degrees to feel comfortable in their homes.

If the repairman says those dreaded words: "You need a new furnace," Noack said that it might be smart to consider purchasing a high-efficiency furnace.

"We live in a climate that has a long heating season. As a result, we spend many more 'comfort dollars' during the heating season. So, high-efficiency furnaces are a good investment for northern Illinois homeowners," he said. "Another factor to consider is your family's carbon footprint. By installing a high-efficiency furnace in your home, you get the peace of mind that comes from reducing the emissions you contribute to the environment from your HVAC system."

Incidentally, fall is the time of year when manufacturers offer their biggest discounts, so it wouldn't hurt to ask what "deals" are currently available.

ABC Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Electric has been in business since 1948. It started in the Hyde Park area of Chicago as a company doing public sewer work. Don Schroll purchased the one-truck sewer operation in 1968. In 1972 he added the plumbing division and over the years he has continually added to the growing operation - first HVAC and then electrical, and also moved it to its current location in Buffalo Grove.

Schroll's sons, Gordon and Bryan, joined the firm in 1975 and his daughter, Cindy Bruggenwirth, came onboard in 1980.

Today, Gordon Schroll is the president and CEO of ABC while Bryan Schroll runs the ABC Southwest Plumbing and Air Conditioning operation in Englewood, Florida. Grandsons Matt, Erik and Peter run the company's three divisions - plumbing (Matt), heating, ventilation, air conditioning (Erik) and electrical (Peter). Granddaughters Meghan Evans and Beth Richards are involved with office administration.

Three generations of the family is actively involved since Don still visits the office on a regular basis, according to Mike Then, marketing manager.

"ABC services residential properties in a 30-mile radius of Buffalo Grove, ranging from the Wisconsin border to Lake Michigan, to Elgin and as far south as Bolingbrook. We have three separate divisions so that our highly skilled technicians can keep their focus and stay up with training in their specialty. It is too much to expect one person to be skilled in furnace repair and plumbing and electrical. So we have multiple technicians to help our customers," Then said.

"Our focus is on customer service and attention to detail," he added. "Every decision is made based on how it will impact our customers. We have live people who answer our phones 24/7. Our technicians are also available 24/7. All of our technicians are background checked and drug tested. They arrive at customers' homes in uniform and in a lettered and marked truck so there is no question that they represent us. And we email a photo and profile of the technician to the customer before he arrives."

In addition, ABC trucks are always stocked with all the equipment and tools the technician should need to handle your problem without returning to headquarters and wasting time.

Customers also receive a written price before work begins because the company charges by the job, not by the hour.

If the worst happens and, for instance, an entire system needs to be replaced, the technician calls in one of the firm's comfort consultants who will work with the client to do load calculations and help them choose a replacement item. All work can usually be completed within 24 to 48 hours and ABC will bring in space heaters or whatever is needed to keep the family comfortable while they are waiting for the installation to be complete.

"We are involved in fields in which homeowners often call us during a crisis or when they are under stress. We work to remove the worry and make them experience as little discomfort as possible," Then said.

ABC can be reached at (888) 903-4070 or

Furnaces run year-round, even when the air conditioning is on. Air is always flowing through the furnace and ducts. Courtesy of ABC Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Electric
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