5 Things To Do Before Turning On The Furnace This Winter

Natural gas furnaces are commonplace here in the Greater Toronto Area. With proper care and maintenance, these heating systems are clean, efficient, and perfectly safe. Regardless, there are steps you should take now to ensure your family is safe and warm when the temperature falls.

Here are 5 things we recommend you do before turning on the furnace this winter.

Furnace Safety Checklist

Planning to fire up the furnace soon? Be sure to take these steps before you do:

  1. Replace or clean the furnace filter.
  2. Clean and tidy the area around the furnace.
  3. Open the registers and move any obstructions.
  4. Test your carbon monoxide detector.
  5. Set the thermostat.

We’ll expand on each of these points below.

We also recommend having your gas furnace serviced annually. Along with ensuring safety and efficiency, preventative furnace maintenance is key to preventing costly furnace repairs.

1. Replace or Clean the Furnace Filter

When the furnace draws air from your home, it also pulls in the tiny particles that populate the air: specks of dust, pet dander, pollen, and other airborne allergens. That’s why gas furnaces are equipped with a mechanical air filter. The filter traps particles and takes them out of circulation.

It doesn’t take long for the filter to fill up with dirt and debris; one look at this photo of a furnace filter after three months will tell you. If the filter is not replaced after three months (or cleaned, in the case of an aluminium or plastic mesh) it begins to cut the air flow and reduce the furnace’s efficiency.

Start fresh with a clean filter before turning on the furnace this winter.

2. Clean and Tidy the Area Around the Furnace

It happens that furnaces tend to be installed in parts of our homes that are prone to accumulate clutter.

It’s not unusual for our technicians to find the furnace crowded by boxes, suitcases and laundry bins while on a call for furnace repair in Toronto and the GTA. All that clutter makes it harder to perform necessary maintenance.

In many cases, clutter is also a safety issue. Objects hanging near the furnace or leaning against it can reduce airflow. Cleaning products stored nearby can emit fumes that get drawn in and circulated throughout the home. Combustibles like paint or varnish are a serious fire hazard.

Before you turn on the furnace, make sure it has enough breathing room. Check the manual or ask your service technician how much clearance the system requires.

3. Open the Registers and Remove Obstructions

Take a walk through each room in your house to ensure the vents are open and nothing is blocking the flow of air. Common culprits for airflow obstructions include curtains, furniture, rugs, and clothing (especially if your kids are prone to miss the laundry hamper).

Simple as it is, this step is important in ensuring your system can distribute heat evenly and operate efficiently.

4. Test Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless by-product of gas-fired appliances like furnaces and water heaters. A properly-installed and well-maintained furnace produces minimal CO and vents it safely outside the home.

Although the risk is small, it’s vital to ensure your carbon monoxide detectors are ready to warn you in the event of a leak. Some fire officials also recommend using a backup plug-in unit in addition to the ones permanently installed in your home.

If you’re not sure how to test your carbon monoxide alarms, or are unsure where to find them, contact your local Fire Department.

5. Set the Thermostat

Heating accounts for a whopping 62% of the average Canadian’s energy costs. One of the simplest and most powerful ways to reduce that cost is to turn down the heat when you don’t need it.

Most homes now have a programmable thermostat that can adjust the temperature automatically at set intervals; many now have a smart Wi-Fi thermostat that enables even greater control. In either case, lowering the temperature a few degrees for just a few hours a day can cut your energy use by 8% or more.

Worried about frozen water pipes? Keep the indoor temperature above 13°C.

Have You Had Your Furnace Serviced?

Some furnace problems are harder to spot than others. A bit of preventative maintenance can go a long way in preventing those minor issues from becoming a major headache down the road. That’s why we recommend having your furnace serviced annually.

Furnace breakdowns are not only inconvenient; if you don’t have an annual service plan, they can be expensive as well. Major repairs are the last thing you need on mind in the busy holiday season.

A neglected furnace can also put your family at considerable risk. Poorly-maintained piping and wear-and-tear increases the risk of fire and carbon monoxide leaks.

AtlasCare is always there for furnace service and maintenance throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Call us or leave us a message to inquire about having your furnace serviced today. We’ll get in touch as soon as we can.

8 Things to Do In Ontario This Fall

Sometimes, it feels like fall comes and goes in the blink of an eye. By the time you’ve settled into the back-to-school routine, Thanksgiving is already here, with Halloween just ahead and holiday shopping on the horizon. But there’s still time to do your fall maintenance tasks, prepare your home for winter, and enjoy the gifts this season has to offer.


Don’t forget to add these to your fall to-do list.

1. Clean Up the Yard

A little effort now will save you lots of work come springtime. Layer up and head outside to take care of fall yard maintenance before it gets chilly and damp.

    • Clear out fallen leaves and sticks from the rain gutters so water can drain from your roof properly come winter. This step can save you from an expensive roof repair bill following a winter storm.
    • Have dead or weakened limbs removed from trees near your house to prevent them from snapping under the weight of snow and
    • Sweep up the garden bed and compost any annuals that are on their way out.
    • Clean up the area in and around your air conditioner when you close the unit for winter.

2. Have Your Ducts Cleaned

When you fire up the furnace for the first time this year, it can stir up dust and other particles that were sitting in your air ducts all summer, which can trigger allergy symptoms and make your home feel staler.

While not necessary every year, we do recommend having your air ducts cleaned every few years to improve indoor air quality and ensure your furnace operates efficiently.

3. Visit a Fall Fair

It’s heartening to know that kids today are as enthralled as we were by sounds, sights, and bright lights of the fair midway. Visiting a fall fair is a great experience for children who don’t often get a taste of the countryside. Even if you can’t catch a fall fair in October, there’s still a chance to see the amazing Royal Winter Fair at the beginning of November.

4. Get Your Furnace Ready

The forecast calls for a mild winter, but even the gentlest winters in Ontario are still wet, slushy, and cold. It’s always better to book a furnace inspection in the fall rather than to discover a problem after the temperature drops. We use a 25-point furnace inspection checklist to ensure that every piece of the system is working as it should.

5. Go to the Farmer’s Market

In many places, the month of October is your last chance to indulge in freshly-picked produce and freshly-baked goods at the farmer’s market. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by thousands of small, family-owned farms in the Greater Toronto Area, and this is a great way to support what they do. Now’s the time to stock up for the holidays – cranberries and apple pie are both in season!

6. Book a Fireplace Inspection

Looking forward to switching on the gas fireplace this winter? Add a fireplace inspection to your fall schedule. Like the rest of your heating and cooling system, gas fireplaces should be serviced annually to ensure they run as safely as efficiently as possible. A service technician can also clean the fireplace to make it look good as new for the holidays.

7. Take a Winery Tour

If you’ve never taken a trip to Ontario’s wine country, fall is the perfect season to do it. It’s something everyone living in Southern Ontario should do at least once. Prince Edward County and the Niagara Region have some of the finest wineries in Canada, and there are plenty of tours to choose from.

8. Check Your Fire Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Alarm

This is something everyone should do at the onset of each new season, but it’s especially important in the winter. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases in the winter from the use of gas-fired heating systems. Test your alarm and replace it according to the manufacturer’s instructions (the usual lifetime of a carbon monoxide detector is five to seven years.)

10 No-Nonsense Ways to Reduce Heating Costs in Ontario

Another Thanksgiving Day is now behind us and that means another Ontario winter is on the horizon. It’s time to start thinking about how we will keep our homes warm for the winter without busting our budget. Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to effectively accomplish that goal.

  1. Turn Your Thermostat Down

You may have flashbacks from growing up about a parent obsessing over who can touch the thermostat, but the fact is that setting your thermostat to a lower temperature saves energy.

Bundle up a bit more or use an extra blanket. Heating your home to a lower temperature is one of the top ways to save energy.

  1. Use a Smart or Programmable Thermostat

If you have not yet upgraded to a smart or programmable thermostat, now is the time to do so. Both of these options make environmental control of your home a snap, allowing for precise control of temperature at any time of the day.

With a smart thermostat, you don’t even have to be present. Simply make adjustments using your computer or smart phone.

  1. Switch from Electric to Gas

An electrically heated house (baseboard heaters) tends to cost more than gas furnaces for the same amount of heating. Talk to your local natural gas supplier about converting your house over to that system. The upfront cost of that investment might seem a bit intimidating, but when you do the math, it will become clear just how much money you can save and how quickly that new furnace will pay itself off.

  1. Replace/Fix Damaged Seams

Drafts can come from all over your home, so inspect the exterior from top to bottom. You should address what needs to be replaced (e.g. leaky or broken windows, damaged vents), and seal up any holes or cracks with insulating sealants. Be thorough: if cold air can find a way in, it is going to cost you money.

  1. Seal Your Windows

Once you have finished your inspection of the outside, take a close look at your windows. Even if you have sealed up the cracks, it is sometimes still possible for air to get in. You can reduce that leakage to almost nothing by sealing up the windows with plastic film.

  1. Keep Doors and Windows Closed

Coming off of a nice summer and an especially warm fall, it is important that your family quickly get out of the habit of leaving the windows and doors open. Also, make sure that there is no clutter at entry points that can block a tight seal. Note that locked windows seal tighter, so make sure that all the ones that can open are properly secured.

  1. Adjust Door Thresholds

Another part of your draft eradication project is to make sure that no air is leaking in under the doors. Even if you can’t feel a draft, turn off the lights in the room, lie on your side, and see whether any daylight is visible under the door; if there is light, you’ve got a leak.

You can easily fix this by checking the door thresholds. Some are adaptable; if yours are, simply adjust the screws and raise them up until you can’t see any light coming through.

  1. Close Vents and Doors to Unused Rooms

We use some rooms in a home more often than others. There is no reason to heat those other rooms as much as high traffic areas, such as the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms. Keep vents and doors closed to seal in what little heat those other areas require.

  1. Use the Sun

The sun is a natural heat source that is a home comfort nemesis during the summer, but can be a free ally when the year is coldest. Simply keep your blinds open during the day and closed at night.

  1. Use Portable Heaters

If there are areas in your home that you only use on occasion and for limited amounts of time, portable heaters can be a cost-effective choice as they only heat the room you’re in. Keep the heat off in these rooms the rest of the time.

Water Heater Problems? 4 Early Warning Signs to Watch For

Has your water heater done something odd lately? This appliance is usually the last thing on a homeowner’s mind, but strange sounds, not enough hot water and mysterious leaks are hard to ignore. These are among the warning signs you should watch for to prevent bigger water heater problems in the future.

Read on to learn about water heater sounds, leaks, pilot light issues, and circuit breaker problems.

Warning Signs of Water Heater Problems

When our team answers calls for water heater repair in the Greater Toronto Area, we often find that the homeowner noticed at least one red flag beforehand. These are some of the most common warning signs of water heater problems:

  • Loud knocking/popping/banging sounds, which indicates a layer of sediment at the bottom of the tank.
  • Pilot light that won’t stay lit, usually because of a defective thermostat, thermocouple, or pilot tube.
  • Leaks from the top of the tank (a minor issue) or bottom of the tank (much more serious)
  • Circuit breaker tripping when the water heater is in use due to electrical issues.
  • Not enough hot water for a shower

Most of these issues are minor if dealt with early on. However, they can lead to more serious water heater problems if not addressed.

We’ll look at each of these issues in more detail below.

1. Water Heater Making a Knocking, Banging, Popping Noise

It can be alarming to hear sudden pops and bangs coming from inside the water tank. Why would a water heater make knocking noises when there isn’t there anything but water in there?

Fortunately, the cause of the popping noise is not something serious. The sound you hear is most likely the sound of steam bubbles bursting through a layer of mineral scale that rests on the bottom of the tank.

Water heater tanks accumulate a layer of mineral sediment on the inside over time. The harder the water, the more minerals deposit on the sides and bottom of the tank. Since the water in our region is considered moderately hard (between 6 and 7 grains per gallon) water heaters in Toronto are prone to this issue.

When the bottom heating element heats up, the water between the element and sediment boils and escapes with a popping sound.

Why is this a bad sign? Because that amount of sediment is going to make your water heater less efficient. With a layer of gunk sitting obstructing the heating element, the heater has to consume more energy to maintain the desired water temperature.

2. Water Heater Pilot Light Won’t Stay Lit

Most gas-powered water heaters use a pilot light to ignite the heating element. Without it, the heat won’t kick in when it’s in demand.

What does it mean if a water heater pilot light stays lit? There are several potential causes. When a pilot light keeps going out, it may indicate a problem with one or more of the following components:

  • Control thermostat
    Part of the gas valve assembly, this component monitors temperature and lets you adjust the temperature using a dial.
  • Thermocouple
    The thermocouple uses an electrical current to gauge whether the pilot light is on. When defective, dirty or damaged, it can restrict the supply of gas to the pilot assembly.
  • Pilot Tube
    The tube that supplies gas to the water heater can be obstructed by dirt and grime. Anything that prevents a clear path can cause the pilot light to go out frequently.

3. Water Heater Leaking from the Top

When a water heater leaks from the bottom, it’s an emergency that necessitates shutting down the appliance and calling for water heater repair. Leaks from the top are usually less urgent.

Most of the time, a water heater leaking from the top simply needs to have its fittings tightened in the areas where water enters or leaves the tank: the cold water inlet, temperature and pressure release valve (TPR or TP valve), or anode rod.

However, these small leaks can point to bigger problems. A damaged TP valve, for example, is an urgent problem that should be addresses immediately. In rare cases, a water heater leaking from the top could have a crack or hole, which indicates extensive corrosion.

If you cannot easily identify the source of the leak, it’s worth having the water heater inspected by a professional to head off more serious issues.

4. Water Heater Tripping Circuit Breaker (Electric Tank)

Compared to the other water heater problems on this list, a tripped circuit seems minor. But when it happens over and over again, it’s much more than a simple annoyance.

If a water heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker, it may have to do with a malfunctioning heating element. The casing of the element can split and expose its electrical components to the water, causing a short circuit.

Wiring issues with the water heater thermostat can also trip the circuit.

In either case, the appliance should be assessed by a professional.

5. Not Enough Hot Water

If you notice the hot water isn’t as hot as it used to be this usually requires a service call. There are a few issues that could cause this but as a home owner make sure the thermostat is set properly on the knob near the gas valve. On newer hot water tanks there is an electronic controller that indicates a normal position.

Water Heater Repair in the Greater Toronto Area

Need water heater repair in Toronto or the GTA? Since it’s between the busy seasons for air conditioner and furnace inspection, fall is a great time to have your water heater inspected or repaired.

Call us or request a free quote for water heater repair at any time.

Water Heater Maintenance: 3 Things You Should Do With Your Water Heater At Least Once a Year

When it comes to water heaters, a few minutes of maintenance goes a long way. Most water heater problems are preventable with proper care. Unfortunately, many people go years without having their water heater serviced.

Performing these three basic maintenance tasks today will reduce the risk of costly water heater repairs down the road:

  1. Test the pressure release valve
  2. Flush the tank
  3. Inspect the anode rod

Below, we’ll explain why these aspects of water heater maintenance are so important.

1. Test the Pressure Release Valve

All water heaters have an essential safety device called a temperature and pressure release valve (often called a TPR valve or T&P valve). This valve is designed to gauge pressure inside of the water heater tank and open automatically to release pressure when necessary.

Without a working temperature and pressure release valve, there is a risk that the tank can over-pressurize due to excess heat — and potentially explode. While unlikely, the risk is one no homeowner should take.

Most water heater maintenance is about ensuring the efficiency and longevity of the unit. Testing the temperature and pressure release valve, however, is a vital safety issue.

2. Flush the Tank

Over time, naturally-occurring calcium will deposit on the interior sides of the water tank. Much of this sediment settles at the bottom of the tank. Although this doesn’t affect the water quality, it can interfere with the water heater’s performance, since it creates a barrier between the water and the heating element at the bottom of the tank.

The trouble with sediment is that it accumulates slowly. Most homeowners won’t notice a change to their water, and it’s only gradually that the water heater will become less efficient. By the time someone points out the issue, it may be difficult to restore the appliance to peak condition.

To prevent sediment build-up, homeowners should have the water heater tank flushed at least once a year. Flushing the tank involves shutting power to the water heater, closing the cold-water inlet, and opening the pressure and drain valves to allow water to drain until it runs clear. It’s a dirty job, and one that requires caution, since the water inside the tank is extremely hot.

Some homeowners do flush the tank themselves, and there are videos that demonstrate the process online. For safety reasons, we recommend calling an HVAC technician with experience in water heater repair and maintenance.

3. Inspect the Anode Rod

This maintenance issue should be done by a professional. Inside every tank-style water heater is a replaceable rod called an anode. The rod is made of a reactive metal like zinc or aluminium. So long as the anode is in place, the water’s electrolytes will corrode the rod instead of the walls of the tank.

But that anode doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it disintegrates, leaving the tank prone to corrosion.

Proper water heater maintenance includes removing the anode to ensure it is still intact. If the rod is less than half an inch in diameter, it’s time to replace it.

Bonus: Tidy Up Around the Tank

In most homes, the water heater is installed in one of two places: a laundry room or basement utility room. Both locations are prone to fill up with boxes and other clutter. But unless the owner’s manual states otherwise, it’s best to maintain at least 2 feet of clearance around the water heater tank.

If you have to clear away clutter before you can perform maintenance, don’t put those objects back where you found them. Leave plenty of space around the tank to make future maintenance a breeze!