Work now to prevent winter breakdowns, Grand Forks businesses suggest

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Like it or not, cooler – and downright cold – weather is here. Rather than waiting for temperatures to dip any more before checking out heating systems, now is the time to service them, area experts say.

Meanwhile, it’s also time to ready air conditioning units for a long winter’s rest.

It’s important to give outside air conditioning units a thorough cleaning before winter, said Tyler Shoberg, Bears Home Solutions/Ben Franklin Plumbing marketing manager. Residue, including tree seeds and grass clippings, can build up on the units and block air flow.

“You can spray it with a garden hose,” Shoberg said. “If you are uncomfortable doing it right, I’d call a professional to take off the panels.”

Meanwhile, professional service technicians will check the units’ refrigerant levels and other parts.


“After a full summer, it’s good to have somebody to check them,” Shoberg said. “Within the first heat snap at the end of May or early June, our phones blow up. By getting someone out there now and checking that stuff, you don’t have to worry about not getting that help.”

Homeowners also should check the filters inside their home, Shoberg said.

“A lot of folks forget about that,” he said.

Filters should be changed every three to six months, he said.

Besides changing filters, homeowners also should get their heating units checked by a professional who will clean fan blades, which may contain things like dog hair, Shoberg said. Service technicians also will check other furnace parts, such as flame sensors.

Having routine maintenance done each fall will help prevent the furnace from breaking down in the winter, Shoberg said.

“Preventative maintenance can stop the snowball effect,” he said. “We always say it’s like bringing your car in for an oil change.”

Furnaces should be checked by a professional once a year, recommends Paul Plutowski, C.L. Linfoot Co. service manager.


“Fall is a perfect time and we say ‘Try to do it before you need it,”’ Plutowski said. “A lot of people wait until they need it, and we get busy.”

During the winter, homeowners should check their furnace exhaust vents, Shoberg said.

“Know where your vents are,” Shoberg said, noting that the vents can get covered with snow drifts. Snow around and over the vents should be shoveled off, he said. Vents also can have length added to them, so they are higher and stick out above the snow.

Besides furnaces, some homeowners also have gas fireplaces, which also should be checked over before winter.

“Replace the batteries in the remote. Don’t even check them, replace them,” said Mike Anson, Sunrooms Plus Inc. service technician.

Next, homeowners should clean the glass screen on the inside and outside. The screen gets a film on it from which, if bad enough, obscures seeing the logs.

But homeowners need to use great care not to get the door gasket wet when they’re cleaning the glass, Anson cautioned. That’s because the gasket is chilled by the evaporating water, and when the gas fireplace is lit, the glass can explode.

“I had one gentleman do that and it sent glass exploding 15 feet into the next room. Luckily, he had left the room.”


If there’s a lot of build-up on the glass, homeowners also need to clean the pilot assembly, Anson said. The pilot assembly can be cleaned with a paper towel and clean water.

“Anytime I ever look at a fireplace, I clean the pilot. The gunk that builds up on them is a residue from burning gas. It works like an insulator so nothing works like it should.“

Homeowners also can vacuum their gas fireplace, being cautious to use a soft brush so they don’t scratch it or damage the logs.

“The logs are very fragile. Most are high-temperature fiberglass. If you pick them up wrong you can poke your fingers through them. They’re expensive if you have to replace them,” Anson said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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