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As mercury drops, experts tout heating system tuneups

Ed Schoen does a tune up on a

Ed Schoen does a tune up on a North Merrick home's oil burner. (Sept. 30, 2005) Photo Credit: File / Ken Spencer

The obvious advantage in tuning up a residential heating system is savings. Furnaces and boilers that purr efficiently on frosty cold days use less fuel and save money in the long run, experts say.

But those same experts also say a seasonal tuneup, which costs $125 to $150, can reduce fuel consumption by almost 10 percent and provides the homeowner with a sense of safety and reliability.

"I like to call a tuneup a pre-emptive strike," Ed Schoen, owner of Prestige Heating Service in Massapequa, said of the service. "We're also looking for problems that might arise."

According to the Department of Energy, the average American will spend $960 on heat this winter, so a fine-tuned system could reduce that by nearly $100.

On Long Island, most oil- and gas-heat contractors and technicians are about three weeks into the tuneup season. Manufacturers recommend annual checkups by licensed technicians to ensure that furnaces and boilers are not leaking carbon monoxide, a deadly, odorless exhaust gas. Such checkups allow technicians to visually inspect systems; often a potential breakdown can be can averted just by watching and listening to the system run, said Kerry O'Brien, owner of T.F. O'Brien, a New Hyde Park heating and cooling contractor.

"The technician uses sophisticated equipment to run several tests," O'Brien said, "but there are vents, belts and fans where just looking at them or listening to them can sometimes signal a problem."

O'Brien, who specializes in gas-fired units, said newer, high-efficiency systems require a little more attention. Improved technology means that a furnace or boiler is not just one component but several components working together, he said.

"I equate it to a high-tech sports car," O'Brien said. "It runs great but usually needs a lot more maintenance to keep it running that way."

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