There are three general types of heating plant in use today. They are the hot-air plant, the steam plant and the hot-water plant. There are three types of fuel available, coal, oil and gas. Any one of the heating plants can be operated on any of the fuels. You may have a hot-air plant that burns coal, but it may be converted to burn oil or gas. You may have a hot-water plant originally intended to burn oil, but it may be converted to burn gas. No matter what combination exists in your own house, it all simmers down to the fact that you pay for a certain amount of fuel wherewith to make yourself comfortable, and whether you get your money's worth or not depends entirely upon how well you keep your heating plant in repair. It is probably a fact that a good one-third of all the fuel consumed in the homes of the country goes to waste because the heating plants are limping along with improper adjustments, faulty damper control, or simply clogged up with soot and dirt. Fortunately, the basic rules of keeping a heating plant in good shape apply to all three systems. Rule number one is to have a proper adjustment for the consumption of the fuel you are using. Rule number two is to have a proper adjustment of the dampers which control the rate at which your fuel burns. Rule number three is to keep the entire plant cleaned and oiled. When you have taken care of these simple matters, you will find that repairs will be at a minimum, fuel bills reduced, and many years added to the life of your heating unit.
Starting with the coal burning, hand-fired hot-air furnace, which is the most uncomplicated of all standard heating systems, we will endeavor to show you what to do and where to do it, so that your heating plant will be kept in good repair and at maximum operating efficiency.
The standard hot-air furnace consists of a cast-iron stove, technically known as a fire-pot, with a door at the top for throwing in the coal, and a door at the bottom for taking out the ashes. There is an opening at the top through which the smoke and gases from the burning coal is piped into the chimney. Around the fire-pot or stove there is a shell of sheet-iron which completely incloses the fire-pot, and the air between this shell and the fire-pot becomes hot, and is led through ducts to the various rooms of the house. There are hot-air furnaces which have only one duct, a very large one, and these are known as pipe-less or one-pipe furnaces.
The plain hot-air furnace is the least complicated of all home heating plants, outside of the fireplace.
The fresh-air inlet to hot-air furnaces should be adjusted to provide the correct amount of air admitted to the heater.
Keeping this type of heating plant in good repair consists entirely of keeping the ash-pit at the bottom of the furnace well cleaned out, because an accumulation of ashes will reflect the heat and burn out your grates. It further consists of making sure, after you have shaken the grates, that they are flat-side-up so that live coals will not fall through into the ash-pit. It further consists of cleaning out the smoke-pipe once a year, so that accumulated soot will not interfere with the draft.
When it comes to correct draft control, that is a matter which is entirely up to the homeowner to study out himself, because no two houses are alike. It will only take a little concentration. If your house is situated on a hilltop where you have strong winds blowing over the top of your chimney and setting up a high draft, you will learn to close the damper enough to check it. In exact reverse, if you find that your fire dies down under a half-closed damper, you must learn to keep it at the three-quarter-open position.
At times this type of furnace will give off a strong odor of coal-gas. The reason may be that the cementing of the joints in the fire-pot is not tight, and gas escapes through them. In this case you will have to remove the outer shell of sheet metal and re-cement them. As the shell is put together with bolts and nuts, it is easy to remove. Use furnace cement on the joints and be liberal with it.
Cleaning the smoke-pipe should take about ten minutes if there is a clean-out in it. If not, you will find that the smoke-pipe is simply a series of round sleeves, one of which slips into the other, and there is nothing complicated about taking them apart and putting them together again. You must be sure, however, that they are inserted into each other the proper distance, and that you re-cement the joint where the smoke-pipe goes into the chimney. If any wires have been used to support the smoke-pipe, be sure to replace them exactly as you found them. In some houses the hot-air furnace may have four or five ducts leading to the different rooms, and one or more of these ducts may have to travel through the basement for twenty or thirty feet before it turns up to a room. If the basement is cold these ducts will naturally be chilled, and the hot air traveling through them will in turn be cooled off. The remedy for this is to buy a roll of asbestos paper, and cover the ducts with it. You will find that the hot air delivered will be a good thirty percent hotter, and you will be getting just that much more out of your fuel.
A properly installed smoke-pipe will have a clean-out door through which soot can be removed without difficulty.