As nighttime temperatures continue to drop, area heating and plumbing companies are filling up their schedules with maintenance appointments for residents' home heating systems.
Preventive maintenance is the key to making sure heating systems will work properly the first time they are needed, said Travis Dodd, heating service manager for Caporuscio Plumbing and Heating in Altoona.
"For the most part, I suggest doing it in the spring and fall," Dodd said.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Caporuscio Plumbing &?Heating HVAC?Manager Travis Dodd replaces the filter on a gas furnace Wednesday afternoon at a mobile home on Orangewood Drive in Altoona. Area heating and plumbing companies are helping locals prepare for cold weather.
The company does handle emergency repairs if residents are stuck without heat, but ensuring everything works properly before it's needed is usually cheaper, he said.
Residents should routinely check for dirty air filters and worn-out parts in need of replacement, Dodd said.
"Truthfully, it depends on the person's residence more than anything" to determine when and what repairs are needed, he said.
The National Weather Service has issued a freeze watch for Blair, Bedford, Centre, Clearfield and Huntingdon counties through 9 a.m. Saturday morning.
The weather service said cold high pressure will build into the area tonight and early Saturday, causing temperatures to fall into the mid- and upper-20s across the central and northern mountains.
As more customers switch on the heat for the first time, they may need to brace themselves for the ensuing utility bills.
Nationwide, customers should expect to use more energy than last year, the warmest winter on record.
On average, heating bills will rise 20 percent for heating oil customers, 15 percent for natural gas customers, 13 percent for propane customers and 5 percent for electricity customers, the Energy Information Administration announced this week.
Heating oil customers are expected to pay the highest heating oil prices ever. That will result in record heating bills, with an average of $2,494. That's nearly $200 more than the previous high, set in the winter of 2010-2011.
Customers who use natural gas, electricity or propane will see lower bills than they have in previous typical winters - even with the increase over last year - because prices are relatively low.
"It's two different worlds. For most families, this is still going to be an affordable year, except for those who use oil heat," said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Director's Association. "For them, it's going to be very difficult."
When it is time to service heating equipment, homeowners should know what type of heating system they use and when they need to schedule their next service call, said Vance Villano, owner of Amber Aire Heating and Air Conditioning in Altoona.
The two primary heating systems in the area are gas forced-air furnaces and hot water heaters, Villano said.
While Villano recommends furnaces and boilers be inspected by professionals, homeowners can easily check and replace air filters on home furnaces, he said.
Checking emergency systems is also important as residents begin turning up the heat.
"We always recommend having a carbon monoxide detector in every bedroom and on every floor level," Villano said. "It doesn't hurt to have up to five carbon monoxide detectors in the house."
Routinely checking carbon monoxide and smoke detectors should be a habit for residents, he said.
The company usually receives service calls when residents first switch on their heating systems and detect strange odors, Villano said. The smells can result from dirty air filters, but ensuring the system works properly is key at the start of the season, he said.
For homes with central air, Villano said placing a piece of wood or other type of cover over the outdoor unit will prevent damage during snowfall. Villano recommended only covering the top of the unit to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to rust.
While companies have been "swamped" with calls as the temperature drops, checking residential heating systems before problems arise is beneficial in the long run.
"It's cheaper to have a normal, hourly service call" than an early-morning phone call to a technician for emergency repairs, Dodd said.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535. The Associated Press contributed to this report.