Keeping your furnace healthy is one of the most important things you can do as a homeowner. If you are planning on selling anytime soon, a clean, efficient furnace will help you pass a home inspection. However, the importance of keeping your furnace in excellent shape goes far beyond that. A furnace that is improperly cared for could lead to grave safety issues for you and your family, but there are many preventative measures you can take to keep your loved ones safe.

Experts recommend having your furnace checked by a professional at least once a year, but there are some important strategies you should be aware of if you plan to do some of the maintenance on your own.

An important first step

A very important warning from home remodeling site Modernize is that a furnace must be completely turned off for every type of maintenance work besides cleaning the filter. Before starting any work, make sure your furnace is completely powered down.

Cleaning the furnace of dirt, dust and debris

An accumulation of dust, dirt and debris can drag down furnace efficiency and be dangerous for the health of your family. The first step in removing dust from the air circulation in your home is replacing the filter. Direct Energy advised homeowners to replace their filters once a month - unless the manufacturer of the furnace has noted otherwise. Changing the filter will not only help your furnace last longer, but it can also reduce your energy bills 5 to 15 percent.

Home remodel site Modernize explained that the filter is not the only part of the furnace that needs to be cleaned of dust and debris. You also need to clean out the blower, which is generally concealed by panels near the location of the filter. After removing these panels, use a damp cloth to clean the blower.

To remove debris from the interior of the furnace, Direct Energy suggested using a paintbrush with a soft tip and lightly brushing it against the inside of the furnace. This should loosen up any debris without causing damage to the furnace. Once the debris is loose, use a dust buster to remove it. Make sure to also remove dirt from the flame sensor, as failing to do so could cause the furnace to break down. You can clean the flame sensor with an emery cloth after unscrewing the sensor from the furnace.

Other types of maintenance

Keep the area around the furnace free of clutter, National Furnace suggested, and be extra careful not to keep flammable items nearby. To avoid the build-up of heat in your furnace, keep at least 60 percent of the registers in your home open at all times. 

Before starting energy work, Direct Energy suggested examining your furnace visually to see if the venting pipe and other tubes are all secure and angled correctly. After you turn everything off, you can also check if the thermostat wires are secure by gently tugging them. 

Signs of a carbon monoxide leak

According to National Furnace, any gas furnace will produce some amount of carbon monoxide, a poisonous, potentially deadly gas that has no color, taste or smell. In general, the venting system in your home will carry the carbon monoxide away, but if the furnace is not working properly, your home is at risk of a dangerous carbon monoxide leak. 

Keeping your furnace clean and getting it checked every year will help you prevent a leak, but sometimes leaks can happen anyway. 

If one does occur, it is vital you know the signs. Scott Lee Heating Company said one sign is if your furnace flame is yellow instead of blue. There may also be a leak if you find rust on your appliance jacks, pipes or vents, and also if there is a surplus of moisture on your windows. In addition to these signs, people in the home may begin to feel sick or experience constant headaches.

National Furnace said to make sure your house has enough carbon monoxide detectors and that they are all in working order. It is also important to make sure your furnace receives proper ventilation. If you detect any signs of a carbon monoxide leak, evacuate the house immediately and call a professional. 

Signs you may need a new furnace

Scott Lee Heating said a furnace generally lasts between 16 and 20 years, so if your furnace is reaching this point, it is probably time to replace it. Other signs a furnace needs to be replaced or should at least be checked out by a professional are: unfamiliar noises coming from the furnace, extra dry air inside your home, an inexplicable rise in your utility bills, constant replacement of your furnace's parts and an erratic distribution of temperatures in different rooms of your home. 

National Furnace said rust is another sign your furnace is not in great shape. Having a professional regularly clean your burners can keep rust away. 

When in doubt, call an expert

If you are uncertain about any of these tasks, hire a professional. It's worth the money to ensure the safety of your family. No matter how much you do on your own, though, make sure to still have an expert check your furnace at least once a year. 

If you smell gas around your furnace, Modernize urged you not to try to fix it yourself. Instead, you should vacate the home immediately and call 911.

While safety should be your number one priority, a healthy furnace will also bring you one step closer to a successful home inspection.