Does your heater need a checkup?

HOUSTON About 70 percent of the heaters in Houston homes run off of natural gas and while an annual inspection makes sense, even if you just turn the heater on, there are some things you can do to stay safe.

A house fire is not the way you want to heat your home. This fire at a house in southeast Houston started after the homeowner lit his gas log fire place insert.

"All I know is my husband lit the fireplace the first time of the year and apparently there were some wires loose, I guess," said homeowner Erma Galloway.

For most homes the heater is in the attic and it makes sense to have the unit checked out.

"This is what I would call a worst nightmare," said heating repairman Tom Johnston

He says anyone turning on their heater should take a couple of basic steps to make sure things don't go wrong such as keeping the area around the heater clear of clutter.

"A lot of times I go up there and I see boxes of Christmas decorations around the heater, especially this time of year," said Johnston.

He has been getting dozens of calls for heater checkups in the last few days, he says most heaters are just fine, but other units need to be looked over carefully.

"If you have to light a pilot on it and it is 20 years old, those definitely I would say get checked out. If it is newer than that, not as critical, but if it has been five years get someone out to look at it," Johnston said.

A basic heater inspection should cost about $70. If you need parts cleaned, expect to pay another $50. If there are cracks in your heat exchanger, the bill could easily top $2,500. If you are told you need a new heat exchanger, be sure to have the technician show you the cracks in the old one before agreeing to an expensive replacement.

"If they say it's cracked, they can point it out to you and you see the crack in the heat exchanger, it is cracked," said Johnston.

While some condominiums require an annual heater check, homeowners are not under any such obligation. However, if you don't get a professional to check out your heater, be sure to go up in your attic and remove any boxes around the unit, If you see flames coming out of the bottom of the unit, get someone to check it out as soon as possible.

Despite the busy time of year, you should still be able to reach a repairman to come out and look at your heater.

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