Though December was pretty mild, the temperature is changing and the cold will be with us for awhile. Make sure your furnace has been maintained and inspected so you can be prepared for those chilly nights.

Here are a few simple tips in case you haven’t done so already. After all, preventive maintenance could save you a costly furnace repair job:

Clean, clean, clean: Turn off the furnace and then remove the cover that hides the burner and inner workings. Using a light brush or a vacuum on a low setting, scoop up all of the black particles, cobwebs and debris.

Clear out the room: Don’t use the furnace area as a storage space too. It needs to be tidy for optimal performance and anything flammable should be moved out of the way.

Change the air filter: To determine whether it’s time to change the filter, hold it up to a light bulb that’s on. If you can see a clear outline of the bulb, your filter is still good. If not, it’s time for a new one. If you have pets, or are a smoker, you’ll need to change the furnace filter more often.

Is the carbon monoxide detector working? Any unnecessarily high levels of carbon monoxide will set off your detector, which means the odourless gas is present in your home making it very dangerous. In such a case, get out and call for help.

Check the pilot light : Make sure the pilot light is a deep blue colour. If it is another colour then it is not working properly.

Set your winter temperatures on your thermostat: Make it warmer for the times you are home and cooler for the times you are not. (But not too low or the water pipes in your house will freeze in winter.)

Walk and observe: Be sure there are no leaks or water pooling near the furnace and check chimney, ductwork, dampers, valves, radiators, registers and pipes throughout the house for leaks or any obstructions.

When problems appear, it’s best to call a professional. Schedule annual maintenance calls for peace-of-mind and to save money in the long run.