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furnace_maintenance(TNS)—Typically, I write about preparing your house for winter a bit in advance of Dec. 1.

That date is the start of meteorological winter — the three coldest months of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, a period that ends on Feb. 28.

This year, I’m giving you just 7 days to prepare, perhaps because in the years I have fine-tuned homeownership for myself, I’ve learned that getting ready for winter actually starts March 1 — when all the associated problems are still fresh in my mind.

One issue you’ll need to tackle immediately is your furnace: Have a professional check it out before we get any deeper into the heating season.

Just changing the air filter is often enough, especially if your furnace is relatively new.

If the furnace is well past its replacement date, keep your fingers and toes crossed and start looking into the latest models.

Correct size and proper installation by a qualified contractor are the keys to an efficient system that will save money on energy bills.

If your furnace is too small for your house it won’t keep you warm on the coldest days. If it is too large it will likely come on too often, and that will cost you money and wear out the system too quickly.

In addition to size and proper installation, maintaining the system according to the manufacturer’s instructions is critical.

In June, Consumer Reports published a buying guide for gas furnaces, which the magazine considers the most common heating fuel these days.

I recommend the guide to those of you who are looking to buy a new furnace now, but one thing I want to emphasize here is what Consumer Reports found regarding repairs.

“When we asked about the most common reasons for service calls for furnaces, contractors cited human error — inadequate maintenance, for example, or improper installation — twice as often as defective equipment,” Consumer Reports says.

Modern equipment is low-maintenance, not maintenance-free, and it typically comes with an instruction manual.

Read it.

The Consumers Report guide is available here.

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