What to Do If Your Furnace Stops Working
Every Bearspaw, AB homeowner’s nightmare. You wake up on a cold winter morning and something doesn’t feel right.
Why does it feel so darn cold?
Oh. The heating didn’t come on.
Oh. That means the furnace stopped working.
Oh. What do I do now?
Oh. Do I need a new furnace?
A furnace that stops working may just be a mild inconvenience — or something more serious. Before you call a heating expert out or decide to buy a new furnace, there are a few checks you can do yourself to see if the problem is terminal.
The following are the main steps to take if your winter nightmare comes true!
Check if your furnace is switched on
Let’s start with the basics. As obvious as it may seem, you should first check that the power has not been mistakenly turned off.
Sometimes homeowners need to switch the furnace off for maintenance or other reasons. Perhaps it wasn’t switched back on? Or the switch could get mistakenly turned OFF if something or someone brushes against it?
Your furnace will have a power switch located somewhere near the unit — probably a standard wall switch. Also, check the circuit breaker or fuse for the furnace. Has this been turned off?
Tick off these most basic steps first so that you can then go deeper into troubleshooting.
Check if the thermostat is working
Thermostats control the temperature output of your furnace — so if your house is not being heated adequately, this is one of the first places to look.
A good way to check thermostat performance is to set it to heat five degrees above the room temperature and see if the furnace comes to life.
Several things can cause a furnace’s thermostat to run into problems. They are battery operated, so if you see that the thermostat display has died, a simple change of batteries may bring the system back to life.
If you can remember to replace the batteries annually, it will avoid this potential problem.
Check if the furnace filters need cleaning
The lack of heat in your home could be due to your furnace not heating the air and blowing it around your heating system effectively.
There are many possible reasons for a lack of warm air being generated but one of the most common is dirty furnace filters.
If your furnace has not been serviced recently, dust, dirt and debris can block the air filters, which can restrict airflow or cause the heat exchanger to overheat. These problems result in a furnace not firing up enough to heat your home.
Ideally, you should change furnace filters every few months or according to the guidelines in the manual that came with your unit. This is relatively simple to do yourself. However, scheduling regular furnace services prevents problems like this from developing in the first place.
Check that the air ducts are not blocked
Blocked air ducts will prevent warm air from circulating properly and heating the rooms effectively in your house.
Firstly, make sure that the handles that protrude from the air ducts are opened fully. These help control the airflow.
If the furnace appears to be working but no heat is entering a particular room, you may have a leaking or blocked duct that restricts airflow. Leaks can be temporarily sealed with metal duct tape.
Another simple check is for external items blocking air vents. If furniture, curtains or boxes are placed in front of air ducts, the warmed air will not circulate throughout the room properly.
What next if your checks don’t identify the issue?
Many households in Alberta waste money by calling out a furnace service specialist without performing the basic checks above.
Why pay a callout charge if you can fix the problem yourself?
That said, if you perform all the basic troubleshooting steps and are unable to identify the cause of the issue, it’s time to make that call.
Your furnace may need a full service, repairs, or even replacement if the problem is serious. This is not something to tackle yourself and requires an assessment from a licensed professional.
Questions to ask before repairing or replacing your furnace
Nobody wants to go to the expense of replacing a furnace unless there are good reasons for doing so.
For the sake of a few minor repairs, you may be able to extend the life of your furnace for years.
Sometimes, though, a new furnace will solve many problems all at once — especially if you are regularly having to call out a professional and/or your energy bills are mounting.
How do you know whether to repair or replace your furnace?
Here are a few questions to ask before making a decision…
How old is the furnace?
The average lifespan of a furnace is 15-20 years so if your furnace is only 10 years old or less, repairs are more justifiable than replacement.
After 12 years, replacement may be a good option if your furnace is experiencing consistent problems.
How often do we have to repair our furnace?
Repairs are both costly and inconvenient. As a rule of thumb, if repair costs are less than one-third of the cost of a new heating system, repair may be your best choice.
If, however, your furnace has been repaired but breaks down again within a year or two, consider a replacement.
Has there been a notable change in our energy bills?
Energy bills increasing for no apparent reason means it’s time to call in an expert.
A malfunctioning furnace can increase fuel demands excessively and if this problem cannot be fixed with basic repairs (like to the thermostat) it may be time to bite the bullet and replace it.
Are there strange noises coming from the furnace unit?
If strange rattling, popping, or banging noises start emanating from your furnace, it is a sign that the existing unit is being asked to work too hard and may need to be replaced.
If the quality of the air in the home also takes a dip, a replacement becomes a necessity.
What is the colour of the burner flame?
The flame on your burner should be blue with a light shade of yellow at the top. If the flame is yellow, the fuel combustion process may be incomplete and your furnace could be producing carbon monoxide.
This can be a serious safety issue for you and your family, so call a professional technician who can provide an assessment of whether repairs are possible or a replacement unit is needed.