Nobody looks forward to an unexpected furnace repair. This inconvenient problem always seems to happen at the worst possible time. A record winter storm is on its way, relatives are visiting for the holidays, the kids have the flu — and the furnace is suddenly on the blink, leaving you with an icy cold house. Fortunately, there are some ways to make furnace breakdowns less painful. This quick guide can help you navigate the difficulties of furnace malfunctions.
Why Are Furnaces So Prone to Malfunctioning?
Home furnaces are large and powerful appliances, taking up a large amount of energy during the winter months. Many houses are still outfitted with old furnaces, which may be inefficient and prone to breaking down. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, older boiler systems and furnace systems typically range in efficiency from 70 percent down to a mere 56 percent. This means that many older home furnaces are barely using more than half of the energy you’re putting into them.
Many things can go wrong with a home furnace during the winter. Some of the most common causes of trouble include the following:
- Obstructions in air flow
- Clogged or dirty filters
- Broken thermostat
- Malfunctioning pilot light
- Malfunctioning blower motor
- Wear or slippage of blower belt
Any of these problems, alone or in combination, can cause your furnace to stop producing heat. Once that happens, it can take just a few hours for temperatures inside your house to drop to chilly lows.
Can You Do Anything to Cut Down on Furnace Problems?
The good news is that you can help cut down on furnace problems by maintaining your heating unit properly. Keep an eye on filters and change them regularly to eliminate dust and dirt buildup. Professional maintenance is recommended at least once a year to be sure that nothing is going wrong with the furnace.
Take some time to look at the area around your furnace and any air intake vents. Cracks in sealants or in the walls around a unit can be a telltale sign that heat is not being produced safely or efficiently. All debris should be cleared. Outdoor air handlers are especially prone to accumulating debris.
Special Issues With Forced Air Heating
Forced air heating is the most popular method of home heating in America. These heating units can be warmed via combustion of oil, gas or propane. They can also function with electric heating elements. Some forced air systems, called hydronic systems, combine the advantages of hot water heating with the speed and convenience of forced air.
Household forced air heating is often liable to break down because it requires several different steps to get the heat into your house and to your family. In many cases, fuel must be separately combusted before it reaches the interior of the home. The products of combustion are kept out of your atmosphere by means of a heat exchanger, which brings the warmth in while filtering out harmful materials. A pump then pumps the warm air into the living space.
In a forced air heating arrangement, it is important to maintain every element from the pilot light or igniter all the way to the final delivery of hot air into the living room or bedroom. Problems with this supply chain of hot air can lead to unsafe situations and even possible explosions in the home. It is crucial to get professional maintenance if any part of the system is not working properly.
Get to Know Your HVAC Professional Before Disaster Strikes
One important way to take some of the pain out of furnace repairs is to build a personal relationship with your local heating maintenance experts. When you have a trusted professional visit your home regularly for maintenance and inspection of your heating system, you’ll have someone to turn to if the system suddenly stops functioning all together.
Get to know your local HVAC professionals. Many companies offer free in-home estimates, preventative maintenance and other helpful tools to keep your furnace in tip-top shape. Getting the phone number of an expert now can help you avoid a frantic, cold night of online searching or calling friends if something happens to go wrong with your furnace.
Know What to Do During a Furnace Emergency
Continuing with normal life can be hard during a furnace breakdown, especially if it’s freezing cold and snowy outside. Along with your contact information for a local furnace repair professional, you should consider keeping an emergency kit on hand to ease you through a day or a night without heat. This kit can contain all of the following things:
- Plenty of warm quilts and blankets
- Extra layers of clothing, including thermal underwear for the whole family
- Clean and dry sleeping bags
- Emergency “space blankets” (think of the shiny aluminum blankets they wrap around marathon runners at the finish line)
- Non-toxic chemical hand warmers (look for them in the sports or hunting gear section of your local store)
- A small kerosene heater or space heater to keep at least one room of the house warm and livable
You can’t necessarily rely on a small heater to fully heat even one room in frigid winter temperatures, but even a few extra degrees of warmth can make the difference between a cozy adventure and a freezing night huddled under blankets. Think about your winter weather survival kit now, before you need to tough it out during a furnace repair.
Talk With Your Furnace Repair Specialist
Stay at home during the whole repair if you can possibly manage it. The more you can tell your furnace repair professionals about the events leading up to the breakdown, the more easily they can diagnose the problem. Let them know if you’ve tried any do-it-yourself repairs. Keep records of the most recent maintenance so you can set up a correct schedule of cleanings and updates.
Preparation Is Key
Unexpected furnace repairs are never fun for homeowners, but you can make them less of a hassle by taking some simple steps to prepare. A little extra thought during the year can help your whole family stay comfortable when winter winds are blowing.