10 Common Furnace Issues and How To Avoid Them
Here at Service Detectives, we want to ensure that regardless of service status, our Southern Illinois families have the information they need to make informed decisions and provide essential maintenance to their own units if they so choose. This article draws on our more than 50 years of experience to provide you with ten common furnace problems and our top tips on what to look out for to avoid a furnace failure.
Bipolar as the weather in Southern Illinois may be, at some point, we finally do cross the threshold into full cold. Inevitably, as the cold season comes in, heating and cooling companies are swamped with emergency no-heat calls as people realize the furnace they didn’t have serviced last year doesn’t want to run.
10 Dirty Filters
By far, the most common issues with furnaces are caused by dirty filters. Most filters should be changed out every 30 days, regardless of what the packaging tells you. A dirty filter restricts your airflow, reducing the volume of air that can be pushed through the system, forcing it to work harder to heat your home.
More severe cases can cause the unit to overheat and burn out ignitors and burners, or overload the blower motor. Not regularly replacing a filter can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage. Our top tip for filters is also our simplest – replace your filters at least every 30 days.
9 Pilot Light
Without a working pilot light, your traditional gas furnace isn’t able to ignite the burners that generate heat to blow through the system. Your pilot light should always be running, even when the furnace isn’t active. There is usually a transparent porthole through which you can check to ensure your pilot light is engaged. Pilot lights use small, crimped gas supply lines that can become clogged over time and cause the pilot to either run inefficiently or even leak small amounts of carbon monoxide from a poor connection. An annual tune-up from a licensed professional is the only way to effectively maintain your pilot light.
Gone are the days when thermostats were simple devices with an on/off and temperature adjustment knob. Programmable, WiFi, Smart, Nest, EcoBee, the market is awash with many different thermostats, and with more complexity comes an increase in the chance of making a costly mistake. Programming error is a common issue with thermostats. When you have a new thermostat installed, we always encourage our customers to ensure that they receive proper face to face training in its correct use. Here at Service Detectives, we take the time to ensure that you understand how to use our thermostats, and are always available for ongoing support
7 Blower Belts
The belt is what allows the motor to transfer its energy to the blades that produce the airflow that moves heat around your home. Whether cooling or heating, your blower belt is always running, and over time belts stretch, fray, crack and break. Because these belts are not easily user-accessible, Service Detectives always recommends these belts are serviced and maintained by licensed professionals at least twice a year.
6 Dirty Burners
The heat in your furnace is generated by air being passed over flames produced by a block of burners. Over time, carbon buildup begins to clog these burners, reducing the temperature that can be generated and this can lead to the production of carbon monoxide. The only way to maintain your burners is through service by a service expert, like those at Service Detectives.
Animals will always be attracted to warmth, and with easy access through venting pipes, animals are a widespread risk with furnace systems. Aside from the apparent smell issues, small animals can clog vents, piping, burners, and igniters, causing anything from a drop in system efficiency to catastrophic carbon monoxide leaks and even explosions. It’s recommended that every year, your entire heating system is properly serviced by an experienced professional with the tools to identify animal infestations.
4 Leaking Air Ducts
Whether you have short runs of flexible duct or the more common sheet metal ductwork, long term exposure to humidity, heat, cold, and animals will eventually cause it to break down. Thinning ductwork begins to leak heat into your crawlspace, basement, or attic. Thinning becomes cracking, which creates more substantial leaks, reducing system efficiency and increasing costs. Specialized companies like Service Detectives have a dynamic camera system that can perform a complete inspection of your ductwork to ensure there are no leaks.
3 Dirty Flame Sensor
The flame sensor, or in some units, the thermocouple, is a small wire that continually registers the presence of a flame. Despite being such a small device, this is possibly the most vital safety component in your entire heating system. A dirty flame sensor will cause your system to repeatedly short cycle (switch on and off quickly without ever activating the blower), which puts an electrical strain on the system and of course fails to heat. A failed flame sensor that communicates incorrect information to the furnace control board could cause a potentially fatal buildup of unburned gas inside the furnace, which would explode on ignition. Service Detectives’ top tip is to have your system inspected annually by a service expert, which includes checking and cleaning the flame sensor.
2 Hot Surface Ignitors
Most newer furnace systems no longer use a pilot light, which must always be running to ignite the burners. A hot surface ignitor only operates when the system calls for heat. Before allowing gas to flow, the hot surface ignitor uses electricity to superheat a wire. Once it reaches the correct temperature, gas flows through the burners, igniting as it comes into contact with the superheated wire. These wires can quickly burn out or fail from carbon buildup blocking the contacts; this is another component carefully inspected and cleaned during an annual service from an experienced professional like those at Service Detectives.
1 Carbon Monoxide
The most commonly familiar and understood issue with any gas appliance is the risk of carbon monoxide buildup in the home. What many don’t know is that your furnace is continually producing carbon monoxide gas as a natural byproduct of the combustion process. In typical operation, this deadly gas is safely vented through a flue pipe to the outside. Any links in the combustion chain can cause the release of carbon monoxide into the home. Service Detectives’ top tip for carbon monoxide is the installation of carbon monoxide detector alarms. Service Detectives offers an exclusive line of interconnected combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms with guaranteed ten-year batteries. You’ll never need to worry about smoke or carbon monoxide again.
The Hot Finale!
There aren’t too many user-serviceable parts of a furnace, and if there’s one piece of advice our service experts can offer after more than 50 years in the business, it’s never to try and service your own furnace – the risk just isn’t worth it. The very best thing that you can do is pay attention to your furnace periodically. Is it running very short cycles? Is it blowing warm/hot air in every room? Does it feel like there’s enough air-flow? Is there an unpleasant smell? Ask yourself these questions, and if you are ever in doubt, call a trained professional.
Most importantly, make sure that your furnace is serviced at least once a year by a trained professional, like our heating and cooling team at Service Detectives. Reach out to our friendly, professional office staff today to book your furnace consultation with one of our heating specialists, and be sure to ask about our affordable, quality home protection plans!