Winter is fast approaching. Of course, here in Houston, that statement doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it would in upstate New York, but southeast Texas does experience a few yearly cold snaps. Those of us who live in this sub-tropical climate year-round can be caught off-guard by the random 25-degree morning that brings heating issues in the home to light.
When running your heating system for the first time after a long summer, you may find that isn’t quite getting the job of warming your home accomplished. Waiting for the first cold morning of the year is the wrong time to fire up the furnace for the first time in months. This neglect of regular maintenance always turns into our busiest few days around the shop, as homeowners find their heaters aren’t ready for the chilly challenge. Most of the calls we take during the early winter cold snaps are for frozen pipes and furnace issues; almost of them could be prevented with just a little bit of preventative maintenance on the homeowner’s part.
Nick’s Plumbing and Air Conditioning gets many questions, both by phone and in the field, about what homeowners can do to prevent central heating system problems. Let’s take a look at some of the more frequently asked questions regarding this confusing topic.
Why is My Furnace Running, But the House Isn’t Getting Warmer?
There can be several reasons that a central heating system isn’t blowing warm air, but far and away, the most probable cause is an incorrectly set thermostat. I’ve read several blogs on actual plumber’s websites stating “improperly wired” thermostats are a frequent issue, which is odd. Unless you’ve just installed a new thermostat or tried to take your current one apart, the chances of it being miswired are slim.
Incorrect settings on an HVAC thermostat can play havoc with your HVAC system’s comfort level and efficiency. Check that your thermostat is set to “auto” mode, with a comfortable set temperature for the system to maintain. During the colder months, you do not want to leave your HVAC system’s fan running all the time, as you might in the summer. If the thermostat is set to “on” or “fan” mode, it will blow unheated air from the vents as the blower fan runs continuously.
Dirty Air Filters Restrict Air Flow
Once the thermostat has been eliminated as the problem, the next thing to check is the condition of the air filters in your HVAC system. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the filters in their units every three to six months, and failure to perform this basic maintenance can void your warranty. These filters trap particles of dirt, dust, smoke, mold spores, mildew, pollen, dead skin cells, and maybe even a few insects.
When these filters become too densely packed with these irritants, they can no longer filter air adequately, releasing irritants back into the air. A sudden increase in the amount of dust, either airborne or on surfaces, indicates that your filters could use some attention.
Most homes have several small cardboard and fiberglass filters that are usually located behind the grates of intake vents throughout the house, or they have a single, large 24″ x 24″ x 5″ box filter that resides in the central air intake vent. Dirty air filters create a restricted airflow issue in HVAC systems, causing them to work much harder to cool or heat your home adequately.
It has been shown that regular HVAC maintenance, combined with consistent filter replacements, can reduce your energy usage by as much as 15%.
Pilot Light or Electronic Ignition Issues
Every furnace needs an ignition source to start the heating cycle, and every furnace either uses a pilot light or some form of electronic ignition system. If you have an electronic ignition on your gas furnace, check the electrical service panel for any tripped circuit breakers, and look around the area near the furnace for any installed switches.
Once it has been determined that airflow is not the reason for the heater issues, check the igniter and heating elements for proper operation. If your furnace uses a pilot light for ignition, make sure that it is lit and that the flame is mostly blue with a bit of yellow at the top. Pilot lights that are glowing yellow or orange aren’t getting the appropriate mixture of air and gas, which can have catastrophic results.
Is the Gas Turned On?
This happens more than you think. In homes that only use natural gas service for heating purposes, their owners may opt to have the gas service turned off during the warmer months. If your gas has been turned off for longer than six months, you will need to have your gas line inspected by a licensed plumber before gas service can be reconnected.
If other gas appliances in the home, like stoves or fireplaces, are operating normally, check that the furnace’s gas valve is turned on. If you’re unsure of the valve’s location or position, you need to call a gas furnace professional to inspect the line.
My Furnace is Running, But Still Has Problems
Problems in your furnace don’t always result in your heating system breaking down completely. Your HVAC system can still perform under some adverse conditions, but neglect of necessary maintenance will eventually prove disastrous. If your furnace has trouble performing essential functions like regular heating and idle cycles, keeping up with the thermostat settings, or seems to be under-performing, give the HVAC experts at Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning a call to come out and have a look.
Make an HVAC system inspection and tune-up a part of your annual schedule of home maintenance for peace of mind on those seldom but bitterly cold winter days.