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Home Heating Problems FAQ: Guide For Troubleshooting Your Home Heating Systems

You expect your heating system to provide you with heat. Just like a car or any other machine that uses engines to run, a heating system can overheat or suffer serious malfunctions that will eventually lead to a breakdown. We’ll look at some of the causes of heating system issues and what can be done to prevent it and repair the problems that it causes.

A furnace that overheats during the winter can turn into a very uncomfortable situation for you and your family, so call OASIS Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Inc. when you need fast and effective heating repair in northern Virginia.

heating system troubleshooting

Common Home Heating Problems:

Why Is My Home Heater Not Working?

It’s a common question as the temperatures drop. One day your heating system is working just fine. The next day, the heat is not working correctly. Heating systems are complicated and involve many different components, so pinpointing the cause of your problem can be challenging. Learn more about the common problems with heating systems to help troubleshoot the issue until you can get a heating and cooling specialist to your home.

Home Heating System Blowing Cold Air

The thermostat is on, but not heating. Even though the system seems to be working, something is keeping it from delivering warm air to your home. When you have no heat, furnace troubleshooting becomes a pressing issue, especially in the winter.

Check your thermostat first to ensure it’s set properly. Look at these aspects of the system:

  • Verify that it is set to the Heat function.
  • Check the fan setting to ensure it is set to the Auto option.
  • Look at the temperature setting to make sure it didn’t get lowered significantly.
  • Look at the breaker or fuse to ensure it is working properly.
  • If all the settings check out, increase the heat by five to 10 degrees, and give the system a few minutes.

If you check your thermostat and it is on, but it’s not heating, you likely have a bigger problem. Some of the issues are things you can easily remedy, but many of the issues require help from a professional.

Potential causes of the heater blowing cold air include:

  • Blockage: Something blocking the flow of warm air can be the source of the problem.
  • Dirty air filter: A dirty air filter filled with hair and other debris can put strain on the unit and cause it to kick out cooler air instead of hot air.
  • Pilot light: If the pilot light isn’t lit or won’t stay lit, the unit can’t produce the warm air you expect it to kick out. If relighting the pilot light doesn’t work, or you have an electric ignition unit that isn’t working, you’ll need help from a professional to get it back up and running.
  • Ductwork problems: Leaky ductwork lets the hot air out of the pipes, resulting in colder air coming out of your vents. You can use incense to check for leaks in your pipes. Watch the smoke from the incense stick to see if it moves, which indicates leaks.

checking for blockage in front of vent

If simple fixes do not make the air warmer, it is time to call in a heating and cooling specialist. The professional can do a full system check to identify the source of the problem and recommend a solution that’s right for your home.

Home Heating System Running Nonstop

Another issue that often happens with home heating systems is that they run nonstop instead of cycling off and on. If you have the fan setting turned on, the blower will continue running constantly, even if the furnace isn’t producing hot air.

If this isn’t the cause of the constant running, the issue usually happens due either to a problem with the thermostat, or the blower in the furnace. Thermostats tend to be easier to fix. In some cases, you might need to replace the thermostat completely. A heating and cooling specialist can help you find the right thermostat to work properly with your heating system and install it correctly.

Blower issues are typically more complex and require the help of a heating professional. If the thermostat isn’t the issue, schedule an inspection to figure out the source of the constant running.

Random Cold Spots in Your Home

Walking into a room that’s several degrees colder than it should be is more than annoying. It could be a sign of a problem with your heating system. Inconsistent temperatures in the home can be caused by:

  • Inadequate insulation or the positioning of the room. For example, if a bedroom is directly above an uninsulated basement or garage, the cold air from those adjoining spaces may make the room feel cold.
  • Old, leaky windows can let outside air into the space, making it feel much colder.
  • If the home’s structure isn’t an issue, check the air filter in your furnace. If it’s clogged, it can cause inconsistent heating in different parts of your house.
  • Leaks in the ductwork can also cause issues. The ducts leading to a certain room may have leaks, which causes that room to get less hot air. You’ll want to call in a heating and cooling company to check for and repair the duct issues.

Home Heating System Fan Isn’t Blowing

Another common issue is the fan not blowing at all. You might notice no air is coming from your vents, or only a small amount is coming through. Like many furnace problems, a non-working fan can have several different causes:

  • Start with the easiest option- checking the thermostat to make sure it is set correctly. If your fan is set to Auto, it will only turn on when the furnace needs to run to reach the set temperature on the thermostat.
    Check the temperature setting on the thermostat. If it’s set to a low temperature, the furnace may not run because the home is not cold enough to make it turn on.

check if fan is set to auto

  • If your thermostat looks good, head to the furnace to check your filter. If the filter is clogged, it can restrict airflow to the point that it feels like nothing is blowing out of the vents. Sometimes the fan will stop working completely if the filter gets too dirty.
  • Check the breaker. Sometimes a breaker can get tripped and cause the blower to stop working. If everything looks good on the circuit breaker panel, it’s time to call in an expert who can figure out why the fan isn’t working properly.

Furnace Overheating (Burning Smell)

A furnace can overheat and cause a burning smell due to a dirty filter that restricts airflow. When the filter is full, the heating system has to work harder to push the air. That extra effort can cause the motor of the blower to overheat and create a hot or burning smell.

If it’s the first time you’ve run the heating system for the season, a burning smell likely isn’t cause for concern. All the components of the system gather dust all summer long. When you turn on the heating system for the first time in the fall, that dust burns off as the furnace heats. However, that burning smell should stop within a few hours of starting the system. If it doesn’t go away, call a technician to make sure everything is working correctly.

A burning smell that pops up in the middle of the season with no apparent cause is of concern. Like so many other furnace problems, the burning smell could be caused by a clogged air filter. Once the filter gets full, it’s unable to collect additional dirt and debris that enter the system. Some of that dirt can settle on other components of the system and burn as it heats.

burning smell could lead to home fire

A dirty filter can also cause overheating in your unit. When the filter is full, the heating system has to work harder to push the air. That extra effort can cause the motor of the blower to overheat and create a hot or burning smell.

Perhaps the most dangerous source of a burning smell is an electrical problem in the system. Issues with wiring can cause a burning smell and could eventually lead to a fire in the home.

Don’t delay getting help if you don’t know why the furnace smells like it’s burning. Shut down the system, and call a professional who can come out right away to inspect the unit.

Facts About Furnace Overheating

No matter the type of fuel your furnace uses (natural gas, propane, electricity, etc.), it needs motors to run the various blower fans responsible for heat exchange and the distribution of heated air through your ductwork. These motors can begin to undergo extra stress which will lead to them overheating and eventually burning out.

  • Reduced Air Flow: One of the most common reasons for motors overheating is a blocked air filter. Air filters require regular changing during the heating season so they do not become too clogged. Typically, you can replace your filter every three months. Thick clogging will cut off the airflow, forcing the furnace to overwork to compensate. The infiltration of dust from a clogged filter will spread dirt on the motors, which can also lead to overheating. Blocked vents will also reduce airflow. Make sure that all the vents throughout the house have easy access and aren’t obstructed by furniture or rugs. Too many blocked vents and the strain will make the furnace motors overheat.
  • Short-cycling: Short-cycling is another major cause of overheating and happens when the furnace turns off early in the heating cycle. A short-cycling furnace will turn off and on repeatedly when it shouldn’t, which puts tremendous pressure on the motors. Furnaces can short-cycle because they were incorrectly sized, from blocked vents or malfunctioning thermostats. If short-cycling starts to affect your furnace, you need to have it professionally inspected before it overheats and burns out.
  • Fan Operating on High: Make sure when your system is running that the fan isn’t continuously set on high. Warm air is easier for your system to move throughout your home, so keeping the furnace on a low fan setting is enough to circulate heat through your house. Keeping the fan low is also a preventative measure you can take to keep the furnace from overheating.
  • Evaporator Coil: To keep your furnace from overheating, check your evaporator coil annually. This piece of your furnace absorbs heat from your house. If it becomes dirty or damaged, it can cause your heater to short-cycle.
  • Blower Fan: Your furnace’s blower fan supplies air to the system’s heat exchanger. If the blower fan is blocked or damaged it can also cause your furnace to overheat. By checking the fan each year along with other furnace components, you can prevent your furnace overheating or becoming damaged.

Home Heating System Cycles Frequently

system cycling faster than normal

When they’re working correctly, heating systems automatically cycle on and off to maintain the temperature you set on your thermostat. The system usually runs for several minutes before shutting off, so it doesn’t get too hot inside your home.

Sometimes that cycling gets thrown off and happens faster than normal. You might notice the furnace turning off and on quickly, running only for a short time before turning off again. Cycling issues can leave your home feeling uncomfortable because the unit doesn’t run long enough to heat the space properly. It can also cause extra wear and tear on your heating unit and can increase energy consumption, so it’s important to get the cycling back on track.

In most cases, that rapid cycling is due to an issue with the thermostat. The cycling problem sometimes happens when there’s an issue with the heating unit. If a clogged filter causes the unit to overheat, it might shut off frequently or run for shorter periods than normal. A malfunctioning blower may also be the cause of the issue. If you change the filter and still have issues, have a technician check out the system to find the source of the faster cycling.

Home Heating System Pilot Light Won’t Stay Lit

Older furnaces use pilot lights within the unit. If the pilot light goes out, the unit won’t work properly, and you’ll need to relight it. If you have trouble getting that pilot light to stay lit, you may have another issue causing the problem.

One potential cause is a loose or faulty thermocouple, which is the rod that heats up because of the pilot light. The thermocouple is the component that signals the gas to be released into the burners when it gets hot enough. A thermocouple that isn’t working properly can cause pilot light issues. Adjusting or replacing the thermocouple is a job for a professional.

Another potential cause may be a pilot flame setting that is too low. Some units feature an adjustment screw for the flame, which may need to be changed to keep the flame going. An ideal pilot flame has no yellow in it and measures between 1-1/2 and 2 inches.

relight pilot light

The pilot orifice is the area where the flame burns. If this area becomes clogged, it can also cause issues with the pilot light. Another potential problem is a malfunction in the safety cutoff valve. If you have tried relighting the pilot light with no luck, the safest option is to call a professional to look at the situation.

If you have a newer furnace, it likely has an electronic ignition system instead of a pilot light you have to light yourself. This type of furnace can still have issues. An issue with the flame sensor can cause problems with the unit’s operation.

Home Heating System Making Funny Noises

You’re probably used to the normal sounds your furnace makes, so you notice immediately if it starts to make strange noises. Sometimes the unusual noises are no big deal. Other times, they indicate a problem that needs to be repaired. Here are some common noises and what they may mean for your heating system:

  • Popping or banging sound coming from the ductwork. These sounds often happen due to the normal expansion and contraction of the ductwork as the air heats and cools. If the pipes have loose flaps, you might notice a sound as the air passes through those areas.check for a loose panel
  • Rattling noise coming from the heating unit. This may mean that you have a loose panel. Check the cover panels on the exterior of the furnace. Tighten any loose screws to see if the rattling sound stops.
  • Scraping sounds from the unit. This often happens when metal from two components starts rubbing. The blower wheel may be loose and scraping against the housing that protects it, which can cause damage to both. If the blower wheel is damaged, it often starts vibrating, which can cause several sounds — including scraping, banging and squealing. In some cases, the motor mount can break, causing the blower wheel to be out of position and bang against the housing.
  • Thumping or vibration sounds often happen when something is off-balance. The blower wheel and motor are two common culprits.
  • Grinding noises coming from within the unit can mean an issue in the motor. If you notice a strange sound that doesn’t go away, call a technician to diagnose and repair the issue. If you let the issue continue, you’ll likely end up with more severe damage that requires additional parts to be replaced or repaired.

If you have this problem with your AC unit, check out our guide here.

Home Heating System Has a Clogged Filter

Many heating problems and solutions center around the air filter. A common potential cause of many issues with your furnace is a clogged filter. It can:

  • Limit air flow
  • Let dirt into the unit
  • Cause cold air to come out of vents
  • Put excess strain on the unit.

Common problems are often due to clogged filter

Not only does it cause minor short-term problems, but a clogged or dirty filter can cause long-term issues and major damage to the unit.

A clean air filter keeps the unit running efficiently. This efficiency, in turn, saves you money on your heating bills. It also minimizes unnecessary strain on your system, which can keep it running longer. Keeping your furnace air filter clean means your home stays cleaner.

The purpose of the filter is to pull dust, pet hair and other debris from the air, so it does not circulate through the system. If the filter is clogged, it can’t do its job, and you may end up with an increase in airborne particles circulating through your home. It is extremely important to get this dirty air filter changed as soon as possible.

Changing the furnace filter is an easy task that homeowners can handle. That simple task can save you lots of issues and money down the road. Most types of furnace filters need to be changed monthly. Refer to the owner’s manual to determine the specific type and size of air filter needed and the appropriate schedule for replacing the filter.

You may need to change the filter more often if you have pets or if your home is unusually dusty, as the filter will get dirty much faster. In most units, you simply pull out the older filter and slide the new filter into the position. If you’re unsure of how to make the change, ask your heating technician to show you at your next maintenance appointment.

Heating System Lack of Maintenance

One of the biggest problems many people have with their heating systems is simply lack of maintenance. It may seem unnecessary when your furnace is working well, but those early maintenance calls are what keep your system in peak condition. Regularly scheduled maintenance can extend the life of your heating system, which protects your investment.

Regular maintenance visits from a heating and cooling specialist ensure your system is working properly. A unit that works well keeps your home comfortable. The expert who performs the check can spot minor issues early before they develop into major issues that cost a lot more money to repair. Maintenance also ensures the unit runs as efficiently as possible, which helps minimize your heating and cooling costs.

During a routine maintenance check, the technician inspects all components of the heating system, and tunes or adjusts parts as needed to keep the system running correctly. The technician checks for any safety issues that need to be addressed. If there are other problems arising in the unit, the technician can handle those repairs.

always have your heating system maintained

General Tips for Handling Home Heating Issues

Some minor heating issues can be handled by the homeowner, but it’s important to know when you need the help of a professional. Heating systems are very complex, with many components working together. You also have the potential danger of electricity, gas and flames.

Keep these things in mind when dealing with an issue.

  • Know your limits:

    Just because you can find an online video showing how to make a repair doesn’t mean you should do it yourself. If you have no training in heating and cooling systems, it’s best to leave repairs to the professionals. You can cause more extensive damage if you handle the repairs yourself. You could also cause a fire or other serious reactions when messing with the unit.

  • Always shut off the power supply first:

    Any time you open the unit to check out an issue, it’s important to shut off the power source. This action reduces the risk of injury or serious complications. You should also shut off the power supply if you think there is a major problem with the unit and you’re waiting for a technician to arrive. Letting the unit continue to run can increase the amount of damage done.

  • Start with the easiest fix first:

    Many heating problems are complicated and require a professional’s help, but it’s always a good idea to check with the obvious, easy issues first. Checking thermostat settings and breakers or fuses eliminate those issues as the culprit. Checking the air filter is the next obvious issue that is easy for you to handle. If those issues aren’t the source of the problem, it’s likely time to call a technician.

  • Choose a reliable heating and cooling company:

    It’s a good idea to build a relationship with a reliable local heating and cooling company. When you choose a reputable company with knowledgeable technicians, you always know who to call when you have issues. You can also feel comfortable with the work you have done.

Schedule Your Home Heating System Repair or Maintenance

Oasis is ready to handle your heating repair needs. Contact us to have a technician come out to diagnose your heating system problems. We can also help you with a regular maintenance plan to keep your system running efficiently.

Furnaces are potentially hazardous if you try to repair them yourself, especially a gas furnace. If your furnace starts to overheat or suffer a breakdown because of overheating, call for professional heating repair in Fairfax, VA from OASIS Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Inc. We have 15 years of experience working on heating and cooling systems in Northern Virginia, and we’re on call 24 hours a day.

Contact OASIS Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration, Inc. when you need fast and effective heating repair in northern Virginia.

*Last Updated 07/07/2021

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