The holidays have come and gone in Chicago. Decorations have been packed away, resolutions have been made, and 2019 has arrived. With the sun starting to poke its head out of the clouds for a longer stay, it’s easy to forget about those pesky snowy days and icy nights. However, winter is still in full force. Your furnace’s job isn’t done just yet!
After several months of use, your furnace is bound to feel a little strained in the new year. Just like any other piece of equipment, furnaces accumulate wear-and-tear over time. As Chicago’s largest heating, cooling, and plumbing contractor, we know that furnaces often experience a myriad of different issues around this time of year that leave homeowners with unexpected and costly repairs.
Consistently maintaining your furnace can help prevent breakdowns, but it’s also important to know the signs of common furnace issues. Knowing what is normal with your furnace and what is not can help prevent a minor issue from turning into a much larger problem.
Here are the top six furnace issues to look for during the winter season:
1. Dirty Filters and Air Ducts
You’ll hear us say this a thousand times: You need to change your furnace filter. Regularly. Dirty or clogged filters obstruct air flow and prevent your furnace from working at peak capacity. This not only raises your monthly heating bill, but it adds strain to your furnace and causes it to overwork as well.
How often your furnace filter needs to be changed can depend on its thickness, the amount of use your furnace gets, and if there are animals in your home. However, most furnaces need their filters changed every couple months, so if you have not changed your filter out this winter, it’s time for a replacement.
In the same sense, it’s important to keep your air ducts clean as well. Because your furnace circulates heat through your ducts, dirty and clogged ducts can prevent your home from heating evenly. It can also increase your monthly heating bill, so it’s a good idea to have your ducts cleaned once a year by an HVAC professional.
2. Uneven Home Heating
Uneven heating can be an annoyance. Much like Goldilocks, no one likes a home that is “too hot” or “too cold” in certain rooms. We all want our home to be at just the right temperature throughout.
If your home is experiencing uneven heating, start by cleaning your furnace and air filters to allow proper air flow. Make sure all your vents are open, even in rooms you do not use. It’s also a good idea to insulate your home with draft snakes and weather strips to prevent heat from escaping. Doors, windows, outlets, and even ceiling lights can let cold air inside, resulting in unevenly heated areas of your home.
If none of these steps make a difference, it’s time to call an HVAC professional. An improperly-sized HVAC system can lead to uneven heating, and you might need to get your system resized in order to achieve maximum home comfort.
3. Furnace is Blowing Cold Air
If your thermostat is on the correct setting and your filters are clean, a furnace that is blowing cold air should be a red flag.
There are a couple issues that can cause this malfunction. If your furnace is older, the pilot light might have gone out. The pilot light is a small flame that helps light the burners in your furnace. It can be relit by following the manufacturer’s instructions for your furnace, but it is usually safer to call an HVAC professional to do so, especially if you are uncertain of what you are doing. A trained professional will also be able to tell you if there’s a larger issue at play, such as the pilot light’s thermocouple needing to be replaced.
Another common reason for a furnace blowing cold air is a dirty flame sensor. Some furnaces use flame sensors in place of a pilot light to keep your furnace burning once it has been turned on. If your flame sensor is dirty, your furnace could start blowing cold air. Furnace tune-ups often incorporate a cleaning of your flame sensor, so proper yearly maintenance should prevent this issue.
4. Rattling, Banging, or Clanging Noises
Any foreign noises coming from your furnace should be immediately investigated. Not all sounds indicate dangerous issues, but it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to strange noises and your furnace.
A scraping sound, for example, might predict an issue with your blower wheel, while a rattling sound could simply be a loose screw. A loud banging noise could point towards a number of issues, with the most dangerous being a cracked heat exchanger.
Whatever the noise, it is best to call an experienced HVAC professional to take a look at your unit. They will be able to determine the cause of any strange sounds and find a solution that can prevent a future breakdown or malfunction.
5. Furnace Won’t Start
If your furnace won’t turn on at all, start by evaluating it for an electric issue. If you own a newer furnace, reset the unit by turning your thermostat all the way down then turning the unit on and off. If you’re able to adjust the furnace to your preferred temperature after taking these steps, you’re good to go.
A furnace that won’t start could also be affected by other simple electrical issues, such as a tripped breaker or dead batteries. These are common issues with easy fixes.
However, if your furnace still won’t turn on after these steps, there could be an internal problem with your pilot light. An HVAC professional will be able to tell if your pilot light has a low flame setting, a faulty valve, or a loose thermocouple.
6. Gas Leaks
Out of all the issues listed above, this is the most important furnace issue to watch for during winter. Gas leaks can be extremely dangerous and should be dealt with right away.
If you smell natural gas, which is often described as smelling like rotten eggs or sulfur, go outside immediately and call 911. Do not touch any electrical switches on the way out, and don’t go back inside until your furnace has been fixed.
In addition to smells, you can identify carbon monoxide leaks by using a carbon monoxide detector, listening for any whistling or hissing noises coming from your furnace, and paying attention to medical symptoms you and your family might be presenting, such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to gas leaks. If you are concerned your home might be experiencing one, call for professional help right away.
Overall, the majority of winter furnace issues can be prevented or quickly dealt with by proper yearly maintenance. By scheduling yearly tune-ups with Four Seasons, you can keep your HVAC system clean and working as efficiently as possible. Before you turn off your furnace for warmer spring days, call Four Seasons for a 30+ Point Precision Furnace Tune-Up and get peace of mind for the entire season.