Now that winter has officially arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems like a good time to go over a few furnace tips to make sure you don’t wake up one morning seeing your breath while desperately trying to get the heat to come on.
But first, let me make it clear that I am not an HVAC expert. But I know where to find one, and his name is Bob Vila. I still associate Bob with the popular TV show “This Old House” and trust him without hesitation to know how to do everything we can imagine when it comes to home repairs and maintenance.
When dealing with gas furnace issues (the most popular type of heat in the U.S.) — like the darn thing just won’t turn on — Bob says there are nine easy tasks homeowners can perform themselves to get the heat back on and the house warm again.
No. 1: Check thermostat is set to “Heat.” The simplest of all solutions is to make certain the thermostat has been set to the heat position. I know that our thermostat has to be physically, manually moved to “Heat.” And in summer? You guessed it — move it to the “Cool” position. After making sure it’s set to heat, even if it doesn’t start immediately (which might take a minute or two), set it to 90 F. This way, when it does start, it won’t cycle on and off repeatedly while you troubleshoot.
No. 2: Check the filter. Let’s see, when was the last time you replaced (or cleaned) the furnace filter? Time to check it again, now. Furnace failure due to an overloaded filter that can no longer pull air through it is not unusual. Replace it now if you can, or get a vacuum and remove as much of the debris as you can.
No. 3: Next, the battery. Some home thermostats operate by battery. If so, your battery may be dead. Find it and replace it. Hopefully this was the problem.
No. 4: Confirm it is getting power. Most thermostats have a setting for the fan with options of “Auto” and “On.” Switch it over to “On” and listen for the fan to come on. If it doesn’t come on, this could be a power issue.
No. 5: Check the circuit breaker. No detectable power? Time to find the circuit breaker in your home’s electrical panel. If each breaker is not clearly marked for which part of your home’s system it serves, look for one that has switched to the “Off” position. To fix it, push it all the way off, then back on.
No. 6: Find the “furnace switch.” If nothing so far has worked to get your system back up and running, go to the furnished itself and look for a switch known as the “furnace switch.” You should be able to find this either on the furnace itself or next to it or on the side. It may look like a light switch, in which case someone may have turned it off thinking they were turning out the lights. When you find it and it is “off,” turn it back on and give the furnace a few minutes to come back on.
No. 7: Discover the code. If your furnace is newer than around 1990, it may be outfitted with a digital code to help identify the problem. Bob says you’re looking for a little window with a light shining through. That’s where you may see a flashing code. Make a note of it, then go online to search its meaning.
No. 8: Relight the pilot light. If yours is a much older furnace, it may operate with a pilot light that has gone out over the summer. Or perhaps you turned it off over the summer?
No. 9: Check the gas valve. Bob’s last option for self-troubleshooting is to check the furnace’s gas valve to make sure that somehow it has not been turned to “Off.” It happens.
Hopefully you’ve discovered the problem by now, and if not, it’s time to call in the pros.
You can find Bob Vila at his very popular website, bobvila.com! Thanks, Bob.