What to Do When Your Furnace Breaks Down in Winter
Furnace breakdowns in winter can range from inconvenient to dangerous. There are ways to predict these issues before they make your home unliveable. We’ll discuss the signs of a breakdown and what to do if it happens so you can remain calm in the face of furnace troubles.
Signs of a Furnace Breakdown
- Strange noises or no sound at all
- Cold air coming out from the vents
- Thermostat not responding
- Indoor temperatures have dropped
- Strange odor or burning smell
What to Check
Facing a furnace breakdown can be stressful, but a cool head and quick action can make all the difference. Here are some immediate steps to take to determine if your furnace needs repair:
- Check your thermostat: Before doing anything else, make sure your thermostat is set correctly. A simple misconfiguration might be the culprit.
- Inspect the circuit breaker: Head to the circuit breaker and check if the furnace switch is in the “on” position. If not, flip it on and see if that jumpstarts your heating system.
- Check the pilot light: If you have an older furnace with a pilot light, check if it’s still burning. If it’s out, relight it following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Change the air filter: A dirty air filter can strangle your furnace’s efficiency. Replace or clean the filter to ensure good airflow.
- Check the vents: Make sure that all the vents in your home are open and unblocked. Obstructed vents can disrupt the airflow and hinder heating.
- Look for signs of damage: Take a quick look at your furnace for any visible signs like loose wires, leaks, or unusual debris. If you spot something concerning, proceed with caution.
- Hit the “reset” button: Modern furnaces often have reset buttons. You can reset the furnace if it remains unresponsive after addressing other issues.
When to Call a Professional
While troubleshooting issues yourself can sometimes solve the problem, there are times when it’s best to wave the white flag and call for help. If all your best efforts have done nothing to restore heat to your home, seeking professional help is not just recommended but necessary. Call your HVAC company immediately.
If this happens on a weekend, you can call for emergency furnace repair, and get a technician to come. However, you will need to get some type of heat going inside until they arrive.
Staying Warm Until Help Arrives
The main thing is to keep your body warm, so dressing in layers is the first order of business. Add a sweater over your shirt, and some extra thick socks to keep your feet warm. If you have a heated blanket, you can wrap up and stay cozy with a steaming cup of hot cocoa.
Besides keeping yourself warm, you also need to keep your pipes warm. If the temperature outside dips below freezing, that could cause your pipes to freeze. Consider what other heat sources you might have. Kerosene heaters, an electric fireplace, or a wood stove are alternative heat sources that will work temporarily.
Let Your Faucets Drip
If your heat won’t be fixed for a day or more, be sure to open the cabinets beneath your sink in the kitchen and bathroom and allow the faucets to drip. This will help prevent your pipes from cracking if the water does freeze.
Another way to keep your home warmer is to block cold air from getting inside. Air leaks let the heat escape and cold air creep in. Close off unused rooms (those without plumbing), and place a rolled-up towel at the bottom of the door. Seal cracks and gaps around the frames of exterior doors and windows with silicone or rubber caulk. To detect drafts, move a candle slowly around the frame of each window and door. The flame will flicker at the source of the draft.
Residual & Thermal Heat
If you just cooked a meal, ran the dishwasher, or did a load of laundry open the doors and let the excess heat out into the room. It won’t last long but every little bit helps. Likewise, if this happens during the day, open the curtains on sunny windows to take advantage of thermal heat transfer through the glass.
Important Safety Tips
While taking measures to retain warmth, it’s critically important to keep safety in mind. Never use propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices indoors for makeshift heating, as these can lead to dangerous carbon monoxide buildup inside your home. Likewise, never run a gasoline or diesel generator indoors or in an attached garage, as the exhaust contains this deadly gas.
Carbon monoxide is invisible, odorless, and can be fatal at high concentrations. Be sure you have carbon monoxide detectors installed on every level of the home according to manufacturer instructions. Opening doors or windows a crack while using alternative heat sources can help ventilate.
If your detector goes off, evacuate the home immediately and call 911. Do not take risks when it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s better to be cold temporarily than risk permanent injury or death. Stay alert and remain conscious of ventilation needs if using any combustion devices until furnace repair help arrives.
Preventing Problems in the Future
Once you have solved your heating problem and your furnace is working again, you’ll need to have a plan that includes preventive measures to keep it in top-notch condition. Some things you can do include changing air filters monthly, having a programmable thermostat installed, and scheduling regular seasonal maintenance to prevent breakdowns in the future.
Common Myths About Furnace Care
- Myth 1: Furnaces don’t need regular maintenance: Some people think that investing in a furnace maintenance plan is a waste of money, but problems discovered during routine maintenance can be fixed inexpensively compared to waiting until the unit breaks down or needs replacing.
- Myth 2: Closing doors and vents saves energy: Suggestions like closing vents and doors in unused rooms to save money can damage your furnace. It needs air flow and circulation, when it is blocked it creates suction in the system that can damage components and destroy seals. It’s not worth damaging your system to save a few pennies on electricity.
- Myth 3: Cranking up the thermostat makes it heat faster: Your furnace operates at a steady rate, regardless of how high you set the thermostat. Turning it up won’t make it heat up any faster; it will only lead to unnecessary energy consumption.
Recognizing the signs that your furnace is struggling and taking action to help will make you the warrior your home needs to protect it. Scheduling maintenance checks, changing air filters, keeping vents open, and making sure nothing obstructs the ducts are the best ways to care for your furnace.
Need Furnace Help?
When it comes to heating and cooling systems, trust the experts at Black Lion Heating & Air Conditioning for all your home comfort needs. Our technicians are NATE-certified and provide installation, repair and maintenance for all types of heating and cooling systems including furnaces, air conditioners, mini-splits and heat pumps. We also provide electrical services from hot tub and EV station wiring to generators and RV plugins. We can clean your ducts and install indoor air quality sensors and systems. Call us before your furnace decides to take a vacation. We can help you avoid costly repairs and unexpected breakdowns.
For more information or to schedule service, contact Black Lion Heating & Air Conditioning in Kirkland today!