home heating system

Most Common Home Heating and Furnace Issues

A central heating system is a common feature in most North American homes as it provides the necessary comfort during winter. There are different types of heating systems today which usually differ in the working principle and type of fuel used. The most common heating systems are:

  1. A majority of homes in the US use a furnace for heating. It is a forced air system that blows heated air through ducts that circulate around the house. Furnaces generate power from natural gas, electricity, or oil. Inside the furnace, air mixes with fuel and gets burned. The flames produced heat the exchanger which then transfers the heat to the air. The heated air gets pushed into the ducts. Any by-products of combustion will be vented out using a chimney. Old furnaces usually waste around 30% of energy through these vents. A condensing-type furnace, on the other hand, reclaims escaping heat by condensing it into water vapour. Every heating system has a corresponding control which regulates its function. On the user’s standpoint, the most vital control component is the thermostat. All furnaces have an assigned AFUE rating which is an estimation of the furnace’s efficiency. High-efficiency furnaces are most effective in reducing energy loss.
  2. A boiler is a water heater which also works to provide central heating by distributing hot water into radiators placed in specific areas inside the home. Once the water cools down, it is returned to the boiler to be heated again. Boilers are also called hydronic heating systems and typically use natural gas or oil. Instead of using ducts, boilers use a pump to circulate hot water around pipes and radiators. In addition to radiators, hydronic systems may also feature radiant floor heating which distributed hot water into plastic tubes installed underneath the floors. Boilers also feature controls such as thermostats, aquastats, and valves. Similar to furnaces, there are also condensing boilers which are more energy-efficient than non-condensing boilers.
  3. Heat pumps. A heat pump is also called a two-way air conditioner because, in summer, it works by moving heat from indoors and bringing it outside. In winter, a heat pump it reverses its function by taking heat from outdoors and bringing the heat inside the house. Almost every heat pump using a forced-air delivery system to circulate cold or warm air inside the house.
  4. Gas-fired space heaters. Space heaters are also popular in some areas because these do not require ductwork to operate. Space heaters can be mounted on walls, freestanding, or floor-type furnaces which are useful in heating a single area. This type of heating system can provide sufficient heat in small spaces or in areas where it is acceptable to have a significant temperature difference between rooms.

Although not generally acceptable, gas-fired heaters without a venting system are also sometimes used. Other examples of heating systems used for homes are electric space heaters, wood burning stoves, and fireplaces.

Advantages of a furnace heating system

Of all the heating systems outlined above, the most popular is a gas furnace. There are many reasons why homeowners choose a forced-air heating system over other types of heating. Here are six benefits of a gas furnace.

  • Energy-efficient. Efficiency is crucial if you want your heating system to minimize wasting fuel. A forced-air gas furnace combusts fuel and producing heat quickly. A home with forced-air gas furnace has better regulation and control over the temperature in various areas.
  • Furnaces are reliable and will last years of use. Most furnaces, when well-maintained, will last at least ten years of use.
  • Cost-effective. Although a new furnace is a significant investment, you can recoup the cost quickly if you buy a high-efficiency model. Gas furnaces cost less to operate and maintain, and you will pay less on your energy bills if you have a high-efficiency model.
  • Quick response time. Gas-fired furnaces heat faster than other types of heating systems. You can achieve the desired temperature within minutes after turning on the appliance.
  • Compatible with other appliances. A forced-air gas furnace can operate with air-conditioning systems, centralized vacuum systems, and other home appliances.
  • Safety standards. One of the main concerns of people who have gas furnaces is carbon monoxide. But new models adhere to strict safety standards to prevent combustion by-products from contaminating the living space. If you want to be extra careful, you can also install a carbon monoxide detector.

Despite the many advantages of using a gas-fired furnace to heat your home, there are still some drawbacks you need to be aware of. One of the common complaints of homeowners is the noise coming from the appliance. Another vital consideration is to ensure that you hire a professional HVAC technician to install the furnace as any mistakes can be quite dangerous.

Common furnace problems you can fix yourself

Gas-fired furnaces are quite reliable, but if the appliance or system is poorly maintained, you will start to experience some issues which will affect its function. While it is best to contact a professional to fix any major issues, there are still some minor problems you can quickly remedy yourself.

  • Clogged air filters. If you start noticing problems with airflow, the first thing you need to check is the air filters. Dust and dirt build-up will clog the filters and prevent air from flowing freely. Before checking the filters, always turn-off the entire system first. If filters are disposable, you may want to replace them with new ones. Washable filters need to be cleaned thoroughly to remove every trace of debris. If you are unsure on how to remove, replace, or clean filters, leave this task to the professionals and contact an HVAC maintenance company right away.
  • Problems with the thermostat. One essential troubleshooting step you need to perform is to check the settings on the thermostat. It is possible that the thermostat is not set correctly, which is why you are experiencing problems with the heating system.
  • Tripped circuit breaker. Although this is not common, there are times when the furnace turns off because the circuit breaker tripped. Check the furnace switch and the circuit breaker first to see if the system is turned on before calling in a professional in case you are still having trouble in getting the furnace to work.

Watch out for unusual sounds coming from the furnace as well as other signs that there may be something wrong with the heating system. Do not attempt to fix anything you are unfamiliar with. Take note of any anomalies you notice and relay this information to the technician to help in diagnosing the problem.

Furnace problems that should only be fixed by a professional

There are times when homeowners attempt to fix problems with their furnace using DIY tutorials found online. This is extremely dangerous especially if you have minimal experience fixing similar appliances or heating systems. To avoid causing further damage to the furnace or any part of the heating system, contact an HVAC technician if you observe the following issues:

  • Pilot light ignition problem. Modern furnaces no longer use a standing pilot light for efficiency. But these modern intermittent pilot lights and hot surface ignition systems can also encounter problems. Possible issues include broken safety switches, failed computer boards, and other malfunctions with the system.
  • Burner needs cleaning or adjustment. There are times when the ignition system is working, but the burner is malfunctioning. Checking whether or not the burner needs cleaning or adjustment requires someone to peek inside the furnace, which is a job that only a professional should perform because of the safety concerns related to this task.
  • Problems with the blower belt. A problem with the blower belt likely causes high-pitched noise coming from the furnace. The technician may need to lubricate the belt or replace it if the belt is already worn. There are instances when the problem is not with the belt, but in some other mechanical component of the blower which may need repairs or replacement.
  • No heat is coming from the furnace. One of the reasons why a furnace is not producing enough heat is that it is not big enough for the space.
  • Frequent cycling. Cycling is normal for every heating system, but when it happens too frequently, it could be because of clogged filters or incorrect thermostat settings. You can troubleshoot this problem yourself by checking the filters and correcting the settings on the thermostat. But, if the problem persists, contact a technician to assess the system for other possible causes.

Regular maintenance and proper use are vital to a furnace that functions efficiently and reliably. As much as possible, have your heating system checked and maintained at least twice a year, preferably before winter begins and after a season of heavy use. Frequent checks will also help prevent minor problems from getting any worse, and it is also crucial to contact a reputable HVAC technician for maintenance, repairs, and replacement. Regardless of how old your heating system is, always have an expert to check and provide you with the best course of action anytime you experience a problem with your heating system.

Image Copyright: Igor Zakharevich / 123RF Stock Photo

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