This article was crafted with the help of Pat and Steve Nugent from John Nugent & Sons

In part one of this blog, Pat and Steve Nugent of Virginia-based John Nugent & Sons shared some simple troubleshooting tips for homeowners whose heaters fail to start. Of course, some problems should only be handled by a professional. Read on to learn about the more advanced problems that can keep your heater from functioning as it should.

Problems to Leave to a Professional

When you encounter one of the following issues, Pat and Steve recommend getting in touch with a reputable HVAC contractor, not only for the most efficient and effective solution, but also in order to keep your unit operating safely and prevent permanent damage.

  • Gas furnace burners don’t light. Heaters with standing pilot lights that can be blown out by drafts are increasingly rare these days—they’re simply less efficient and safe than units with electronic ignitions. However, electronic ignitions such as surface igniters or spark ignition systems can also have problems, usually as a result of age or lack of maintenance. If the burners on your gas furnace simply don’t light, the problem may be a dirty ignition. A technician can solve the issue by cleaning or replacing the part.

  • Gas furnace burners light but go off quickly. Gas furnaces include flame sensors, safety devices that shut off the gas when no flame is detected. Once again, age or lack of maintenance can make a flame sensor malfunction, causing the burners to shut off right after lighting. The problem can often be resolved by removing and cleaning the part.

  • Excessive frost or ice on a heat pump’s outdoor unit. A heat pump’s outdoor unit tends to collect frost in the winter, but the device has a defrost mode to prevent ice buildup. Excessive frost or solid ice indicates a malfunction. According to Steve, “The unit goes into defrost mode about every 90 minutes or so. If it doesn’t and starts to freeze, it’ll cost a lot more to heat your house and ultimately damage the heat pump.” A failure to defrost properly is likely not a problem a homeowner can tackle alone, so if your heat pump begins blowing cool air in the winter, check for ice on the outdoor unit and consult a professional.

Seasonal Maintenance and Safety

Pat and Steve reiterate that if homeowners haven’t had their unit regularly maintained by a professional, they shouldn’t be surprised when they have a hard time turning their heaters on in the fall or winter. Changing the filters on a forced-air system, switching a heat pump from cool to heat as the season changes, and bleeding excess air from a boiler are all jobs that a professional can complete as part of a service agreement, with little hassle for the homeowner. Pat adds, “When your technician is at your house, feel free to stand around and ask questions so you know a little more about your system. We encourage people to do that.”

On a final note, Pat and Steve urge every homeowner, especially those in homes with a fuel-burning appliance, to install a carbon monoxide detector. A faulty boiler, cracked heat exchanger, or plugged-up chimney all have the potential to send carbon monoxide into the house. “Having at least two carbon monoxide detectors is a good idea,” advises Steve. “Manufacturers usually recommend putting one just outside the furnace room and one close to the bedroom, so it can wake you up.” If the alarm goes off, Pat and Steve say that a homeowner’s immediate response should be to open the windows, get everyone out of the house, and call the fire department. “Every so often,” says Pat, “you’ll get a false positive. But you’d rather make a big deal out of it than put your family at risk.”

If you turn on your heater and nothing happens, don’t despair; the problem may be one you can solve yourself. If not, a qualified technician can provide a one-time solution, and regular maintenance will help prevent problems in the future. During the technician’s visits, take Pat and Steve’s advice to ask questions and become as well educated as you can about your heater. Something you learn may prove vital if your unit has a problem later on.

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This spotlight article was crafted by John Nugent & Sons, an Air Conditioning & Heating Best Pick in Virginia. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.