When cold weather hits, homes and businesses throughout America rely on some sort of furnace to provide warmth and comfort. While furnace technology has changed over time, one fact remains–sooner or later, residential and commercial units will develop problems that interfere with their ability to work properly or function at all. Whether you’re a homeowner or business owner, the most likely sources of your furnace troubles remain the same. Here are the 5 most common furnace problems and how to identify them.
1) Lack of Adequate Maintenance – Even in the relatively mild climate of Southern California, a residential or commercial furnace must frequently bear a heavy workload for months at a time. If the unit you have installed is going to stand up to this regular use, it must receive periodic maintenance that aims at preventing small problems from snowballing into major issues. Unfortunately, many homeowners and business owners neglect this crucial step, and thereby leave themselves vulnerable to serious furnace malfunctions and total breakdowns.
Typical steps in an effective furnace maintenance program include such things as:
- Inspecting the burners (on gas-powered units)
- Checking all electrical connection points (on electricity-powered units)
- Cleaning the blower blades
- Swapping out the furnace filter
- Checking the condition of the exhaust flue pipe
- Inspecting the condition of the blower belt, and
- Cleaning the pilot (on gas-powered units)
You can carry out a basic program as a do-it-yourself project. However, advanced maintenance steps (like adjusting burner settings) require the expertise of a trained professional.
2) Dirty/Clogged Filters – This maintenance-related issue leads to malfunctions and breakdowns so often that it merits its own separate category as a source of furnace problems. When you fail to replace your filter after one to three months of use, you make your furnace work much harder to move air and perform the heat exchange that provides your building with indoor warmth. The potential consequences of this elevated workload include:
- Increased energy use followed by a rise in your monthly utility bills
- Frozen evaporator coils (in an HVAC system that combines heating functions with cooling functions)
- Lack of adequate heating in your home or business
- An increase in indoor pollutants (i.e., dust, debris and allergens) capable of triggering allergies or asthma, and
- Blower failure that cascades into complete failure of the entire furnace
3) Normal Wear and Tear – Whether powered by natural gas, electricity or modern thermal technology, all furnaces are intricate systems with a number of moving parts. Over time, repeated use of your unit will inevitably produce some amount of wear and tear in those parts. The gradual process of wear and tear will eventually lead to minor and major furnace problems unless you have the affected component(s) repaired or replaced.
It’s important to note that the rate of wear-and-tear-related issues in your furnace will depend largely on how often you use the unit. Heavy use will lead to a quicker onset of problems than moderate or light use. You should also be aware that you increase your exposure to these problems when you fail to carry out routine furnace maintenance, including the regular replacement of dirty filters.
4) A Malfunctioning Pilot Control or Electronic Ignition – Most modern gas furnaces rely on one of two systems to control the ignition process: an intermittent pilot or a hot surface ignition. While both of these systems are electronically controlled, they function in different ways. When a unit equipped with an intermittent pilot turns on, a high-voltage electrical spark ignites the gas pilot. In turn, the pilot ignites the main burners, which supply the needed heat. When a unit equipped with a hot surface ignition turns on, the burners are lit by a component called a resistance heating element, which superficially resembles the metal filament inside an incandescent light bulb.
The primary symptoms of a malfunctioning intermittent pilot or hot surface ignition are intermittent heat production and a total lack of heat production. Several issues can lead to this type of malfunction. The most likely problems include drafty conditions at the furnace location, clogging of the pilot/ignition and failure of another electrically powered furnace component called a thermocouple.
5) Thermostat Malfunctions – The wall-mounted thermostat connected to your furnace allows you to interact with the unit and set the conditions which will cause it to activate. It works by sensing the interior temperature at a given location, comparing that reading with the temperature you input at the controls, and using that combined information to determine the furnace’s on/off cycle. A range of issues can cause your furnace thermostat to malfunction. A list of the most common concerns includes:
- Inaccurately registered indoor temperatures
- Loose connections and other wiring problems
- The accumulation of dust and debris inside the thermostat housing
- A lack of electrical power (triggered by dead batteries, a blown fuse or a tripped circuit breaker), and
- An electrical mismatch between the type of thermostat you have installed and the type of furnace you have installed
Typical consequences of a malfunctioning thermostat include intermittent heating, a complete lack of heating and uncomfortable indoor temperatures.
The list of relatively common furnace problems also includes excessive noise during normal operation, unusually frequent cycling between “on” and “off” settings, and a blower that runs continuously. You can troubleshoot many of the most likely malfunctions on your own. However, for a variety of reasons, many homeowners and business owners turn to a certified furnace professional for all their all their diagnostic needs. Help from an expert is also often the path of least resistance for timely, effective repairs that you can trust to hold up over time.
Whether you own a home or run a business, the source for furnace expertise in greater Los Angeles is West Coast Chief Repair. No matter the type of technology you have installed, our staff of specialists has the training and decades of hands-on experience needed to find the most cost-effective remedy for your current issues. We can also walk you through detailed maintenance steps that will allow you to keep your residential or commercial furnace in peak condition for as many years as possible. And if you prefer, we’ll gladly take care of all routine servicing on your behalf.