How to Troubleshoot Your Home Heater

The main heater, or furnace, in a home can succumb to any number of failures. Troubleshooting is the first thing done by a qualified technician who comes out for repairs. There are some basic troubleshooting steps most any homeowner can do on his own. Simple troubleshooting makes it clear whether a simple repair or replacement is needed.

Check the Power

All furnace systems use electricity regardless if the heating elements are electrically powered or powered by fossil fuels. Natural gas or propane forced-air systems use an electric blower. Oil furnaces use electricity to run the oil pump and the blower. Furnaces that use hot water heat use electricity to circulate the water to the registers. All the systems use electricity to power the thermostat and the switches that turn on the heat.

Check the breaker box. Electric furnaces have two breakers connected together because of the power they draw. Other furnace types will just have a regular breaker that looks like the ones for the lights and electrical outlets. Reset it if it has been tripped, but realize that something caused it to trip. Also, many older heating systems have an off switch on the side or close to the furnace that looks like a light switch. Make sure it is on. Also, check to make sure the switch at the thermostat is set to “Heat.”

Check the Fuel

Is the oil or propane tank empty? Has there been an interruption to the natural gas service? Check the fuel levels or confirm the gas is turned on. If there is a gas water heater, run some hot water to see if it starts.

Check the System

Have someone listen where the furnace is at for a click when the thermostat is turned up. If there is no click and the electricity is definitely on, there has been a system failure requiring a service call. If there is a click, listen for the sound of a small motor running. Do not listen for the blower motor. Listen for the ventilation motor that runs before the flames come on in fuel furnaces. It may run for a few seconds and shut off. It may not run at all. If this motor is malfunctioning, the furnace will not work.

If the thermostat is turned up and it is obvious that heat is being made from flames or electric elements, the blower may be the culprit. If it does not turn on after the electric elements or flames are on for a couple of minutes, the system shuts down to prevent overheating. Hot water systems may have the flames come on in the heating chamber, but the circulation pump may have failed. This will shut down a system too.

Many a homeowner has been embarrassed to have a repair technician walk in and flip the switch on the thermostat to “Heat.” Tripped breakers are an indicator of a growing problem. Oil furnaces get clogged screens and filters. Propane and oil tanks can go empty at the worst possible time. If after following these steps, you’re still seeing a problem, please don’t hesitate to call Bell Brothers. We will help ensure the heat is working properly in as little time as possible.