Winter checks: furnace edition

Feet warming by fireplaceAs we head towards winter, it’s becoming increasingly important to have a well-functioning furnace. Before it’s too late, here are a few suggestions to avoid problems, and a few tips for when problems can’t be avoided.


In order to avoid your furnace breaking down in the dead of winter, it’s important to check the filter every month, especially in the months leading up to winter. Depending on your particular furnace, the filter can usually be slid out, or otherwise removed quite easily. You should clean and/or replace it regularly. When replacing your filter, if it is a flat one, you might consider upgrading it to a more energy-efficient model. It’s also handy to keep a spare one around, just in case. If you can afford it, you might want to hire someone to do a general maintenance overhaul on the furnace and change the filter for you, just to make sure everything is in working order.

If you decide to do your own maintenance, it is important to check the rest of the furnace system for dirt and obstructions. You can do this by first removing the vent covers and cleaning the air ducts and vents with a vacuum cleaner. Second, open and inspect all the air vents to make sure there is nothing blocking the flow. Third, check the exhaust outside to make sure no birds have decided to use it as a nest, and that no other waste has got into it. Also, make sure the area around your furnace is well taken care of, so things can’t easily be displaced into it.

The last thing you can do to look after your furnace and save some costs is to check what thermostat you are using, and what setting it is on. There are certain thermostats that keep the house too warm during the night, which overworks the furnace and costs money. Checking the thermostat is also a useful first step if your furnace isn’t acting as it should. It could be that it just needs new batteries.

Problem solving

If you do find yourself without a functioning furnace, you can check a few things before having to call for help. If you haven’t already, the first step would be to check the filters and the thermostat. Of course, if you have a gas furnace, you should always make sure there isn’t a gas leak before trying anything else. If you do have a gas leak, call someone immediately and be extremely cautious.

After checking the filters and gas, the next step would be to check if there is a problem with the electricity. Electrical problems can cause a malfunction in the thermostat (even if it’s otherwise battery-operated), the ignition if it is electronic rather than gas-based, or the furnace itself. Unless you can solve the problem by replacing the thermostat, it’s better to call in a professional.

If your furnace is making strange noises, this could mean the motor is malfunctioning. If it’s become unhinged, you might be able to put it back yourself. If it’s not the motor, there might also be a leak in the furnace or the ducts, with the noise coming from the air that is escaping. If you’re lucky, all you’ll need is a bit of tape to patch things up.

Another problem you may encounter is a furnace that switches off and on repeatedly, or does not switch off at all. If the problem isn’t coming from the fan setting, a clogged filter is the likeliest cause.

Several things can go wrong with the pilot and main burners. As mentioned above, this could be an electrical problem, or the burner could be dirty. Unless you have utter confidence in what you’re doing, it is not recommended that you clean the burner or pilot light yourself. You can usually tell when a pilot light is not working when you hear repeated clicking, but no successful start. Make sure there’s no draft coming into the furnace, so you can at least be sure that’s not making the flame go out.

Furnaces are tricky

While there are many things you can do to help keep your furnace in tip-top shape, it is always worth remembering that furnaces are complicated pieces of machinery, and that if anything goes wrong with them, it could be dangerous. So aside from looking after it yourself, don’t hesitate to contact a professional even when the furnace is showing no immediate trouble. An early repair or simple maintenance can save you a lot of money and trouble in the end.

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