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Troubleshooting Your Heater


When you’re settling down for the evening to unwind and relax on a cold day, there’s nothing to give you that sinking feeling in your stomach like realizing your heater isn’t working.

While there are a variety of possible causes for the most common heater problems that require a professional repair, there are some things you can check on your system that may save you the time and money from a professional diagnostic. These steps apply to central heating systems including gas furnaces, heat pump systems, and mini-split systems. Once you have exhausted these basic troubleshooting steps, you can be sure it’s time to have a licensed HVAC technician fully diagnose your heating system for potential issues.

If you at all feel uncomfortable checking any part of your system, call a professional.

Here are some of the most common issues you may have with your heater, and what you can do to troubleshoot your heating system.

“My heater is not turning on.”

While this may happen for a number of reasons, these are some of the things you can do while waiting for your technician:

  • You may have a tripped or switched off circuit breaker. A power outage or other electrical interruptions could cause your breaker to trip and keep your heating unit from turning on. Check your home circuit breaker box and reset the circuit breaker for your heating unit by flipping the switch all the way to OFF then flipping it back to ON. You will hear a click when it resets. If your system continues to trip your circuit breaker, contact your trusted HVAC company to diagnose your system.
  • Your system could be turned off. Check your thermostat and make sure it is turned on and set to heat mode. If your thermostat will not turn on or has a blank screen, check to see if you need to replace the batteries. If you normally have your system programmed to a schedule, check the schedule to see if it is set how you would like and adjust as needed. Power outages can sometimes reset thermostats and reset programmed schedules. Also, make sure that the set temperature is higher than the current room temperature.
    Your system could be unplugged.Although not as likely, your heating unit being unplugged could be why it is not turning on. Locate your heating unit in your home, and if safely accessible, check to see if the power cord is unplugged.
  • Your gas could be turned off (for gas furnaces only). Since gas furnaces use gas to heat your home, it will not turn on with the gas valves off. Check the gas valve at your gas company meter as well as the shutoff valve at the furnace to see if the gas is turned off. If the gas is turned off, contact your gas company to have them take a look and possibly turn the gas back on.

“My heater is turning on, but only cool or cold air is coming through the vents.”

If this is what your system is doing, here are the steps you can take:

  • Your thermostat may be turned off or set incorrectly. This is more commonly the cause of this issue than some might think. Make sure your thermostat is on and set to heat. If the thermostat is on, reset the thermostat to your desired temperature. Check the fan setting as well to make sure it is set to “auto” instead of “on”. Most systems will have up to a 5 minute delay when it is reset. Wait for 5 minutes to see if the system is working again to allow for that delay. If after 5 minutes your system does not turn on or continues to blow cold air, contact your HVAC professional.
  • You may have dirty or clogged air filters. A commonly overlooked but very important part of keeping your system running properly is changing the air filter. Check your filter to see if there is anything clogging it or if it is dirty, especially if it has been more than 3 months since it was last changed. Air filters are normally located inside the return air grille or at the heating unit. If you are unsure where your filter is, contact your trusted HVAC professional.

“My heater is turning on, but there is no air coming through the vents.”

If there is very little to no air blowing from your vents, here is what you can check before calling a professional.

  • You may have dirty or clogged air filters. Once again, check your filters to see if they are dirty or clogged. Clean or replace the filters if necessary. You should replace your filters at least every 3 months, and check their condition more often especially if you have a lot of dust or pet hair in your home. If you have regular preventative maintenance performed on your system, the filters are normally changed out at this time to help avoid these and other potential issues with your system. Contact your HVAC professional if you are interested in setting up regular maintenance services on your heating and air conditioning system.
  • Your vents may be closed or blocked.Check the vents in the areas where there is poor airflow to make sure there is nothing blocking them. Some vents have a small lever to open and close the vent or redirect air in the room. Check to see if the vents are shut closed by moving the lever. It should be noted that closing off vents to rooms is not a good long term solution to address airflow or heating issues in some rooms. Have a professional inspect your system and ductwork if you have long term airflow issues in your home.

“My heater is constantly running.”

If your heater won’t turn off or is constantly running, try the following:

  • Your system could be trying to reach a set point that is too extreme. Check the set point on your thermostat and make sure it is not set too high, especially in relation to the temperature in your home. The recommended temperature to set your system is no higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit when in heat mode. Try resetting your thermostat and allow for the 5 minute delay for it to restart.
  • Your fan could be set to “on”.Check the fan setting on your thermostat to see if it is set to “on”. If it is, set it to “auto” so the fan for your system will only run when it is actively heating your home.
  • Other cool air sources could be affecting your thermostat. Make sure there are no other possible cool air sources, such as an open window or door, hitting your thermostat. These cool air sources could distort the thermostat’s reading of the room temperature and cause it to constantly run.

What To Do If Your System Still Isn’t Working

Once you have exhausted these steps and your system still isn’t working, or if you are having other issues with your heater not mentioned above, it’s time to call a professional. Turn off your system to avoid further possible damage to your equipment and contact your trusted licensed HVAC company for a system diagnostic.

For more information about your heater or how you can avoid potential issues, contact us.

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