Common Problems With Gas Heaters — and How to Fix Them Before You Freeze

Thanks to climate change, winter isn’t just coming — in many parts of the country, winter is indisputably already here. Forecasters everywhere are predicting a particularly long and brutal cold season that has already started and should last well into spring. Unfortunately, the turn from cozy fall to frigid winter happened fast, leaving many homeowners unable to complete their preparations for winter — and allowing many gas furnaces to fall into disrepair.

If you’ve been blindsided by the sudden cold snap, you aren’t alone. Here are some signs that your gas heater might need emergency maintenance if you expect it to keep you warm all winter long.

Dirty Filters

Easily the most common problem with any HVAC system — not just gas furnaces — is a filter clogged with dust and debris. Filters work to keep gunk out of your central heating system, to prevent it from causing more significant clogs deeper in the ducts; instead of taking your walls apart to clear a clog, you can simply change your filter every few months.

However, if you don’t change your filter (or clean it, if you use reusable filters) the dust and debris will build up, impeding air flow. This makes your furnace work harder to pull in air to heat — which is bad for two reasons. First, the less air your furnace has flowing, the less warmth it will pump into your home. Yet, perhaps more important in the long run, a furnace that is working harder than necessary won’t do so for long. You are more likely to experience other, more serious failures in your heating system when your filters are dirty, so set a schedule for changing your filters.

Pilot Light Problems The pilot light is a small flame that serves to ignite the gas used to heat the air that fills your home. If your pilot light isn’t functioning properly, much of the gas your furnace consumes won’t burn — which could be a serious fire risk for your home, or it could waste resources without making your home warm. There are two common conditions that indicate a faulty pilot light:

The pilot light blows out. Strong drafts near your furnace can eliminate the pilot light, requiring you to manually reignite it according to the furnace’s instructions. If this happens often, you might need to insulate around your furnace.

The pilot light burns orange or yellow. The pilot light should be a crisp blue — so if you see a flickering yellow or orange flame, you have a problem. Often, this means there isn’t enough oxygen in the area, but it could also mean that the flame is producing carbon monoxide, a toxic gas. You will need a professional to help you with this problem.

Cracked Heat Exchanger Heat exchangers serve to keep different gases and liquids separate, to ensure that the heating or cooling system functions as it should. Unfortunately, heat exchangers can crack, due to old age or poor maintenance, and those cracks pose a serious risk to your heating system and your health. Carbon monoxide is a typical byproduct of gas furnaces, and as mentioned above, CO is toxic and can be deadly. If you don’t replace a cracked heat exchanger, you could be putting your family’s lives at risk. Unfortunately, heat exchangers cannot be repaired; if your heat exchanger is cracked because your entire furnace is out of date, it might be worth investing in a new gas heater for your home.

Thermostat on the Fritz

Just because your home isn’t heating up to the temperature you set your thermostat doesn’t mean your furnace is automatically to blame. Thermostats can cause all sorts of problems on their own, like not registering the correct temperature, not sending the right messages to your furnace or otherwise not functioning as they should. If you constantly seem to have heating or cooling issues, your thermostat might be to blame.

Often, thermostats are placed improperly in your home. You should consider moving your thermostat to a more central location, where it is out of direct sunlight, dark shade and the path of heating or cooling vents, so it will take more accurate readings of the temperature inside your home. You might also want to invest in a smart thermostat, so you can have more minute control over your home’s temperature from near and far.

Gas heaters are incredibly efficient — unless you fail to take proper care of them. By learning more about what can go wrong with your heater, you can take steps to prevent those catastrophes from occurring and enjoy the longer winter in complete warmth.

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