Is my HVAC issue an emergency?

Furnace Issue: Emergency or Not?

When your home’s furnace is properly installed, tested and maintained by a trained and certified HVAC technician, it should operate smoothly and maintain a comfortable temperature in your home. However, when your furnace is having issues, how do you know when it’s just a regular furnace repair or an emergency?

As a homeowner in the Columbus, Ohio community, you no doubt understand a furnace emergency on the coldest days of the winter. Some furnace issues require immediate attention and are a safety or hazard issue. This post will help you identify relatively minor problems you can solve yourself, and issues that require a professional HVAC technician’s expertise.

Time to Call a Pro: Emergency Furnace Repairs

Electrical Issues

Any homeowner can benefit from understanding how your home’s electrical system works, but leave nothing to chance. The dangers associated with electricity should not be taken lightly.

We all rely on our home’s electric system to provide lighting, power ceiling fans, clothes dryers and other appliances. Whether it’s a natural gas-fired furnace or an all-electric one, electricity is also an absolute must for the furnace.

When your furnace fan kicks on, your lights should not flicker. This could be a wiring or electric capacity issue and should be checked immediately before larger issues rear their heads.

For more information about the dangers of performing your own electrical repairs or inspections, check out this video from the Electrical Safety Foundation International on YouTube.

We recommend you do not attempt electrical procedures or attempt repairs to your home’s electrical system, unless you are properly trained and qualified. Here are some statistics to convince you to avoid DIY electrical repairs:

  • In 51,000 home fires each year, electrical malfunctions or failures were a factor
  • 500 deaths and more than 1,400 injuries were caused by these home fires
  • $1.3 billion worth of property damage is caused from these fires

We can’t stress enough, hire a qualified and trained HVAC professional if you suspect there are electrical issues related to your home heating or air conditioning system. Otherwise, call a professional electrician.

Loud and Unusual Noises From Your Furnace

If your furnace is producing quite a bit of noise, but otherwise running fine, you may not have any real issues. Fan noise is a common complaint, especially with older furnaces and air conditioners. Insulating your home’s ductwork is one possible solution to reduce noise from the furnace in your home.

If the noise is emanating from the actual furnace, the system’s pilot light may be adjusted improperly, or the blower motor may need oil added to its lubrication ports. Noise can also be caused by the burners or belts inside the furnace.

Possible Sources of Noise from the Furnace

  • Squealing This sound could be caused by a slipping belt that connects the motor to the fan. The belt is ready for replacement.
  • Rattling A typical furnace and the connected ductwork is composed of a lot of sheet metal, all held together with screws. Rattling may be caused by loose panels or screws that need tightening.
  • Grinding A common source of grinding noise is from the blower motor bearings (especially on older furnaces, or systems that haven’t been maintained well).
  • Popping or Pinging The ductwork or metal parts in the furnace expand or contract (thermal expansion) causing this noise during heating or cooling. Usually nothing to worry about.

Should You Call? While most of these sounds may not actually be an emergency, noise may be a precursor to failure and expensive repairs. Most modern furnaces are quiet and efficient; if you hear noises you haven’t heard before, it’s definitely time to call an HVAC professional. Early detection and repair (like lubricating your blower motor) can save you from an expensive repair bill.

Rapidly Turning On and Off

If your system is short-cycling, or turning on and off too quickly or frequently, there are many causes. The simplest solution may be replacing a worn out or clogged/dirty air filter.

Using old, worn out or dirty filters puts a great deal of stress on the system and can result in mechanical failure. We even seen filters so clogged, and blower motors so powerful, that they suck the filter into the blower motor with catastrophic results.

Should You Call? Try replacing the filter first before you call a professional HVAC repair service. If you DO replace it and the problem doesn’t go away, call us before you run the equipment again.

Unpleasant Odor (Sulfur or Rotten Eggs)

Natural gas is an odorless, tasteless clear gas, but is extremely combustible and dangerous. The gas company adds a unique, pungent rotten egg-like odor to the gas (called mercaptan or methanethiol) to make it easy for the human olfactory to detect. If you smell this odor, it’s always safety first! HVAC repairs are secondary to the possibility of death by explosion or asphyxiation.

What should you do if you smell gas (that rotten egg smell)?

  • Evacuate the home immediately
  • If you can quickly and easily open a window or door, do so.
  • Call the gas company and fire department once you’re outside and away from the house.
  • Even the smallest static electric spark (from a cell phone, turning on a stove burner, or flipping a light switch) can explode natural gas.
  • If you can do so safely, shut off the gas supply to your home. Most homes in the central Ohio area have an external gas meter with a shutoff valve. Watch this video for instructions on how to turn off your gas supply.

Should You Call? Yes, but don’t call us! Call the fire department first, then the gas company, but only after you have evacuated the building. Usually the gas company will determine where the leak is originating. After you get your gas leak issues identified and repaired, call us to perform routine maintenance on your furnace or to get it restarted.

What If Your Furnace is Blowing Cold Air?

If your furnace is blowing cold air, there could be a number of reasons. Remove the access door on your furnace and look for a flashing red or green light.

If the light is red, call a qualified HVAC technician for service. If it’s green, the furnace is okay. If there is no light, your furnace may have problems with a number of things, including the furnace control board, the transformer, the blower motor, the thermostat, or the capacitor.

Here’s a great video with a consumer-level start to troubleshooting cold air output from your furnace.

Should You Call? Anything beyond these basic tips should be performed by a trained HVAC technician. Call us!

Pilot Light Flame is Yellow, Not Blue

The pilot light flame should be a bright blue, steady and just large enough to engulf the thermocouple. (This is on older furnaces – newer furnaces are electronic start and do not have a pilot). A flame closer to a yellow or orange color indicates a combustion problem and may be a source of excess carbon monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that has been called the “silent killer.” Carbon monoxide gas is produced as a by-product of combustion and should be properly exhausted outside your home. It is present in gas appliances (furnaces and ranges) and fireplaces in small amounts. Excess CO buildup can cause flu-like symptoms, headaches, and eventually death in short order. We highly recommend the installation of a CO detector to protect your family. If your CO alarm goes off, or you suspect excess carbon monoxide is being release in your home, evacuate immediately. While not as urgent or immediately dangerous as a natural gas leak, you only have minutes to escape. If you can do so safely, turn off any gas-fired appliances, open doors or windows, and leave.

Should You Call? Natural gas contains methane and gives off a blue color when it burns. If the pilot light or burner flame (after the furnace is lit) is any color other than a bright blue, it’s time to call a professional HVAC technician. Burner problems can be caused by condensation or buildup of carbon or soot on the burners… yet another reason to perform annual maintenance on your furnace. An HVAC professional will be able to tell you if your furnace’s burner assembly should be cleaned or replaced if it’s not burning properly. He’ll also be able to adjust the pilot light to the proper length and color for optimal performance.

Your Furnace Suddenly Turns Off

If the temperature outside is not extremely cold, this may not be an immediate emergency. There are several things you can check before you call for service:

  • Air Filter Check to ensure your air filter isn’t clogged or excessively dirty. A dirty air filter may cause a vacuum effect where it’s actually sucked into the blower motor. If that’s the case, shut your system off and call right away.
  • Thermostat Some thermostats require batteries to function. Just like your smoke detectors, we recommend you just go ahead and replace your thermostat batteries when the clocks change to daylight savings time. Although designed to last much longer than six months, why take the risk that your heat stops working on the coldest night of the year – because of a $3 set of batteries?
  • Circuit Breaker Check the circuit breaker in your home’s breaker box. A circuit breaker is an emergency switch that gets tripped when there is a short circuit or problem in an electrical circuit. A tripped breaker will show red in the little window by the breaker. And your furnace breaker should be clearly marked. If not, we recommend hiring a qualified electrician to properly mark your circuit breakers so you can act accordingly when there is an electrical issue.

Should You Call? As with any issues listed in this article, it depends. If the temps are freezing, and you have small children, a senior citizen or an ill person in your home, it’s best just to go ahead and schedule a same-day service call. Any time lost by not calling (for example, DIY troubleshooting) could possibly move you behind other previous callers. Better safe than sorry.

Your Furnace Deserves Professional Attention

Your home’s furnace is one of the largest investments you’ll make during homeownership. Like other high-dollar investments you make (like your home or your car), you should plan to spend money on routine maintenance to protect your asset.

One reason Dor-Mar is so successful is that we develop trusting, lifelong relationships with our customers. Not only do we enjoy getting to know you, our customer, but we also get to know your equipment. It’s like having the same mechanic work on your car every time – he or she gets to know the system, any quirks or challenges presented by a particular brand, and have that information stored in your customer file for quick access.

One of the first questions we ask when you call for service is “Have we serviced your furnace before?” so our skilled customer service team can find your records and provide quick answers. And our technicians will show up at your door, armed with your system details (and may make a pre-emptive strike by having the part on his truck).

Bottom line, emergency or not, calling Dor-Mar to service your furnace will ensure your home is warm and comfortable as quickly as possible for your family.

How We Can Help

Our team offers a wide array of routine maintenance and emergency services for your heating and cooling system, allowing your family to breathe fresh, safe, clean air and be comfortable year-round. We also offer a number of add-ons to your HVAC equipment that can improve your home’s IAQ, such as electrostatic air filters, whole-house humidifiers, duct cleaning, and more.

Schedule an appointment for HVAC system troubleshooting or maintenance with us today by using our online contact form, or call one of our seven neighborhood offices listed below. We pride ourselves on our customer-focused service, and our reviews show it.

NEWARK  740.345.6639 • COLUMBUS 614.238.6689 • DUBLIN 614.545.8939 • REYNOLDSBURG 614.365.1579 • WESTERVILLE 614.381.1540 • GROVE CITY 614.595.3098 • ZANESVILLE 740.454.2420

Dor-Mar…Your Climate Hero!

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