Help! Why isn’t my heating system working?!

Discovering that your heat isn’t working is an unpleasant surprise. Truth is, heating systems are complex, with lots of moving parts, so there could be any number of reasons that they aren’t working properly. However, there are some quick checks you can make to try to determine what might be going on. At the least, you will rule out some of the likely culprits.

Depending on whether your heating system is a forced hot air furnace or a forced hotwater boiler, follow these helpful tips to rule out some common problems:

Check Your Thermostat

There may be nothing wrong with your heating system at all – it could be your thermostat. As the control center of your heating system, the thermostat controls when your heat fires on, and how long it stays running. If your heat isn’t coming on, isn’t staying on, or is blowing cold air, try these trouble-shooting tips before calling the repair company:

  • Make sure the thermostat is set to “Heat” and not “Cool” (don’t laugh, it happens all the time!). During routine cleaning, operating the thermostat in the dark, or a child messing around, thermostat settings are often shifted, making this “problem” an easy fix.
  • Make sure the thermostat is set to “Auto” not “On” to ensure the heat shuts off properly.
  • Make sure the thermostat FAN is set to “Auto” not to “On”. When your thermostat is set to “On” the fan blows all the time, as opposed to when it is properly set to “Auto”, the blower will run only when the heat is going.
  • Set the thermostat up 5 degrees above the room temperature to see if the heating system kicks on.
  • Replace the batteries (if applicable).
  • If it’s a programmable thermostat, check the programmed settings. Make sure the date and time is correct and that it isn’t just shutting off due to a timer setting.
  • Open the thermostat’s front panel and gently blow out any dust buildup.

If your thermostat is old, it may be time to replace it. Investing in a programmable thermostat is a great idea to better control when your house is heated and when it’s kept a little cooler, allowing to conserve energy and save on heating costs.

Make Sure the Unit Is Turned ON

Again, it happens! Check the switch at the heating unit to be sure it is switched to the ON position. Make sure your emergency switch hasn’t been turned off as well.

Check the Electrical Panel

Check the breaker for your heating system at your electrical panel. If on, turn off the breaker and check the fuse for the furnace. DO NOT keep turning a breaker on and off – this can cause an electrical fire!

Check the Filter

If your heating system is forced hot air, a dirty filter could be to blame. A dirty air filter is like putting a blanket over your face and trying to breathe normally. A dirty filter can cause a number of problems from reduced heat or blowing cold air, to short-cycling and eventual shut down. A clogged air filter forces your furnace to work harder. This will overheat the heat exchanger and cause the furnace to automatically shut off. After continuous overheating, your heat exchanger will burn out and create a costly repair. Poor air circulation also dramatically reduces the efficiency of your unit which will use more fuel and drive up your heating costs. For the price of a $15 air filter – it’s well worth the effort to change them regularly!

Check the air filter every one to three months, depending on use. If it’s dirty, change it. Remember to turn off your furnace and set your thermostat to OFF before changing the filter. 

A Note on Forced Hot Water Heating Systems

A forced hot water boiler is a bit more complex than a forced air furnace heating system in that it has more parts, valves, and controls. The introduction of water as the heating source involves all kinds of plumbing-related science that isn’t for the inexperience. Most heating issues with forced hot water systems, once you have checked the items above, are the work for a licensed heating professional.

When in doubt, call a professional

Something as major as your heat, tied into other major mechanical systems in your home or business such as the electrical and plumbing, warrants serious attention. When in doubt, call in a professional at once!

At 207 Plumbing & Heating, we repair all types of heating systems – hot air furnaces, forced-hot water boilers and heat pumps, for all energy sources including oil, propane, natural gas and electric. We’re here to help you every step of the way – call us for a FREE estimate and to learn how we can upgrade or install a new heating system for you!

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