Winter is upon us. And let’s face it, nothing beats the feeling of coming home to a warm house when the temperatures outside are dropping like a lead brick. That said, most homeowners look to prepare their HVAC systems for cold weather since the last thing they want is a broken-down heating system in the middle of a cold winter day (or, even worse, the middle of the night).
An HVAC system is an integral part of the home that provides families with safe and cozy living. Because of the repetitious work it does, it’s rather common for HVAC systems to have problems, most especially during the winter heating season.
Fortunately, some of the issues homeowners come across in their heating systems during winter weather can be avoided by simply learning a little about them. You should become familiar with any would-be winter HVAC issues so you can sidestep them and keep your home warm and comfortable.
To guide you in identifying if there is a problem with your HVAC system, here is a list of the most common HVAC issues you’re more likely to encounter during the winter.
Those nasty frozen pipes and coils
Frozen pipes and coils are a genuine possibility as the days and nights get colder.
The lower temperatures during winter weather are a major culprit for ice accumulating and the eventual freezing of pipes and coils. As temperatures plummet, the water inside pipes and coils can freeze and eventually put a stop to your HVAC system from functioning. Frozen water can quickly turn into a huge problem since it expands within the pipe, building up pressure and even causing the pipe to burst.
It’s no secret that December, January, and February regularly see freezing temperatures. While daytime temperatures may pop above the freezing point, pipes can quickly freeze over as soon as the sun goes down. Whether over time or suddenly, the temperature change can result in pressure buildup that can burst pipes wide open, which can often result in hefty repair costs.
So, what are some of the signs that frozen pipes are an issue?
- A decrease in water pressure
- Bulging pipes
- Banging or gurgling sounds when the water is turned on
- Condensation on the pipes
- Odd odors coming from drains
If you’re suspicious that your pipes have frozen, immediately shut off the water. You can raise the temperature of the affected pipes by wrapping them with towels, aiming space heaters at them, enclosing them with heating pads, or even using a hair dryer.
Another point if your original furnace installation didn’t take into covering properly insulating exposed or outside pipes that connect to your HVAC system, you could end up with freezing issues when the temperature drops. This problem can be remedied by placing foam insulation secured with duct tape around those exposed HVAC pipes or lines.
If your home is freezing in one room and toasty in the other, you might have restricted airflow problems. Also, you might experience this same problem when airflow in your home is not as strong as it was in the past.
Restricted airflow is a typical winter HVAC issue in which blocked fans can cause problems with the furnace motor, obstructed vents, and dirty air ducts. That’s why you need to examine the vents to ensure they are not blocked by objects such as furniture. Also, be sure that all pipes are connected to the air supply vents.
Perhaps the most common cause for lack of sufficient airflow is due to an air filter that’s dirty or clogged with debris or dust. With regular use, dirt and dust can accumulate in the filter and impede proper airflow. Moreover, this can also speed up the need for furnace repair since a dirty filter makes your HVAC system work harder in delivering warm air throughout your inside spaces.
You can avoid this problem by regularly changing your filter – something that should be done roughly every three months or so. In addition, make sure your registers are fully open if you suddenly have airflow issues.
Loss of heat
Another cold weather HVAC glitch homeowners will experience is a gradual heat loss. This may occur due to damaged ductwork, blocked registers or vents, a faulty heat pump, leaking refrigerant, or incorrect thermostat settings.
If your furnace is not blowing adequate hot air, the problem could also be a cracked heat exchanger, condensate line, burner, or pilot light issues. You should always call a professional HVAC company as soon as you detect heat loss and have your system repaired correctly.
HVAC system blowing cold air
Nothing is more annoying than turning on the HVAC unit and being greeted with a blast of cold air. Check the blower to make sure there’s nothing obstructing it. If it’s clear and the problem persists, you may very well have a faulty or broken heating element. This is a concern that absolutely calls for a professional HVAC repair technician at Schultheis Brothers.
It’s perfectly normal for a furnace to turn on and off – also referred to as cycling – the entire time it’s running. However, when cycling occurs far too often, your home won’t be able to arrive at your desired temperature.
So, when a furnace frequently turns on and off, it just might be a sign of trouble. Moreover, it regularly wastes energy and causes unnecessary wear and tear to the HVAC system. You need to call an HVAC technician at Schultheis Brothers to inspect the unit and fix the issue as soon as possible.
A thermostat is an essential component of an HVAC system, in charge of regulating the system. Much like other components, the thermostat can break down or develop issues that compromise the unit’s overall functioning.
Among the signs you could be dealing with a failing thermostat can include:
- Inconsistent temperatures
- Continued thermostat problems after changing batteries
- Furnace won’t turn on or off automatically
- Thermostat has no power; the display is blank or dark
A thermostat issue can normally be resolved by rewiring, replacing the batteries, or simply replacing the unit and having a pro calibrate it to your furnace system.
Bottom line: Troubleshooting the thermostat is a job that is best left to experienced HVAC professionals such as those at Schultheis Brothers.
Furnaces produce certain noises, and they can be entirely normal. You shouldn’t be alarmed when you hear pops or a humming sound from a furnace while it’s running.
However, you should never ignore the following noises when you hear them coming out of your furnace:
- Loud bang or pop upon powering. When you turn on your HVAC unit and you are surprised by a noisy bang or pop, your unit’s burners may be dirty enough to delay ignition. This is the result of a gas buildup, which eventually causes a tiny explosion. If this takes place repeatedly, your unit’s heat exchanger could have suffered cracks.
- Squealing. There could be something wrong with your blower motor if your unit is creating a squealing noise. It could also be a worn-out blower belt. Whatever the reason, a squealing sound coming from the HVAC system is a clear-cut indication of something that needs repair or replacement.
- Scraping. It’s rather hard to overlook scraping sounds from your HVAC unit. A broken blower wheel might be the reason, which will most likely be a problem since this indicates your furnace will be unable to heat your home properly. It’s also possible that some metallic parts of your unit have come loose and are now rubbing against other metallic parts.
One of the more common problems with forced-air gas furnaces is their failure to ignite and come on as intended.
If your heating system runs on propane or natural gas, it will require a pilot light or electronic ignition system to start up. If your gas furnace fails to ignite, make sure that the power switch and the gas valve on the gas line are in the ON position. Also, a gas furnace burns a mixture of air and gas so make sure airflow isn’t restricted by a dirty filter. In addition, ignition issues can depend on your ignition source. Look under the furnace to make sure your pilot light has not gone out.
If you have an electronic furnaced igniter, keep in mind that these particular igniter switches get hot in order to fire up the gas mixture. Look under your furnace and see if your igniter glows when your furnace tries to start up.
If you need to call in an HVAC professional to handle the issue with your pilot light, don’t hesitate to contact the experts at Schultheis Brothers.
Broken heat pump
If your home depends on getting heat from an exterior heat pump, you may encounter certain issues during a heavy snowfall. Your heat pump pulls heat from the air outside into your home, so if the airflow to your unit is jammed by snow, ice, leaves, or any other kind of debris, this can make it problematic for the heat pump to do its job.
As with all HVAC components, checking that the filters are not dirty or clogged regularly is important. Or, if you suspect that your refrigerant levels are low as a result of a possible leak, then it’s best to have a certified professional from Schultheis Brothers check if the levels are too low or if your system needs to be recharged.
Carbon monoxide is a toxic, deadly gas that stems from the partial combustion of natural gas. While a CO leak won’t prevent the furnace from working, it’s a hazardous condition that must be dealt with in any list of common HVAC problems.
Keep in mind that CO is an odorless, poisonous gas that can go unnoticed until it’s too late. Insufficient ventilation, clogged chimneys and vents, and cracked heat exchangers can all play a part in the dangers of carbon monoxide leaks.
Your home may have a carbon monoxide leak if you or a family member are experiencing:
- Fatigue, lethargy, or weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Cherry-red skin coloration
CO leaks are one of the topmost killers of the winter season, and the would-be risks should be taken sincerely. Always have working CO detectors on every floor, and have a professional appraise your complete heating system to ensure there are no leaks. If you suspect one, get out of the home immediately and contact the fire department.
An unusual boost in energy costs
Some wavering in your energy bills is normal, but if you observe them trending upwards, you may have a bigger problem on your hands with your HVAC system. Most likely, it’s time to call your HVAC professional at Schultheis Brothers for a checkup.
The HVAC system has not been serviced
If you haven’t had a technician service your system lately, you’re doing yourself a disservice. A major part of maintaining your HVAC system is checking it every autumn and spring. Having a technician carry out routine maintenance allows them to identify issues you may not realize you have.
But it’s already December, you say. Remember that it’s never too late to have your system serviced. Simply give the professionals at Schultheis Brothers a call at your earliest convenience.