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Diagnosing Problems With Heating Systems


Heating systems perform a rather simple function but utilize a complex system of parts to achieve this and many of these parts are prone to failure.

Filters are very cheap...replace them...This is most often the issue and often overlooked as a possible cause.

The first thing to check when no heat is coming from the vent are the pilot light and the circuit breakers. If you are receiving heat but not enough the next thing to check are the filters.

Filters become clogged over a period of time by animal hair, dust, and other particulate matter. Filters are very cheap so don't bother trying to wash them or reuse them; simply replace them when they're blocked. This is most often the issue and often overlooked as a possible cause. The fix is simple and inexpensive.

So many experienced HVAC repair professionals will tell you to go cheap here.

Get the plain, cheap filters (usually blue in color) that run about 25-50 cents a piece. Don't buy the $20 super filter as it prevents airflow significantly and causes undue burden on your heating system.

Buy the cheapies and label them by month. This will remind you to change them often and not lose track of the last time you changed one out.

You should also check the vents to be sure that they are opened enough and are not blocked. Don't rely on what you can see at standing height.

If the vents are open properly and there is no visible blockage you should go to your attic and examine the heating ducts. These ducts are usually on top of the ceiling insulation and are easy to access. What you want to look for are obvious gaps or breaks in the ductworks. You can check for breaks by turning on the heating system and running a tissue along the joints. If there is air movement and the tissue moves then you have a break. Mice and rats can also cause damage to ducts by chewing them. Rodents can chew through ductwork in a few minutes.

If you find breaks do not use duct tape to repair them. Duct tape breaks down quickly from temperature changes and change in humidity can cause air leaks. Duct tape is also forbidden in some areas by building codes. There are materials available designed specifically for sealing leaks in air ducts. Check with your local codes before choosing a material to use.

You can improve the efficiency of some heating systems by wrapping the ducts with insulation. Again, also check with your local building codes to see if this is allowed as well as to see what materials you are allowed to use for this purpose.

Another problem that you might run into is hearing squeaks and rattles. Many systems have belt driven assemblies in them. Over time the belts can stretch and age. When a loose belt slips along the pulley it rides on it can cause a squeaking sound. The best way to fix this issue is by replacing the worn belt. New belts are inexpensive and easy to install.

Rattles are usually caused by loose component where the screws connecting the ducts have come loose or the metal has either expanded or contracted. Check the screws and tighten loose ones; if the problem persists there is little you can do except wrap the connections or choose a different material to use.

If your heating system is still not producing enough heat to adequately warm your home the heat pump may be smaller than your home requires. Check the rating for your current pump and upgrade if needed. Upgrading heat pumps is a complex process best left to professional HVAC technicians. Call around and get quotes from multiple companies to find the best price on both the part and the labor. Also be sure to choose someone with a good reputation.

If you smell a gas leak or have other heating problems many companies will examine the issue free of charge. You should take advantage of these free consultations to get an accurate diagnosis of the problem.

For more information read our additional tips, including photos, on troubleshooting HVAC problems.

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