How to Prevent the Most Common Home Furnace Problems

a little yellow house on a heating unit with a scarf around it

Winter is rapidly approaching, and your furnace is already working to make sure your home stays nice and roast-y toast-y warm. Unfortunately, sometimes your furnace gives out during the worst times, like a Polar Vortex. That’s why we reached out to Yoram Danino, owner of Airflow Heating & Air Conditioning.

Yoram has been helping homeowners in the Chicago area with their heating and cooling needs for more than 20 years, and he shared tips to prevent the most common furnace problems from happening in your home.

The #1 cause of most common furnace problems

a homeowner in blue gloves holding up a dirty air filter from a furnace
Dirty filters are dangerous.

Furnaces require annual, routine maintenance, and lack of maintenance is the #1 cause of the most common heating problems.

“We see a lot of dirty filters,” says Yoram. “People don’t change their filters, and that can cause failures both in the heating and air conditioning unit.”

Yoram likens changing furnace filters to brushing teeth as it’s a task that needs to be done on a regular basis. Most homeowners need to change their air filters every month or two months.

“Most homes have inexpensive throwable filters, so a homeowner can just put it on their calendar,” says Yoram. “For the most part, they can change the filters and save themselves a lot of headache and money.”

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By simply changing your air filters, you can prevent a lot of common furnace issues, such as –

Your furnace keeps turning off

a digital thermostat on a wall reading 68 degrees
If your furnace won’t turn on, it might be your air filter.

If your furnace won’t stay on, it’s most likely due to overheating, thanks to a dirty or clogged filter.

“The radiator in your car helps cool the engine,” says Yoram. “If you block the grill in the front of your car, it is going to overheat. It’s the same with a furnace.”

A certain amount of air is designed to flow through a furnace. If that amount of air is not flowing because of a restriction, then the furnace will overheat.

Adds Yoram, “The furnace has safety controls to prevent it from overheating and will turn the unit off.”

Other issues can contribute to your furnace turning off, but those need to be determined by a professional.

Your furnace won’t turn on

A homeowner flipping on a tripped circuit breaker
Have you tripped a breaker?

Check your electrical panel to see if a breaker has been tripped and if so, turn it back on. If the breaker hasn’t been tripped or it continues to trip – then you should call a qualified technician to investigate the issue.

“When a furnace overheats, the safety controls won’t let the unit come back on until it’s repaired or reset,” explains Yoram.

Your furnace is leaking

the bottom of a rusted furnace with water stains around it
Beware of a leaking furnace.

A furnace can leak two things – carbon monoxide or water.

If your furnace is leaking carbon monoxide, then “…there is a hole in the heat exchanger,” says Yoram. “Some flue gas is escaping through that heat exchanger into the airstream of the house, and that’s very dangerous.”

During an annual or bi-annual maintenance inspection and cleaning, a qualified technician will check the heat exchanger to prevent an issue from happening. Still, it’s always important to monitor your home for dangerous gases.

“Just make sure you have operating carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house for safety,” says Yoram.

When water leaks from the system, “…again, that’s most likely due to lack of maintenance because the drain needs to be cleared every year,” says Yoram. “If the drain is not cleared, then you’ll see water leaking out of it.”

Additional preventative maintenance

A qualified technician cleaning the grills of a furnace
Get your HVAC unit serviced twice a year.

Homeowners should only be changing their furnace’s filters. All other maintenance needs to be completed by a qualified technician, and regular servicing of a furnace should be done annually – in early fall before winter’s cold weather hits.

“In the ‘cleaning’ process, we do more than just cleaning,” says Yoram. “We’re actually checking safety switches to make sure that they’re working correctly, so if need be, they will be there to protect the house and the property.”

You’ll also need to clean your outside unit once a year to prevent common problems with HVAC systems.

“If it’s blocked, then it’s not transferring the heat, and you are losing money,” says Yoram. “You’re increasing your electric bill, and on top of that, you’re not cooling your house.”

When should you repair or replace your HVAC system?

a technician putting in a new air filter in a new furnace
Costs generally dictate when it’s time for a new furnace.

The typical lifespan of a furnace is about 15 years, but at what age should you replace your home’s HVAC system?

“Homeowners will start to have too many recurring furnace repairs because of an older unit’s age,” says Yoram.

When the cost of repairing the unit starts to exceed the cost of buying a new one, then it’s time to replace your furnace.

Stay on top of home maintenance

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