Natural gas furnaces in homes have an exaggerated reputation as dangerous appliances. Perhaps many decades ago there was some cause for worry; but the manufacturers of modern gas furnaces design them with safety uppermost in mind. With the proper care and a bit of caution, you shouldn’t need to worry about hazard from leaks or fire with the gas furnace that keeps your home warm.
Here are a few tips to help you maintain a safe furnace. If you ever have any doubts about your furnace’s operation or concerns that it become unsafe, call for professional heating technicians. You should never attempt repairs on a gas furnace on your own—let the people with years of training handle the work!
Safety tips to keep in mind
- Know where the gas shut–off valve is located: In case of emergencies or any situation where you feel the furnace could be turning hazardous, you must know where you can shut off the gas to the furnace. Close off the flow of gas before you call for repair technicians.
- Listen for clicking sounds from the cabinet: Some clicking noises from a furnace are common when it first comes to life. However, if you hear a clicking sound right before the blower fan comes on, it could indicate that there are cracks along the heat exchanger. This is a potentially dangerous scenario, since the heat exchanger will start to leak carbon monoxide exhaust. Call for repair technicians to investigate and see if the heat exchanger should be replaced.
- Make sure children know not the play around the furnace: The surface of a furnace will become hot when it is working. If you have children in your home, make certain they are aware of this and reduce the chance of one of them becoming injured.
- Replace a rusting furnace: Under most conditions, a furnace will not develop corrosion. However, when a furnace ages to the point where it is no longer venting correctly, the reaction of metal with the combustion gas will trigger rust. When you see signs of this, the furnace should be replaced with a new unit for the sake of safety.
- Schedule annual maintenance: This is the most important step to take to keep a furnace in safe condition. Every year, usually during the fall, arrange to have a HVAC technician from a reliable company inspect the furnace and make tune–ups and adjustments. The maintenance technician will detect any places where there are malfunctions or the potential for malfunctions and help you schedule any repair necessary to see that the system works safely for the coming cold season. If your furnace becomes too aged to work adequately, you should consider replacing it before it can become a potential risk.
If you follow these guidelines and listen to the advice from your professional heating technician, there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy a long and worry–free service life from your furnace.
It’s one of the least pleasant scenarios to imagine during a cold winter evening: your furnace, heat pump, boiler, or other heating system abruptly stops working. You can try to cover yourself with blankets and hope that the heater turns back on, but chances are high that it won’t fix itself. The heater will need help, and there are some steps you can take to see how serious the problem is and what you can do about it.
One thing you absolutely should not do is to change into a "do–it–yourself hero" and attempt to fix the heating system on your own. This can cause further damage to the heater, and with a gas–powered system it might create serious health hazards. If it comes down to repairs, call for professional heating technicians to handle the work.
Follow these steps if your heater breaks down
- Check on the heater’s power source: It’s possible that the heating system has lost its connection to its energy supply. For electrically–powered heaters (heat pumps, electrical furnaces and boilers), make sure that the heater is still connected to the house’s electrical system. If you have a gas–powered heater, look to see if the pilot light has gone out and attempt to relight it if it has. Don’t try anything further with a gas heater if this doesn’t work.
- Check the thermostat: User error on the settings for a thermostat can often account for a heating system shutting down when it shouldn’t. See that the programming on the thermostat is correct.
- Check on circuit breakers: Sometimes a heating system will trip circuit breakers (or blow a fuse if your home still uses a fuse box) and lose power. This applies to many modern gas heaters as well, which use electrical igniters to start. If any breakers have been tripped, reset them and see if the heater comes back on. If it trips the breaker again, than the heater likely has an electrical malfunction.
- Call an emergency repair technician: If none of the steps above get your heater started again, then you should call a repair company that offers 24 hour emergency service and works on a variety of heating systems. If you have a gas–powered heater, you should shut off the gas flow while waiting for the repairs to arrive as a safety precaution. (Now you can go get the blankets.)
To help keep your heating system from a breakdown, make sure that you schedule a preventive maintenance visit for your heater before the cold weather arrives. A skilled maintenance technician will find places where the heating system needs adjustments and tune–ups, and anything that requires repairs. With the right professional helping out, your heater will be in excellent shape for the whole winter.