Common Winter Heating Problems and How to Fix Them
Seattle can get surprisingly chilly in the winter, with average lows in the 30s. The last thing you want at that temperature is a heating system malfunction that leaves you huddled up in a mound of blankets on your couch.
Such problems can be prevented with an annual inspection, but sometimes, homeowners lose track of time and forget to schedule regular maintenance. If that sounds like you, be sure to keep your eyes peeled this winter for these five signs that your heating system is on the fritz.
You’re Freezing to Death
In the dead of winter, a frosty abode is everyone’s worst nightmare. Unless you enjoy shuffling around your home in a puffy winter coat, you’ll need to call an HVAC technician to fix the problem. Typically, total heat loss is the result of one of four common problems:
- Lack of power – Ensure your heating system is getting electricity by checking that the circuit breakers are “on” and wiring near your unit’s components isn’t frayed.
- Faulty thermostat – Your heating system can’t turn on if it doesn’t register your house is cold. Double check your thermostat’s battery, and if that’s not the issue, call a professional to install a functioning thermostat.
- Frosted heat pump – During the winter, it’s common for the coils of your heat pump to freeze. A functioning heat pump will switch to defrost mode to clear the ice away. However, a malfunction in the defrosting process will render the heat pump ineffective. You can try removing ice buildup manually on your own by pouring warm water over the coils. If this doesn’t work, call an HVAC technician.
- Ineffective pilot light or ignition system – The pilot light is the flame that ignites the fuel in your furnace to produce heat. If the light isn’t on or the sensor is dirty, your furnace will not work properly. Leave this issue to the professionals.
If you want to avoid this problem in the future, it’s a good idea to schedule annual maintenance on your heating system before winter arrives. A trained professional will be able to catch many of these problems before they become full-blown malfunctions.
Your Living Room Is Toasty Warm, But Your Kitchen Is Freezing
Inconsistent heating is highly frustrating and energy inefficient, but the problem may not be a faulty heating system at all. Drafts can easily cause the temperature to plummet. Double check the weather stripping and insulation in vulnerable areas of your home and do a simple “smoke test” to ensure no warm air is escaping. If drafts aren’t the issue, your system may have a dirty coil or air filter or the air handler may be malfunctioning.
Your System Keeps Cycling on and Off
Your system should cycle between three and eight times an hour. If it is cycling more than that and is only producing heat for a short amount of time, your unit may have a problem called “short cycling.” This can lead to spikes in your energy bill as well as chilly spots in your home.
There are two common causes for short cycling:
- Dirty air filter or blower – Your air filter is responsible for keeping the inside of your heating system clean, and your blower distributes warm air throughout your home. If your air filter or blower is clogged, the warm air won’t make it into your home and your heating system will sense it’s overheating and shut off. Switch your air filters every three months or monthly during high-use periods to keep your system running as smoothly as possible. You will need to hire a professional to maintain the blower.
- Faulty thermostat – If your thermostat is broken, has an old battery, or is in direct sunlight, your heating system can’t get an accurate reading of your home’s temperature and can’t deliver the appropriate amount of heat. You’ll need to replace the battery or install a new thermostat.
Your Skin Is Dry and You Wake Up with a Scratchy Throat
An arid home interior can dry out your skin and throat, cause nosebleeds and worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. Humidity levels below 30 percent may even damage your home. Wood, for example, needs moisture or else it will crack. That means crown molding, furniture, hardwood floors and instruments are unsafe in an overly dry environment.
One solution to this problem is purchasing a portable humidifier. While these can move wherever you need them, they are expensive and noisy, require constant upkeep and need to be filled with water regularly.
An easier solution is to install a humidifier that integrates directly with your HVAC system. Once the humidifier is installed, it pulls water directly from your plumbing system, ensuring your house is comfortable year-round.
Nothing Seems Wrong
Even if you can’t hear, feel or smell anything wrong with your heating system, there is still the potential for serious and even dangerous problems. Carbon monoxide leaks most often occur with heating units that are 10 to 15 years old. The gas is odorless, tasteless, colorless and fatally toxic, so you’ll have to take precautions to make sure a leak isn’t happening in your home.
The easiest way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector in the vicinity of appliances that are fueled by natural gas. If you suspect a crack in the heat exchanger, the carbon monoxide detector goes off or you start to experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the premises immediately and call emergency services. After the initial crisis is over, have an HVAC professional inspect your entire system.
Fix Your Heating System This Winter With South West Plumbing
Even though Seattle’s winters are mild compared to many places in the country, no one wants to be stuck freezing at home with a malfunctioning heating system. If you do find yourself in that predicament this winter, the certified plumbers and technicians at South West Plumbing can help. We’ve been serving King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties for more than 35 years, and in that time, we’ve seen every heating system problem imaginable.