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Should My Heater Be Doing This?

Some of the most frequent calls we get during fall and winter have to do with strange furnace or heater behavior. In these scenarios, the equipment is still technically working, but it’s doing something odd now that no one remembers it doing before. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ve come to the right place.

Below, we’ll provide answers to typical questions we get from homeowners about strange heater behavior.

Should my heater be taking this long to heat up?

When your heater kicks on, don’t be surprised if the air that first comes out of your vents is cold. The air has to travel through chilly ductwork, where it can lose heat along the way. Once everything in your system starts warming up, you should have toasty air in no time.

That being said, if your heater is struggling to warm your home, it could be suffering from dust buildup or leaky ductwork (or both), which reduces its efficiency. The equipment might also be approaching its retirement years if it’s between 15-20 years old, which can account for its lack of “warming power.”

My heater made a “boom” noise when it started up. Is that bad?

Yes, that is a bad sound for a heater to make. Gas furnaces “go boom” when they have an ignition delay problem. Gas is being supplied to your furnace so that the flame will ignite, but something is preventing that ignition from happening right away. As a result, gas builds up, and when it finally does ignite, it creates a small explosion--the boom. These explosions put stress on your system that can lead to significant problems down the road.

There can be multiple reasons why a heater will have delayed ignition. Typically, you just need to clean the burners. If this doesn’t solve the problem, the safest course of action is to have a heating technician diagnose the issue for you.

It smells like something is burning when I turn on my heater. Is that normal?

When you first turn on your heater after a long time without using it, it’s relatively common to smell something burning. What you’re smelling is all the dust that has collected on the equipment heating up and burning off. While this doesn’t pose a safety hazard, it’s a good reminder that your system is probably overdue for some maintenance to ensure that dust buildup doesn’t cause any performance issues.

If your heater produces a burning smell after first turning on, then, Houston, we’ve got a problem. This could be a sign that your system is overheating, so first, try replacing your air filter. (By the way, this solves 90% of all HVAC issues.) If that doesn’t work, shut off your system, and contact a technician to diagnose the problem safely.

What color should my furnace’s flame be?

Your furnace flame should be blue, but it’s also okay if the very tip is yellow. When the flame is blue, you know that the furnace is burning gas safely and efficiently and that there isn’t anything inhibiting the combustion.

You do NOT want to see a yellow, orange, or red flame. This indicates that the burner is not getting enough air (oxygen). Not only does this waste gas and increase your heating costs, but it also increases the amount of carbon monoxide (CO) that the combustion process creates.

If your furnace flame is any color but blue, it probably has dirty burners. If you’re not comfortable cleaning the burners yourself, contact an HVAC technician to inspect and clean the burners for you.

Bottom Line

Because your home’s heater has so many components, there are quite a few parts of the system that can “go on the fritz.” However, you can prevent most of these issues with annual maintenance--and, of course, by frequently changing the air filter.

Are you having trouble with your home’s heater? At Jackson Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, our friendly heating experts are ready to help: (256) 304-8883.

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