5 Common Problems With Heating Systems (And How to Fix Them)

A woman wearing a furry coat and clutching blanket in a cold house.

When it’s cold outside, everyone loves the feeling of coming inside to a warm and cozy home. With that being said, the last thing anyone wants to discover when they come home is that there’s a problem with their heating system. However, it unfortunately happens from time to time! While it’s certainly alarming to walk into a cold house or to come across any kind of heating issue, here's how to identify the root causes behind these problems and decipher whether it’s something you can troubleshoot or if you should call a professional.

Problem #1: The heater is blowing cold air

A gas valve.

This is definitely something that raises red flags and is quite noticeable on a cold winter’s day! If you notice your heater blowing cold air, first verify that your thermostat is set correctly and that it’s not set to be on “fan only.” Assuming it’s on the correct settings, the root of this problem could be attributed to a few different reasons, explained below.

The first is a dirty air filter. These become dirty over time, attracting debris and affecting the efficiency of your heating system if they’re not cleaned or replaced. Start by changing your air filter to see if this simple fix rectifies the problem.

If a dirty air filter doesn’t seem to be the culprit, the next place to look is in the ductwork. Leaky ductwork is a problem that's nearly invisible, but this is where it would rear its ugly head. To check on whether you are experiencing the issue, go into your attic or crawl space and check for leaks by walking next to your ductwork. If you feel any blowing air, it’s an indication that you have a leak and you should seal it off accordingly.

If that still doesn’t seem to be the issue, you’ll need to check your pilot light. Locate this part of the furnace and ensure that it’s lit. If it’s not, attempt to light it, checking the gas valve and making sure that it's turned on. If that valve is switched to "on," but the pilot light fails to light or stay lit, contact a professional to look into the issue further.

If none of the above seem to be the problem, what could be occurring is a lack of fuel. No matter what method of energy your system runs off of—gas, electric, or oil—it needs fuel to do the job! Check the fuel levels and re-up as needed in an attempt to solve the issue.

Problem #2: The heater won’t turn off

This is the opposite from the last problem discussed, but it’s an issue nonetheless! This could be attributed to the thermostat being incorrectly set, as it should be on “auto” instead of “on.” If that’s not the problem, it could mean that your thermostat is broken or miswired or that your furnace blower is malfunctioning.

To help decipher which issue it actually is, examine your thermostat’s wires to verify that everything is plugged in the way it should be. After that, reset your thermostat completely and try running the system again to see if that makes a difference.

If that fix doesn’t help, it means there just may be a blower issue. If that’s the case, reach out to a professional so that they may conduct further inspection and diagnostics.

Problem #3: Parts of the house aren’t being heated

A filter by a heating duct.

It’s not uncommon for certain parts of the house to feel like they’re not being warmed up the way they should. While this can be frustrating, there are ways to troubleshoot the problem. This could mean that your air filters are dirty and need to be cleaned or replaced. Additionally, this problem could indicate that you should check your ductwork for leaks and call an HVAC professional to help if needed, to ensure that the heat is evenly distributed.

Problem #4: There’s a burning smell

A burning smell in your home can be very alarming. This problem could result from a smoking heater, and if you notice this odor in your home, shut off your heater and unplug it immediately. Then, refrain from panicking and take a look at your heater to check for dust or any noticeable blockage. If you come across anything of the sort, clean as needed. Then, replace your air filters, as this could be something that contributes to the smoking. Plug your heater back in and try it out. If the smell has not diminished, call a professional.

Problem #5: The fan appears to be broken

If the fan on your furnace appears to be broken, the first thing you should do (you guessed it!) is to check your thermostat to make sure that you have it on the intended setting. As long as that’s squared away, you should then check your air filters. If there’s a debris build-up, it could constrict the airflow and cause the fan’s operation to fail. If you find your filter to be full of gunk, clean it or replace it completely. Next, check out circuit breakers and verify that they’re on as they should be. If you notice the problem persisting after taking these measures, you’ll want to call in a professional as it may be a more complicated problem that needs addressing.

While experiencing any of these issues are cause for concern, it’s typically easy to troubleshoot what’s going on with your heating system. Everyone wants their house to be a cozy oasis during the winter months, so this guide will help you to do just that, even when a problem comes your way!