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Heating Problems

Heating problems

There are 5 common types of heating systems:

  • Hot air, with a gas or oil burner to heat the air, and a fan to blow it through the ductwork.  Usually each furnace handles 1 zone.

  • Hot water baseboard, with a gas or oil burner and a circulator pump to pump the heated water through the baseboard heaters.  Multiple zones can be achieved with multiple circulator pumps controlled by different thermostats.

  • Steam systems are the simplest with just a furnace and no pumps or fans.

  • Electric heat.  Each room or zone has its own electric baseboard heater with a thermostat either on the wall or on the unit.

  • Heat pump.  This is basically an air conditioner running backwards.  It heats the air blown through the duct work.  Since it looses efficiency below 40 F., there may be electric heaters inside the ductwork to supplement it.


Helpful Hints:  If your heat is not working, here are there are some basic items to check:

Hot air systems:

  • Most heating systems have a shut-off switch on the furnace itself, and sometimes at the top of the basement stairs or in the attic for attic systems..  It may have a red switch plate.  Check that the switch is on.

  • There is a blower fan to blow the heated air through the ducts.  The lower door on a furnace blower usually has a safety switch to prevent the fan from turning on during maintenance.  Check that the lower panel is securely fastened.  Even bang against it if you're not sure. If it doesn't work, read on.  If it does, but you get no heat, you should contact a heating contractor.  (You can call us for a referral if you want.)

  • Older gas systems may have a pilot light that must be lit.  Check it.  If not, contact a heating contractor.

  • Newer gas systems have ignitors that glow as they are turn on and ignite the gas.  Can you see it glowing?  If not, you should contact a heating contractor. (You can call us for a referral if you want.)

  • Check that the circuit breaker for the furnace has not tripped.  To check, click the breaker off, and then click it back on again. (see: Circuit Breakers)  If the breaker has tripped, you probably should call us first.  It may be a furnace problem causing it to trip but it may be a wiring problem.

  • When was the last time you changed the filter.  A clogged filter can restrict air flow, cause the system to overheat and trigger the overheat sensor to shut down the system.

Hot water baseboard:

  • Most heating systems have a shut-off switch on the furnace itself, and sometimes at the top of the basement stairs or in the attic for attic systems..  It may have a red switch plate.  Check that the switch is on.

  • Older gas systems may have a pilot light that must be lit.  Check it.

  • Newer gas systems have ignitors that glow as they are turn on and ignite the gas.  Can you see it glowing?  If not, you should contact a heating contractor. (You can call us for a referral if you want.)

  • Check that the circuit breaker for the furnace has not tripped.  To check, click the breaker off, and then click it back on again. (see: Circuit Breakers) If the breaker has tripped, you probably should call us first.  It may be a furnace problem causing it to trip but it may be a wiring problem.

Steam heat:

  • Check that the circuit breaker for the furnace has not tripped.  To check, click the breaker off, and then click it back on again. (see: Circuit Breakers) If the breaker has tripped, you probably should call us first.  It may be a furnace problem causing it to trip but it may be a wiring problem.

  • The furnace has many safety interlocks for water level, temperature, etc.  It is probably too complicated for the homeowner to do without professional help.  Call a heating specialist.


Electric heat:
Is it just one, or several baseboard heaters that are not working?

  • Check the thermostat setting.  Does the thermostat control several heaters but only one is not working?  If so, give us a call.

  • Check the circuit breakers.  The double breaker may control more than 1 thermostat/zone.  (see: Circuit Breakers)  Call us to check it out.

Heat Pump
If you get air coming through the ducts but no heat, the heat pump (a/c compressor) may not be running.  Read about central air conditioners above, and check whether the unit is running.  You will probably need to contact a heating/cooling contractor.  (You can call us for a referral if you want.)