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Frequently asked questions about furnace repair services

How often should a furnace be cleaned?

Your furnace should be cleaned every year or every two years at the most. A yearly furnace cleaning can catch small problems and fix them before they become serious repairs. It's like how changing the oil in your car may prevent a breakdown in the future. You should plan to have your furnace cleaned before you need it in the winter. Most people leave this to the last minute, and HVAC companies become very busy as the temperature drops.

Some indicators that your furnace needs to be cleaned:

  • The temperature is inconsistent from room to room.
  • Your furnace is struggling to maintain the temperature you set.
  • The furnace produces no heat at all.
  • You have a higher than expected energy bill after turning it on.
  • You smell rubber, smoke, or oil when you turn it on. (It's normal to smell dust).
  • Your furnace flame is any color but blue, which can indicate an imbalance in the gasses.
  • It makes a loud bang, howling, or whistling sound. This points to clogged air filters, dirty burners, or a restricted fuel supply.

Some people consider cleaning the furnace in the spring rather than in the fall. The best practice is to vacuum the furnace out in the spring, then do your annual maintenance in the late summer or fall.

What’s included in furnace maintenance?

Regular furnace maintenance can extend your furnace’s life by years and prevent some costly repairs. Regular furnace maintenance involves taking apart essential components, inspecting and cleaning them, then reassembling them for use. These components include your furnace filter, blower, burners, and flame sensors.

You can tackle a lot of this work on your own. It may take a few hours to familiarize yourself with the tools and equipment if it's your first time maintaining your furnace. Once you know the drill, furnace maintenance shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. Start by shutting off the furnace's electrical power and fuel supply. Once that’s done, the combustion chamber can be accessed, vacuumed out, and inspected for holes. If you find any holes, patch them with foil tape.

Next, thoroughly clean the blower compartment. This will remove dirt and debris. Like with the combustion chamber, you or a professional need to inspect for any holes. Don’t forget to replace the air filter. You may be able to upgrade the air filter so it protects against mildew, pollen, and other airborne allergens. If you have an oil furnace, you’ll also want to replace the oil filter. This should be done annually. Finally, oil the machine bearings, taking care not to over-lubricate them.

If your furnace makes odd noises, you should hire a professional as soon as possible. There are a few other indicators that your furnace needs professional attention. Excessive soot could mean your burners need adjustment or that the heat exchanger needs replacing. If your flame is pale in color or irregular, this can indicate dirty burners or a cracked heat exchanger. This is a potential hazard and requires a professional to investigate. If your furnace is short-cycling (which means it only runs for a short period of time before shutting off), you may have a thermostat issue or an overheating exchanger. This also requires the expertise of a professional.

How often should you have your furnace serviced?

You should have your furnace serviced annually for the best results. Some people will wait every two years, though better maintenance schedules often mean fewer surprises. Most times, when a furnace stops providing heat without warning in the winter, the issue could have been solved with a maintenance call the season beforehand. Maintained furnaces run at their best efficiency, which helps your energy bill.

Furnace services can reveal carbon monoxide leaks, a health hazard that needs to be fixed immediately. If left untreated, carbon monoxide can lead to dizziness, nausea, headaches, and even death.

When hiring a professional, whether for annual maintenance or repairs, a quick search for “Furnace repair near me” will bring up several local companies to hire. Most states require HVAC companies to be licensed. They should also be fully insured and bonded. A great HVAC repair company will be transparent in what they do and what they charge, and they should be able to show documentation if requested. HVAC companies get quite busy as the temperature drops, so consider calling in the late summer and get ahead of the rush.

Your HVAC company should be able to give you an estimate of what repairs will cost. Oil and gas furnace repairs cost more than their electrical competitors, but their maintenance costs should be similar. If your furnace is over ten years old, you should prioritize annual maintenance. Most furnaces need to be replaced within ten to twenty years. Most furnace companies will advise that any serious repairs to an older furnace may not last long and that replacing your furnace would be the best option.

What to check if my furnace is not heating?

If your furnace is not producing heat, there are several components you should check. Start with the thermostat - is it switched to “heat”? What temperature does the thermostat say compared to the actual room temperature? Try setting the thermostat to five degrees higher and see if the furnace kicks on. Replace the battery and check the wiring for any breaks. Ensure there are no loose wires within the thermostat, and blow away any dust while you’re in there.

Check the fuse box and the power switch for the furnace and ensure that everything is switched on. Occasionally, a clogged filter can cause the furnace to shut off, so check your filters next. The gas line should be open, but may be switched off for whatever reason. If the drain hose is particularly dirty or the chimney flue is clogged, this could also be why your furnace doesn’t produce any heat. Clean them of dust and debris and try the furnace again. After that, check the heat vents and ducting. Clogs in those areas may also affect your furnace’s heat.

If you’ve tried all that and your furnace still isn’t turning on, it’s time to call a professional to get your furnace repaired. They’ll also run through these basic troubleshooting steps, then move on to the complex components and causes of failure within furnaces. If your furnace is older than fifteen years or breaks down regularly, you may want to consider replacing it. New models are more efficient, and repairs can be expensive in the long run.

How much does it cost to have your furnace serviced?

If you’re looking to have your furnace serviced or tuned up, the cost will depend on the type. An electric furnace can cost between $70 to $130 for a tune-up. Gas furnace tune-ups can cost between $80 to $170, whereas oil furnaces can cost between $100 to $200. A tune-up involves an inspection of the flues and vents, air filters, ignitor switches, fan belts, blowers, motors, electrical components, the heat exchanger, the condensate drain, and testing the thermostat.

Some HVAC companies have two standards for maintenance calls. A basic maintenance call will include a cleaning and offer a diagnostics report. The advanced maintenance call will involve a full tune-up and cleaning of your furnace’s sensors. This can cost between $130 to $200, whereas the basic (or standard) may cost between $70 to $130.

Other factors may alter the cost of furnace maintenance. If you do this at a slower time of year for HVAC companies, you may pay less. Also, if you have several HVAC systems, you may be able to get a discount. You may be charged more if your HVAC system is hard to reach. Some HVAC companies offer a discount for a maintenance plan. Others may charge more if you haven’t serviced the furnace in over a year, as more work will be involved.

The cost to repair a furnace is much higher than the cost to maintain one. The average repair cost for a furnace is anywhere from $100 to $600, based on the issue. There's a hidden cost as well - if your furnace is under warranty and you neglected the annual maintenance, the furnace company may not honor the warranty.

Why is my furnace banging?

Furnaces make several different noises which indicate different problems. If your furnace is banging or booming when you turn it on, this likely indicates a delayed ignition. This can be attributed to a defective ignitor, a weak flame or pilot light, low gas pressure, or a burner malfunction. You should consult an HVAC professional for all these issues, as working with gas and fuel can be tricky.

Intermittent banging or booming is most likely caused by expanding and detracting ductwork. This doesn't necessarily need a fix, unless the noise is preventing you from sleeping at night. You’ll need to fortify the ductwork or replace it with round ductwork. Your furnace may make a dry squeal if any belts or bearings are worn. You can fix this yourself for relatively cheap, but a worn belt points to a lack of cleaning and maintenance. You may want to call a professional to inspect for other potential repairs that may be in your future.

If your furnace makes a high-pitched wail, it’s most likely an airflow problem. A dirty air filter and closed or blocked vents are your likely culprits. Rattling means a part is loose or your heat exchanger is cracked. If you hear the rattling right after you turn the furnace on, it's probably the heat exchanger. The rattling is likely the metal coils expanding. If you hear a constant humming, this is likely a motor problem for either the blower or the inducer. Humming sounds from your furnace requires a professional right away.

A furnace is a large machine. Like a car engine, if it’s making a noise that it shouldn’t, this is usually a warning sign before it breaks down entirely. Every time you use your furnace while it needs repairing, you risk damaging it further and racking up a higher repair bill.

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