Winter is coming! Starting in September and continuing through the New Year, the average daily temperature in Illinois starts dropping by 10 degrees per month with lows culminating in the frigid 10’s and 20’s. With the turn of the seasons comes a chill in the air and potentially, inside your own home. If your furnace has started showing signs that it’s in need of repair, it might be time for a furnace tune-up. Sometimes the warning signs of a furnace on the fritz are hard to notice, while other signs of a haphazard heater are far more obvious.

We have compiled our list of the Top 8 Warning Signs You May Need Furnace Repair and we have sorted them by your different senses. Some signs are more obvious (like a cold draft) while others you may have to listen for (loud popping sounds) or look for (dust in the vent). Abnormal smells (rotten eggs) are always considered a major red flag and should be looked at by a professional right away.

Check out the list below and see if it’s time to schedule a furnace tune-up with Castle Home Comfort. With the proper service and care, your heating unit will keep your family warm during the chilly Champaign winters for many years to come. 

Signs You Will Feel

  • COLD AIR! Like there is No Heat Coming Out of the Vents Could Mean Furnace Repair

If you notice that the air coming out of the vents doesn’t feel warm or isn’t blowing as much air as it usually does, there may be something blocking the air duct or vent. Sometimes there is a bigger culprit or a mechanical issue that requires a professional’s help like a worn-out blower motor. If you are always adjusting the thermostat because the house isn’t warming up, there could be an issue in a specific area of your furnace, duct, or vent system.

Routine professional maintenance will help ensure that the heat coming out of the vents is strong and reliable, but there are things that you can do to help. Regularly changing air filters every couple of months is one thing that you can do to help keep your furnace running smoothly. From time to time you should double-check to see that there aren’t any new exterior obstructions in front of your vents like furniture or décor that has been moved around. A professional will be able to see if there are items inside the vents and air ducts that need to be removed. All of these issues can be discovered during an annual furnace tune-up and will help you avoid incurring costly or inconvenient repairs.

  • Drafts, Uneven Heating or Condensation Build-Up Could Signal It’s Time for Furnace Repair

Yes, it is getting colder outside and your furnace unit is working harder to produce warm air, but you should have consistent reliable airflow in all spaces of your home. The air coming from your furnace should be blowing warm and propelling efficiently throughout your entire home. If you are feeling any cold drafts in certain spots or uneven heating while the unit is running, there could be a leaky duct or blockage in the vents. If you have the thermostat set to a higher temperature and the furnace is producing little or no heat, this could be an indication that the thermostat is having difficulty communicating with the furnace unit.

If you begin to notice that your windows, walls, or ceilings are starting to have condensation build-up, this could be a sign that your HVAC system needs repairs. If you see ice starting to form on the top of your roof it might indicate that the heat is leaking up and out instead of staying inside of your home (where it belongs) and keeping your family warm. Damp air hanging inside the house could be a sign that the vents themselves are not working correctly. Overall, signs of condensation mean that the air is not flowing properly inside of your home and your system should be looked at before bigger issues like mold or mildew occur.

 Signs You Will Hear

  • Your HVAC Unit Turning Off Unexpectedly Might Mean You Need a Furnace Tune-Up

It takes a lot of work to warm your big, beautiful home and the electrical and mechanical parts of your HVAC system can get worn out and will eventually need to be replaced or repaired. When a furnace unit shuts down before it can complete the heating cycle it is set for, it can mean multiple things.

Sometimes, a furnace might have bad wiring at the time of installation that will need to be updated after years of daily use. We will go more deeply into this topic, but if your pilot light needs to be restored, the furnace unit may shut off unexpectedly when a Carbon Monoxide detector has been engaged. If your thermostat needs to be replaced and is no longer communicating with the furnace unit, it might be completing a heating cycle for a lower temperature than you are seeing on the thermostat. The fan motor might need a new belt or it might need to be cleaned and calibrated and this could cause the furnace unit to shut down out of nowhere.

These simple diagnoses can be caught during routine maintenance and fixed before they cause your unit to have persistent troubles or need costly furnace repairs. A professional consultation is best to see what is really going on, but if you hear your unit turning off before warming up to the temperature it’s set for, it could be an easy fix. If the heater turns off unexpectedly and does not turn back on, this is not good news and could indicate your HVAC system will require a full furnace replacement. Let’s hope we catch any minor issues before that happens!

  • Rattling, Grinding, Popping or Squealing

No, these are not this year’s newest dance crazes… These are examples of sounds you may hear if your furnace is having trouble from wear and tear or a part of the machine needs to be serviced. Normally, your system should be fairly quiet while it is running. Anything outside of light, ambient sound could indicate that there are issues that need to be addressed with your HVAC unit and furnace. Time is of the essence when diagnosing furnaces that have started making a lot of noise. Once the delicate parts start to break it can set off a chain reaction of additional issues that could ultimately end up costing way more money than if you would have just fixed the initial problem. Catching an issue with your system early will allow for repairs to be made or individual parts to be exchanged before you need a full furnace replacement.

If a fan or motor belt needs to be replaced it will let you know by squealing when the unit is on and running. When the seasons change, pipes and ductwork can experience thermal expansion, which will cause not only uneven temperatures but also fun popping and pinging sounds that you will undoubtedly be able to hear. Persistent grinding sounds coming from your HVAC system could mean that the bearings in your furnace blower are worn down and need to be replaced. If you hear something rattling, or it makes the sound of metal on metal, it could be as simple as a cover that needs to be tightened, or it could be a sign of a larger part that needs to be exchanged. Anytime there are chronic, loud, or abnormal noises coming from your furnace it’s best to have a professional take a look. Replacing one part right when the rattle begins or tightening up a squeaky piece right away will save you from major headaches down the road.

Signs You Will See

  • The memory of your furnace installation in the distant, distant past…

How long ago did you move into your home? Do you know when the original HVAC system and furnace installation was completed? How often do you have regular service and maintenance performed on your furnace? On average, a furnace installation lifespan is between 12 and 20 years depending on the size of your home, average daily use, and regular upkeep schedule. A well-maintained furnace should last well into its senior years. Your individual maintenance schedule will vary (usually once or twice per year) but you shouldn’t need to have major repairs too often with your furnace. Checking for warning signs annually will give you time to catch issues with your system early and prevent the need for a major furnace repair or worse – a full furnace replacement.

Once a unit starts entering the end of its lifecycle, (15 years or older), more repairs and regular maintenance will start to be needed. If you have had multiple services and repairs in the past year, it might be time to look into a new unit for your home. Certain parts can only be replaced so many times before the whole system will eventually stop working. Once a furnace unit has gone past its prime it will need to be replaced no matter how well it has been kept up over the years.

Alternatively, if you haven’t had any service to your system in a very long time, the change of season is the perfect time to have a professional come in and do a routine check. We are so used to taking our vehicle in for filter changes and minor tune-ups, but sometimes we forget our home appliances need the same care and attention. Your furnace is no different. Regular filter replacements, diagnostic calibrations, coil cleaning, and parts tightening are all necessary routine services to help extend the life of your furnace. An annual furnace tune-up before any noises or noticeable problems begin is the best way to ensure your heating system will be ready-to-go in the colder seasons.

  • Your Electricity Bills Going Up and Up and Up

Usually this time of year your electricity bill should be going down. If your HVAC unit has even minor inefficiencies and is overcompensating it can cause your electricity use to soar. Usually, when the furnace unit is struggling to push out air, there are some simple fixes that a routine maintenance and cleaning visit can accomplish. One example of this is regular cleaning and changing the furnace filters after your initial furnace installation. Dust often accumulates inside and outside your furnace filter making it work overtime to heat the air it’s sending out. When the system is working overtime to compensate for the inefficiency, you are going to be paying overtime.

If you notice that your electrical bill feels like it’s more than it was “this time last year” or even just significantly more than just the previous month, do a comparison. If you have access to online records of your electricity bills, log in and see what you spent last year vs. this year. You can also contact your electrical company and ask for more information about your average spending. Taking the time to do this right when you notice something is off can save you money in the long run and hopefully you will find discrepancies before they keep adding up. Regular, routine maintenance is the best way to ensure that you don’t have the same surprise next year.

  • A Yellow Pilot Light Flame Instead of Blue

If you have a gas style furnace, we recommend having a professional deal with all things related to your pilot light, however, there are visual indicators that you can use to assess if it’s time to have someone come to check it out.

Your pilot light flame should be mostly blue with a little bit of yellow at the tip and the flame should be stable. This is a good sign that it is lit properly, only burning natural gases and in a well-working condition. When the pilot light flame is all yellow or orange in color, this is a sign that the Carbon Monoxide is not dissipating as it normally should. Leaking Carbon Monoxide is a health hazard for people and animals inside the home and can cause combustion or explosions. If your unit’s pilot light flame is experiencing any abnormalities including a mostly yellow color, flickering or wavering, then adjustments or repairs need to be made and a professional should be contacted right away to make an analysis.

Carbon Monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas so you won’t be able to smell a leak. This is why most homes and newer style furnaces will have a Carbon Monoxide detector built-in at the time of furnace installation. If this detector is tripped or set off, we recommend turning the furnace off and contacting your local emergency authorities. 

*IMPORTANT* The Sign You Will Smell

  • Rotten Eggs

Sometimes your furnace unit will produce a “burning” smell after being turned on for the first time for the winter season. This is not the smell we are talking about here but if you do smell something like this and it’s very powerful, we do recommend having one of our furnace professionals take a look. Now, should you smell rotten eggs or sewage, this could indicate that there is a gas leak inside your home and it’s very important to take care of this immediately.

Natural gas used to power our in-home furnaces is enhanced with a chemical called methanethiol or mercaptan. This chemical additive is supposed to create a very distinct, sour odor meant to alert those present when there is a leak. If you smell this very specific smell at any time, shut off your furnace and vacate the location to an outdoor area. Contact your local gas company or emergency department authorities to alert them of the possible gas leak and wait for more instructions.

If you smell any other abnormal odors coming from inside your vents or around the furnace unit, this could be an indication that there is an animal or other biological element present in the ducts or vents. We always recommend having a professional make an assessment if you smell anything out of the ordinary.

I Saw the Sign! What Now?

If you read this article and some things on our Top 8 Warning Signs List looked or sounded or felt familiar, then it might be time for a routine visit from one of our HVAC and furnace repair experts. Castle Home Comfort Heating & Cooling has been helping Central Illinois stay comfortable for over 40 years and we have seen ALL the signs above and then some. If you believe your system is experiencing any of the mechanical issues that we have listed here, just give us a call to come to check it out. Our team is available 24/7, including holidays, for emergency furnace repair and service calls.

If you read this article and nothing sounds familiar, even better! That means it’s perfect timing to set up a routine visit and keep your furnace in tip-top shape. Let’s get your furnace tune-up scheduled right away. Call Castle Home Comfort Heating & Cooling at (217) 352-2800 or fill out our form to contact us online.

Reminder: If you smell or see anything that could indicate you have a natural gas leak – please shut off your furnace unit, evacuate the location, and contact your local gas company and emergency authorities. Signs of Carbon Monoxide poisoning include nausea, hallucinations, headaches, and dizziness.