There are various reasons why your heating oil furnace stops working one day. For some simple problems, you may be able to find the solution yourself and save yourself a service call. In other more complex cases, you will need to reach out for help from a heating oil service provider. The last thing you want to do is try to make a repair on your own. You may end up causing an even bigger, more expensive problem with your furnace.
Before we begin with diagnosing problems, here’s a primer on how oil furnaces work. Getting to know your furnace better makes you more informed if a heating problem arises this winter.
Because it generates heated air, a furnace is also known as a forced-air or warm-air system. Here is how it produces heat.
1. No Power
If your heat stops working and you’ve confirmed that there isn’t a power outage in your community, your next step should be to check for a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse. You also should check to see if the power switches to your furnace have been accidentally turned off.
If you find that power switches for your heating system have been turned off by mistake, simply turn the electrical switches back to the “on” position and your problem may be solved.
If your power switches are not the problem, next check your circuit breaker box to see if all circuit switches are still in the “on” position. Flipping the proper switch to on again may be all you need to get your system running again.
However, please keep this in mind: a circuit breaker rarely ever trips for no reason. If this happens once and never happens again, it may be just a fluke. But if this happens more than once, contact a heating oil service professional, as this could indicate a serious problem.
2. Malfunctioning Thermostat
Many instances of furnaces not working can be traced to the thermostat, whose signal to your oil furnace to turn on may be interrupted if the wiring of the thermostat has begun to deteriorate. A build-up of dust inside your thermostat is another common reason why your thermostat is not operating correctly. Another thing to look for are weak batteries in the thermostat.
3. Wrong Thermostat Setting
Make sure your thermostat is set to at least five degrees higher than your current room temperature so the furnace “knows” you need more heat. In most cases, you’ll also want to make sure the fan is set to “auto” instead of “on.” Here’s why. Once your furnace gets your home to the room temperature you want, it will shut off and stop producing warm air. If the fan is set to “on,” the furnace will continue to blow air—but it will not be warm. You can fix this by switching the setting to “auto.”
The main benefit of setting the thermostat to “auto” is your energy usage and costs will be less. You will also eliminate cool air coming out of your vents.
However, if indoor air quality is an issue for someone in your household, choosing the “on” setting instead may be a trade-off you’re willing to make. By leaving the setting to “on,” you will ensure continuous circulation and filtration of your indoor air, which will benefit anyone in your home who suffers from a respiratory ailment. Experts say you will also be able to maintain a more efficient distribution of heat inside your rooms.
4. Clogged Air Filter
You need to change or clean the air filter in the furnace on a regular basis during the heating season. A dirty filter lowers heating efficiency and if the filter gets badly clogged, it can cause your furnace to shut down. This is a built-in safety measure to prevent your furnace from overheating and causing damage.
To check the filter, turn off the furnace first and then remove the filter. Hold it up to the light. If no light shines through, the filter needs to replaced with a new one, or in some cases, cleaned and then returned to the furnace. You can also use your sense of smell to detect a dirty filter. If you notice a dusty/dirty odor coming from your heating vents when the furnace is blowing hot air, this often indicates that the filter needs to be changed or cleaned.
5. No Heating Oil
If you call to order your fuel, make sure to check your heating oil tank regularly—especially in the middle of a cold snap. You should not let your oil tank fall below the ¼ mark. To prevent run-outs, see if your heating oil company offers automatic delivery service, which is designed to prevent run-outs.
Like any piece of equipment, your heating oil furnace will eventually have to be replaced one day. A new furnace can be a better option than paying for another furnace repair because you will be able to reduce your annual heating expenses substantially.
The most modern oil furnaces have adjustable speeds and are very energy efficient. They feature high-pressure flame-retention burners, durable heat exchangers and microprocessor-based controls. This could save you a lot of money on heating costs in the years ahead.
If you think your furnace is wearing out, research your replacement options soon and then reach out to your heating oil service company for advice.