It doesn’t matter if you live on the East Coast or the West Coast — every state that could possibly be considered part of the northern half of the country has experienced one of the first major cold snaps of the year. Besides the expected school closings and hypothermia/frostbite alerts from the National Weather Service, another issue has been popping up in homes across the country: malfunctioning furnaces.
It goes without saying that older furnaces are more likely to malfunction, but other HVAC system issues, such as dirty air filters or blocked ventilation pipes, can also cause major problems in furnaces that would otherwise function properly.
Additionally, cold snaps with below-freezing temperatures, such as the extreme winter weather that has recently spread across many parts of the Midwest and Northeast, puts extra stress on home furnaces.
As temperatures drop, homeowners naturally turn up their heating systems to combat the sudden indoor chill, causing furnaces to work in overdrive throughout the day and night. The temperature outside may be in the single digits, but when a furnace is suddenly required to work harder than usual, the temperature inside the system can climb up by hundreds of degrees.
Add in a dirty air filter to the situation, and an HVAC system has to work even harder to push warm air into the house.
If the problem isn’t caught early enough, the best case scenario would be to have the furnace shut down due to too many malfunctioning parts — which could still be dangerous when the weather is below freezing. All too often, however, furnaces will continue working and pushing the system’s internal temperature up until a fire breaks out in the house.
“In extreme weather it’s not out of the ordinary for your heating system to seem like it’s struggling to keep up with the bitter cold temperatures,” says Tom Casey, Owner, Climate Partners. “The reason is two-fold, in extreme cold the weather is beyond the norm and most likely outside of the original design of your heating system. Another reason it may seem like your system may not be working as strongly as could be if it hasn’t been properly maintained and serviced, as it won’t be working at full capacity. Chances are once temperatures regulate back within average seasonal ranges, your system should return to normal but if not, for safety sake, a service professional should be called to review your system.”
Although it’s always advisable to have your furnace inspected before the cold weather hits, it isn’t too late to have your local HVAC service take a look at your home heating system — even if you use an alternative heating method instead of a traditional furnace — to make sure that everything is working properly.