How to Troubleshoot Heating Problems


Troubleshooting the problems that cause heating systems to perform inefficiently or not at all depends on the type of system you use. A home can be heated with electricity, steam, oil or natural gas. Some troubleshooting steps are common to all methods, while other troubleshooting steps are specific to the fuel that provides you with your warmth during the winter months.

Things You'll Need

  • Replacement fuse
  • Business card or crisp dollar bill
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Screwdriver
  • Toothpick
  • Check the thermostat setting as your very first step in troubleshooting the cause of a heating system that refuses to either kick on or shut off. Another member of the household may have reset the thermostat to make the temperature in the house more comfortably warm or cool. Reset the thermostat to the temperature setting you deem to be more comfortable.

  • Head to the main service panel if the thermostat is set correctly, but there is still no powering up. Depending on the type of service panel you have, look for either a blown fuse or a tripped circuit breaker. Replace the blown fuse with a new one, or reset the circuit breaker. Turn the thermostat to a setting guaranteed to make the heater kick on if this is the solution to your problem.

  • Turn off power to the heater from the main service panel. Remove the cover to the thermostat and inspect the interior for signs of dirty contact points. Lower the setting of the thermostat to open the contact points and then run a thin piece of paper such as a business card or crisp dollar bill between those points. Raise the setting of the thermostat to close the contact points and repeat the same procedure. Replace the cover and turn the power back on to the heater from the main service panel.

  • Check the emergency switch if your heating system involves a boiler or furnace so equipped. Press the overload reset button if your house is heated by an oil burner. Push the stack control relay switch that you'll find located either on the oil burner flue or on the burner housing.

  • Turn off the emergency switch to an oil burner and unscrew the transformer from the fan housing. Flip the transformer over in your hand and locate the photoelectric cell on the underside if your oil burner has an electric eye component. Wipe the photoelectric cell with a clean cloth to clean away any dirt or dust that may be obstructing proper operation of the electric eye.

  • Look at the pilot light if your heater is running on natural gas. Relight a pilot light that has gone out. If the pilot flame is weak, turn off the power to the heater and clean out clogged orifices with a toothpick.

  • Check the water circulator pump reset button on a hot-water heating system. If you locate a reset button, depress it to get your steam heater back online.

  • Check the water pressure gauge on a steam-heating system's boiler. If the reading shows the pressure is below the minimum mark, troubleshooting has now moved into the area where you reach for the phone and call for repair help.

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