Troubleshooting your heating system.

This Q&A is aimed at answering the most called about issues with heating systems. A little troubleshooting on your end can help us quickly determine if something is wrong. It may be simple enough to solve with a little work on your end or even over the phone, saving you the time and money of a service call.


I see smoke coming from my unit outside. Should I be concerned?

If your heating system is a heat pump, it is more than likely entering what’s called “defrost” mode. Your heat pump operates by transferring heat from the outside into your home (heat can be still be transferred efficiently down to 30-35 degrees). When operating in cooler temperatures, the outside coil of your unit begins to form ice. To melt this ice, the system reverses the flow of refrigerant. The heat pump becomes inactive and your auxiliary heat automatically kicks in to supplement. A humming sound can be heard and steam begins to rise as the ice melts from the coil. After the ice on the coil is melted, the unit should switch back to heat pump mode and continue normal operation. This operation is completely normal operation.


My thermostat is showing “auxiliary” or “emergency” heat. What’s going on?

A heat pump has two methods of heating: heat pump and auxiliary. A heat pump is efficient down to around 30-35 degrees; below this point it begins to struggle.  To keep your home warm, supplemental heating (auxiliary) is needed. Electric heat strips automatically turn on to keep your home warm. When the auxiliary heat kicks in, it may be indicated on your thermostat. The best thing to do is to set your thermostat at a comfortable temperature and leave it alone. If auxiliary still shows constantly, there could be something wrong. Call us to take a look at your system.

If your thermostat indicates it is running on “emergency” heat, there could be a problem. There are some things to check before you call:

  1. Check that your thermostat is not turned to Em. Heat. It should be turned to Heat.
  2. Make sure your set point is within two degrees of your home’s actual temperature. Any time the set point is 2 degrees or more above the actual temperature, your electric heat turns on. Try adjusting the temperature within one degree; the auxiliary or emergency light should go off.


I feel cool air coming out of the registers.

Cool air from your vents could mean something simple or something more complicated. The simple fix is to flip the Fan switch into the Auto position. This will turn the blower on only when there is a call for heating. If this doesn’t solve the problem, or you don’t sense a change in airflow, there could be ductwork issues. Call us to have someone come out to check.


I don’t feel any air coming from the registers.

No airflow could mean one or more problems: major ductwork issues, a motor issue or failure, a dirty air filter, or a dirty coil.

First, check to see if your filter is dirty. Change it to see if airflow improves. Second, check to make sure your thermostat is set correctly. The thermostat should be turned on to the appropriate cycle and the temperature should be set above the temperature in the house. If there is no change, your system will need to be inspected.


I smell gas from my furnace. Should I be concerned?

            Furnaces are fueled by Natural or L.P. gas. The gas is brought in by black iron or copper pipe. Pipe joints are sealed by different methods: compression, pipe sealants, Teflon, etc. Over time, these joints may begin to form leaks as sealants deteriorate or the furnace moves or settles. Leaking gas may be detected if it is concentrated in a certain area for a period of time. You might notice it if you open a door to the closet where your furnace is located. If you sense a gas smell, you should turn off your furnace, leave the area, and call us to perform a leak check.


My furnace is not igniting or producing any heat.

There isn’t a simple answer here, as there could be a number of things going on. You could have an ignition problem permitting the furnace from operating. A fail-safe locks the furnace out, permitting it from turning back on for a short time. It would be best to let our technician come out to take a look.


If you feel your HVAC system is not performing the way it should, please contact us. We would be happy to help.