Where’s the heat? How to troubleshoot heating problems…

Posted on January 31, 2018

The heat is on, or not! Trouble with the heat?

If you try everything below and still not getting warm and toasty, submit a maintenance request and we’ll get on it.

Quick “Shotgun” approach: the “Reboot”

So, sometimes the easiest fix is a full reset without much thought. If it fixes it, and doesn’t happen again, its JOOTT. To do a simple full reset:

  1. Find the breaker panel in the house. Find the ones labeled “AC” or “Heat” or “HVAC” or similar. Flip those off too.
  2. Wait 5 minutes.
  3. Turn on the breakers at the breaker panel. Then the ones on the blower (in the closet).
  4. G0 check the thermostat and make sure it is set to ON and to HEAT, and set it at least 5 degrees above the current temperature.
  5. Does it come on and work for you?

Can’t find breakers?

If you can’t figure it out, you can do a ‘soft reset’ of sorts but dropping the thermostat temperature all the way down (you should hear it click) and then waiting 5 minutes, and bringing it back up to 5 degrees above the current temperature. You should then hear another click and the blower and heat should come on. This is sort of like logging out, or force quitting an application, but not a full shutdown and reboot of the computer, so its not quite as thorough as flipping the breakers.

Why do I have to wait 5 minutes? I’m cold…

Many HVAC systems have a lock out, especially heat pumps. They will not cycle in a short time (this is called “short cycling” and is bad for the equipment). So if you try to shut it off and then right back on, it usually won’t work, even if it did before you shut it down. It needs to cycle. So, its best to wait a few minutes.

90% of the time a reset unsticks whatever locked up, but if its still not working. Let’s get more specific….

Troubleshooting Heat: The longer version

Gas or Electric? Heat pump or other?

The first thing you HAVE to know before you can troubleshoot why heat might not be working is simply whether you have gas heat or electric heat. Some of the troubleshooting steps are the same, like “rebooting” the system, but most are quite different. If you don’t have gas heat, you don’t have to worry about whether you turned on the gas or to troubleshoot the pilot light, for example!

Issue 1: Be sure that thermo Heat is ON and that it is getting power.

Is there any air flowing out of the vents?

Put your hand by an air vent (not a air return vent, these are bigger). Do you feel any air moving? If not, check the following:

  1. Is the thermostat set to On and Heat? If not, turn it to on.
  2. Is the fan set to auto? If yes, set it to ON and see if you get any air flow (it won’t be warm if the heat isn’t working, but air should flow. If it doesn’t, that’s vital info!).
  3. If no air flow even with fan set to On, check the breakers for the unit.
    1. Locate the fuse box, find the ones labelled AC (there will likely be more than one). Are they off or tripped (half way over)? Turn them on. Does that fix the problem?
    2. If they were on, go ahead and flip them off. As a bonus, while they are off, go over to the HVAC unit (in a closet) and there are usually a couple breakers on it. Turn them off too. Wait 5 minutes. Now, turn all of the breakers back on. Any change?

If you still have no air (at all) coming from the vents, please submit a maintenance ticket through your tenant portal or give us a call, especially call if its after hours and heat has been out for a long time. Don’t want frozen pipes (or tenants).

Issue 2: Air is coming out, but it’s not hot.

So, you have air moving, but its not hot air? Then the question is why no cold? And the answer usually is because the outside unit is not working or not working well. NOTE: The Reboot above, or reset in #1 both may correct a lack of heat already.

Check the filter!

If your filter is gross, or sucked into the unit. Get a new one. Turn the system off, take filter to anywhere, including walmart 24 hours a day, and get a new one the same size.

Is the thermostat set to On and Heat?

I know, it seems obvious, and yes we mentioned it in #1 above, but we have had calls where tenants have turned the thermostat FAN to on, but didn’t set the thermostat to Heat. Check it to be sure.

Do you have a gas furnace?

If you have gas, is the pilot on? See our FAQ about gas furnace pilot lights.

Did you set up (and have you paid) your gas bill? Can’t help you here… but if you aren’t getting gas, well, you won’t get heat! (And we can’t fix this for you, sorry!).

Most of our gas furnaces have a small silver box with a switch that looks like a light switch. The box is located on the exterior of the furnace.  This switch acts as a disconnect for the system.  To shut it down, in addition to turning off any fuse panel breakers, this switch should also be flipped to off.

Do you have a heat pump? If its not gas, its probably a heat pump….

Is the outside AC unit running (making noise AND has a whirling fan)?

Then it really should be working. Remember, heat pumps don’t always blow warm air. Is the temperature to what you set it to inside? But you can always try a reboot as described above and submit a ticket if you want us to have an HVAC pro take a look. Just remember that if its operating to spec, you’ll cover the service call…

If the outside unit is not running at all…

Are you REALLY sure you have checked the thermostat and the all the breakers? Flip the breakers for 5-10 minutes, and turn it all back on. Any luck? If not, submit a maintenance ticket with the details of what you have learned (it will help us ID what you might need) and we’ll get right on it.

If the outside unit is running but it has ice on it…

Does the outside unit look like it has ice on the sides (could be a little, could be a lot!)? It may not be defrosting correctly. Submit a work order with the details BUT try turning your thermostat to AUX/Emergency.

Electric but not a heat pump? Probably baseboard type heat…

If you do feel heat, but the room isn’t warming, turn it up. In very cold temps, they sometimes just can’t keep up and you have to set the thermostat higher than what you really want the room to be. Watch it though because it will eventually reach whatever temp you set it too and you may be a tad too toasty!

Try Aux/Emergency

If you do not have heat, and you worked through the above, set the thermostat to Aux or Emergency. This will cause the thermostat to call for heat produced by electric heat coils. These often augment heat from heat pumps, which do not function as efficiently as it gets colder, and eventually do not work at all. The Aux heat creates heat regardless of temperature, and can also product heat in an “emergency.” Give it a shot.

Some other random resources from around the web

Simple video, but okay starter. Note, Alliance isn’t local. Don’t call them… 🙂

No Heat Problem Diagnosis & Repair, includes a lot of detail about troubleshooting the thermostat. Definitely worth a look!

Problem: Gas Furnace Produces No Heat, great bit specific too GAS furnaces. If you have gas (for your heat…), this is a good one.

How to Troubleshoot a Furnace Blower That Runs No Heat

Good run through video. Targets heat.

This guys says “because it just sucks….” Note, however, that most of you don’t have batteries in your thermostats because many are manual (which is nice because power loss won’t reset them). ALSO this video is more about GAS heat once he gets into specifics.