Having a furnace is a necessity in colder climate states like here in Washington State. They keep us warm when those winter temperatures drop. Additionally, they only use 600 watts of electricity which is not much at all. What about when the power goes out? Does a gas furnace need electricity? Yes! It doesn’t seem like it would since it is gas, but the blower fan motor, the electronic ignition systems, and the programmable thermostat need electricity to work. We will discuss why these are important and what you can do.
Let’s take a look at why you need to know about a gas furnace needing electricity, the blower fan motor, electronic ignition systems, the programmable thermostat, what you can do to prepare for a power outage, if the furnace doesn’t turn on after power is restored, maintenance, and when to call a professional.
Why You Need to Know About a Gas Furnace Needing Electricity
Many people think that if the power goes out that the gas furnace will continue to work. However, that is, unfortunately, not true! The blower motor, the electronic ignition systems, and programmable thermostats are all main components of the furnace and need electricity to work.
Blower Fan Motor
The blower motor needs electricity to power the blower fan. The furnace can still produce combustible heat but if the blower fan isn’t working, the heat has nowhere to go. Thus, the furnace knows this and shuts down.
If you hear sounds coming from the blower motor, or airflow is weak, or there is overheating, have the HVAC system looked at. The last thing you want is the system going out because of an issue other than a power outage. This can be an expensive repair of $500-$1500 so if it is caught early, it may be an easy fix.
Electronic Ignition Systems
Electronic ignition systems, either intermittent pilots or hot-surface igniters, are what is seen on modern furnaces. Gone are the days of the pilot light igniting the burners. Even though this doesn’t seem like a good thing, in the long run it is. This is because the electrical system will trip the circuit breaker if it senses there is too much electricity.
If the furnace runs on a programmable thermostat, it needs electricity to run and get the information to the systems that it controls.
What You Can Do to Prepare For a Power Outage
There are a few things to have handy around the home to stay warm in case there is a power outage.
Investing in a generator is a good idea in case the power goes out. There are a variety of types, such as a manual start which can bring electricity back to the home in small areas. Then there are natural and propane generators that can power the entire home. Remember, the size you need will depend on the size of the home.
Natural or Propane Fireplace
A fireplace is also a good idea to have. Natural is always best if you are lucky to have one in your home. Throwing some firewood in is an easy way to heat up the home. Of course, make sure you do this carefully. Take a look at the fireplace before the cold weather sets in and make sure you have a fireplace lintel so you know that the chimney has support and also protected from high temperatures of fire.
A propane fireplace uses gas or propane and is thermostat controlled and a great addition to the home in case power is lost. This can also help your family make it through the cold evenings if you decide not to run the furnace at all.
Kerosene Heater or Wood Burning Stove
A kerosene heater is good to have as a backup and something you can use in colder parts of the house. Just be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions so you don’t cause a fire. It doesn’t take up much room and can help warm the home.
A wood-burning stove is not only aesthetically pleasing to look at in the home, but it is also another source to keep the home warm. Just like with the heater above, read the directions to keep the family safe.
Gas Furnace Doesn’t Turn On After Electricity is Restored
If the furnace doesn’t turn on after power is restored, there are a few things you will need to do:
- Check that the furnace switch Is on
- Look at the control panel on the furnace. Is it flashing with an error message? If yes, then this is indicating that something may need to be replaced or repaired. This is when you need to call a professional
- Check for blown fuses or a breaker that has tripped
- Find the vent and make sure it is not clogged with snow or ice
- The safety lock may be on. If you hit the reset button a few times when trying to restart the furnace, it may have turned on the safety lock. Wait a while, then firmly hit the reset button once and see if it comes on
- Check the thermostat. You want it to be back online and turn It up high enough so the furnace kicks on
If none of these ideas above work, contact a professional for help.
Furnaces can last from 15-30 years, depending on where you live and maintenance. Some ideas for maintenance are:
Circuit Breaker and Electrical Panel
If you notice the circuit breaker continues to trip, try resetting it. If this doesn’t work, contact a professional as the circuit breaker may be bad and needs replacing. While you are at the electrical panel, make sure you don’t have a Challenger GFCI panel or FPE panel as these have been recalled and are hazardous.
Also, check there are no double tapped breakers in the panel box. This can be dangerous because if it is only meant to have one wire and there are two, arcing and a fire can result.
Some furnaces will share space with the A/C unit so here are some spring maintenance ideas for the HVAC :
Clean around the unit, adjust the thermostat, and replace the filter. The furnace filter is located in the large metal (sometimes plastic) furnace compartment next to the blower, near the bottom of the door, or on the side of the door. Check that there is no water leaking from the HVAC unit. If it is, turn off the unit, clean up the water and call a professional.
Taking a look at the unit outside the home and the air handler inside the home is a great idea. You don’t want to find that the air conditioner is frozen. This can be due to numerous things that you want to explore more.
Dewinterize the Home
If you close up your home for any amount of time, make sure you de-winterize your home. It is a process but you want to do it correctly to make sure everything comes back on.
When to Call a Professional
Call a professional if you are having issues with the furnace. Also, if you find yellow or flickering flame or streaks of soot or rust on the vent pipe, that could indicate carbon monoxide may be leaking so call a professional right away. A furnace can be tricky and it is electricity so you don’t want to mess with it if you don’t know what you are doing.
It always seems like things go out at the worst time. For example, the air goes out when it gets hot and the furnace goes out when the cold sets in. Making sure you have a backup for warming the house is a great idea and keeping up with maintenance as well. It may not seem important, but it is. We can take a look at your furnace when doing home inspections in Olympia, Washington, and surrounding areas.