Furnace Inspection Articles

What to Do With a Dirty Flame Sensor

It can happen to just about anyone. Your furnace, which you count on to keep you warm in the coldest months of the year and on below-freezing nights, starts to rapidly cycle on and off. Perhaps, instead, it tries to kick on but doesn’t run for more than a few seconds before it suddenly clicks off, pilot and all. This can be a panic-inducing situation. After all, nobody looks forward to the thousands of dollars it can cost to get a new furnace.

There’s potential good news. The fix may not only be inexpensive, but also might be one you can diagnose on your own. The vast majority of furnace calls professional HVAC technicians receive of this kind involve a simple, basic flame sensor cleaning. Let’s learn about what a dirty flame sensor is, what you can do with it and how cleaning it can result in your furnace working just like a new piece of equipment.

What Is a Furnace Flame Sensor?

A furnace flame sensor is a very basic part of your furnace. It’s located on the burner assembly and is just a thin metallic rod. It’s usually bent, and it sits just in front of the pilot flame inside the furnace. When the thermostat tells the furnace to kick on, the gas valve opens up and fires gas into the combustion chamber, where the pilot light or ignitor lights the burners.

The sensor is there to confirm that there’s actually a fire present when the gas is open. Without this, your pilot light could go out and fill your home with dangerous gas. This gas can build up and be deadly for many reasons, from gas poisoning to the potential for explosions.

The flame sensor, then, is a safety measure. If it doesn’t detect a flame when the gas is on, it automatically shuts everything down to make sure you’re safe. On most modern units, this shutdown can happen up to three times before the system goes into a lockout and sits for an hour before it tries again. This happens to let any gas buildup dissipate.

Unfortunately, if there is a flame and the sensor simply isn’t detecting it, this can result in being stuck without heat for an hour, and even worse, can create wear and tear on other parts in your furnace. This will reduce efficiency and can result in more expensive fixes.

Flame Sensor vs. Thermocouple

People tend to use the terms “flame sensor” and “thermocouple” interchangeably. In truth, while they basically perform the same job, they’re not the same thing. If your furnace uses an electronic controller, it’s got a flame sensor. Thermocouples are used on standing pilot furnaces that have pilot lights. The thermocouple sits near the pilot light and gauges whether it’s working properly, while the flame sensor detects that the burners are lit once they start to emit gas and the igniters light them up.

The Culprit: a Dirty Flame Sensor

Very often, the problem isn’t a bad part or faulty equipment. It’s simply a corroded or dirty flame sensor. Because your sensor spends so much time immersed in flame, it has a tendency to collect carbon deposits, dust and other particulates which can burn onto the sensor. These are very sensitive wires which have to detect fire in a very short window of time.

What this means is that the slightest collections or deposits on the sensor can cause it to fail. Fortunately, it’s often a very easy process to take care of the issue.

Signs of a Bad Sensor

A number of signs that your flame sensor is fouled, corroded or otherwise bad are easily detected. First, check for your gas burners to light up and then go out after a few seconds. This is the most common sign of a sensor issue. Second, if you can actual see soot covering the tip of the sensor, it’s time for a cleaning. If you look at the tip and it’s black, it’s time for service. Finally, if you see cracked porcelain on the sensor casing, you’ll need a replacement. The porcelain is an important insulator that stops the sensor from being grounded on the bracket of the furnace.

Cleaning a Furnace Flame Sensor

As with most maintenance issues, cleaning a furnace flame sensor is a multi-step process that’s not difficult but can be exacting. If you’re not sure of any aspect of it, it’s probably a good idea to call on the professionals. Still, it’s always helpful to have an understanding of what’s involved, and a little knowledge can go a long way.

Generally speaking, the process involves turning off the furnace, removing the sensor, cleaning it off, replacing it and double-checking the results. Let’s break down each step in a little more detail.

Turn off the Furnace

The first key factor, turning off the furnace, is the most important step in the entire process. This is because attempting to work on a furnace while the gas is on can be very dangerous. Not only can it result in gas buildup, but if the furnace should kick on while you’re working, you can get a severe burn or even create a fire hazard in your home. Usually, turning off the furnace is as simple as flicking a toggle switch that will look like a light switch. If you don’t have one of these, turn it off at your home’s breaker box.

If your furnace doesn’t use an electronic control, you may have to shut off the gas valve to the system, as well. Again, if any of this is confusing, you’ll want to contact a professional for help.

Remove the Old Sensor

Next, remove the old sensor from the furnace. It’s usually pretty easily accessible and is mounted by a quarter-inch hex-head screw. Remove this screw and the flame sensor should easily slide out so you can clean it. You may have to detach a wire from the end of it if you need more room to work, but often, this isn’t necessary to do.

Clean the Sensor

Next, get a very light grain sandpaper, a wire brush, or steel wool. Use this to rub the metal rod gently, and only the metal rod, to clean the dirty flame sensor. You’re not sanding down a rusty car, here; you’re just trying to get rid of grit and buildup on the sensor. Be gentle, and don’t go overboard. When you’ve got the grit removed, use a soft cloth or paper towel to wipe it down.

Reconnect the Sensor and Test

After you’ve cleaned the sensor, simply reconnect it the same way you disconnected it. If you disconnected the wire, reconnect that. Then slide the sensor back into its housing and re-mount it with the hex screw. Replace the doors of the furnace and kick the power back on.

It could take a few extra seconds for the unit to start up than you’re used to — that’s okay and is normal. Sometimes the fan will kick on and just run a bit. It’s likely the unit is running through the cycles and checks before it fires up again. After it goes through the system reset, it should operate normally from your thermostat control. Be sure that it fires up and runs properly.

Replacing a Broken Sensor

Replacing a broken sensor is basically the same process, except you’ll need to buy a new sensor and put it in rather than clean the old one. It may also be a good idea, however, to call in a professional HVAC technician to diagnose the problem and be sure of how to fix it.

Calling the Professionals

If you have issues with a dirty flame sensor, call the professionals to get the help you need. Don’t worry if it seems confusing. Legacy Air can take care of all of your furnace flame sensor issues and any other furnace problems you might have. Give us a call for more information or to schedule your next appointment today.

5 Reasons for a Broken or Underperforming Furnace

Like everything, problems with your furnace always seem to creep up when you need it most, like in the middle of a frigid day. Since heat has a significant impact on the comfort in your home, it’s important to identify and correct problems with your furnace quickly.

Check out these five reasons for a broken or underperforming furnace so that you can quickly determine the proper steps to take to get your home comfy and cozy again.

Signs of a Broken or Underperforming Furnace

Whether there are strange sounds or smells coming from your furnace, or you’re just noticing that something doesn’t feel right with your home’s air quality, a minor furnace problem can quickly turn into a major repair. Many homeowners choose to continue to use their furnaces despite obvious issues, but that will only make matters worse in the future.

While any issue with your furnace should be identified and corrected as soon as possible, the signs of an underperforming or failing furnace generally include:

  • Low heating temperature.
  • Low indoor air quality.
  • Frequent cycling.
  • Irregular airflow.
  • Inconsistent temperatures.

You may also notice that your energy costs skyrocket, though there could be more than one cause for that. Tears or leaks in the air duct system, an incompatible thermostat, an incorrect furnace size and poor home insulation are the main causes, but a furnace in need of repair could also be the reason.

Here are the five reasons for a broken or underperforming furnace:

Dirty or Clogged Filters

Your furnace is equipped with an air filter that’s designed to prevent dust, pollen and other airborne particulates from circulating in your home, but it also works to keep your furnace operating efficiently. If a filter becomes dirty enough to prevent proper airflow, it could have a detrimental impact on your furnace’s efficiency and operation.

Fortunately, this is a simple fix. By checking your filter at least once or twice every few months and replacing it as needed, you’ll be able to keep your furnace operating at its best.

Faulty or Incompatible Thermostat

While a faulty or incompatible thermostat won’t cause a furnace to fail, it can impact its ability to operate properly. If your furnace is having issues, checking the thermostat is the fastest and easiest thing to do before troubleshooting other elements that may be causing the problem.

Pilot Light Failure

If your furnace has a pilot light or electrical ignition system, it could have a malfunction that affects your unit’s function. If the pilot light or electrical ignition system fails, a gas-fueled furnace can’t ignite the burners and can’t produce heat.

Ideally, your pilot light or electrical ignition system should be checked once a year, along with routine maintenance, to be sure it’s operating properly.

Blower Motor Failure

The blower motor, or fan motor, circulates air through your home. If it fails, your furnace will still be able to ignite and work properly, but the blower motor won’t be activated and won’t allow air to circulate through your home.

The blower motor is part of a system of components that work together to circulate the warm air, which includes fan motors, belts and bearings. If there’s a problem with the blower motor, any or all of these components may be the cause. Along with your annual maintenance, your blower motor components should be checked for wear or damage.

Fuel Supply Problems

Furnaces fueled by natural gas can be impacted by issues with the fuel supply line and an inadequate supply of fuel. Gas is volatile and toxic, however, so any issues with a fuel supply line should be addressed by a professional technician.

Furnace Maintenance

If you prefer to enjoy the long winter with reliable and consistent heat, it’s much better to prevent furnace problems from creeping up in the first place.

Furnace maintenance from a professional technician can identify any issues that may cause a broken or underperforming furnace by inspecting each and every component for signs of wear or damage. This not only saves you from inconvenient and unexpected failure in the middle of the busy season, but it also helps you save on serious and expensive repairs in the future.

That’s not all, though. Regular furnace maintenance has other benefits, such as:

  • Lower energy bills: A properly running furnace is more efficient, which means that it requires less energy to keep your home at the temperature you prefer.
  • Extended equipment life: Your furnace is a big investment, but regular maintenance can keep it running properly and help it perform at its best for longer periods of time.

At Legacy Air, we offer a comprehensive maintenance plan that has its own advantages, such as:

  • 15 percent discount on parts.
  • Guaranteed 24-hour response time.
  • Two complimentary tune-ups, one for your furnace and one for your air conditioning unit, which include a thorough inspection and efficiency analysis prior to the heating and cooling seasons.
  • Filter changes in the spring and fall, as well as email reminders to change your filters during the heating and cooling seasons.
  • Three-year parts warranty on aftermarket parts and a five-year parts warranty on OEM parts installation.
  • 15 percent discount on indoor air quality products and duct cleaning services.

Learn More at Legacy Air

As you can see, there are many possible reasons for furnace problems that can range from a minor inconvenience to a major furnace repair. Fortunately, regularly scheduled maintenance for your furnace can help you prevent these issues before they can inhibit your furnace’s performance in the middle of a cold winter.

If you’re in need of furnace repair or maintenance in your home or business, Legacy Air can help. We offer many furnace repair services, such as code compliance of systems, carbon monoxide testing, high-efficiency equipment installation and upgraded filtration systems to help your furnace run smoothly and keep you warm and comfortable. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our certified and licensed technicians and keep your home or business warm and safe!

Is Your Heating System Prepared for Fall?

Fall is officially upon us and that means the air is going to start to take on a chill. While this season is welcome by many people, it also means that winter is right around the corner and it’s time to make sure that your HVAC system is primed to do its job in the cold months of the year. You want to be sure that you’ve got the heat you need, when you need it, and avoid breakdowns at the worst possible time.

Let’s check out some tips, tricks and strategies to make sure you’re ready for the chilly months, and learn how to prepare your HVAC for fall and winter.

Prepare a Heating System for Fall

We’d all like to assume that our furnace will work when we need it and keep our house warm all winter long. Sometimes, it isn’t quite that simple. The good news, however, is that keeping your heating system in good working order isn’t hard. Just like any complex piece of equipment, it needs regular basic maintenance, some of which you can perform on your own, and some of which may require a quick visit from a pro.

Replace Your Air Filter

Your furnace air filter should be replaced four times a year—every three months. A good way to remember this is to time it with the change of seasons. Whenever there’s a new season change, at an equinox or solstice, change your air filter. Make it part of your annual plan to mark those changes. This will help to maximize your system’s efficiency.

A dirty air filter doesn’t just make your system work less efficiently. It also makes it have to work much harder for a similar result, which in the end can create serious problems as it will eventually wear out from overworking. It will raise your utility bills and can cost thousands to replace a broken system.

Turn Down the Thermostat

Another tip is to turn down the thermostat. Just turn it down by one or two degrees; you probably won’t notice the difference, but your furnace will! Your utility bills can decrease by up to 2% per month per degree you turn it down, and it will contribute to the efficiency of your HVAC system by making it work less hard to achieve the desired result. You can always grab a blanket for extra warmth or cuddle with a loved one!

When you’re going to be away, at work or out of town, turn it down even further. A programmable thermostat can let you set the temperature as low as you like when you’re not home, and then will automatically raise it when you’re on your way. This will keep your utility bills down, while letting you stay comfortable all the time!

Sealing Leaks

Draughty windows and doors are one of the leading causes of high utility bills and overworked furnaces. The object isn’t just to heat your home, but to keep cold air from invading. Any leaks or cracks you have will let warm air get out while letting cold air sneak in. This requires your furnace to work much harder to keep up, and will not only raise your utility bills, but cause an unnecessary waste of energy in a world where living green is becoming more important every day.

In most cases, you don’t need to go overboard in sealing your house. A few bucks invested in weather stripping and caulking can go a long way. Take a few minutes before it gets too cold to check out your roof and chimney to be sure your shingles and pointing are in good shape, and arrange for repairs early.

Clean Your Gutters and Chimney

While we’re on the topic of checking your roof and chimney, clean out your gutters to get rid of fall leaves and other debris that could clog and damage your drainage systems, resulting in water leaking into the house. Clean out the debris and flush the gutters with water to be sure everything is properly aligned.

If you have a fireplace in your house, make sure the chimney is clean. A dirty chimney, or one that’s clogged by bird’s nests or other impairments can not only raise your utility bills, it can actually be dangerous. A clogged chimney is a fire hazard and increases the risk for carbon monoxide buildup.

Check the Outside Unit

If you have a heat pump or other external unit, check it outside before it gets too cold. Make sure it’s not damaged and that no debris is blocking it up or interfering with its function. Turn off the power, rinse out dirt, twigs, leaves and other yard debris that may have accumulated over the months, and watch for more serious damage that might need repairs.

Check Your Ductwork

Your ductwork is likely found in either your attic or basement (sometimes both) and is the pathway for heating and cooling in your home. When your ducts aren’t properly sealed, prepared and organized, you can actually lose up to 20% of the airflow that serves to regulate temperature in your home. By making sure your ducts are sealed, you can save well over $100 per year on your energy bills.

Clear Your Heating Vents

Finally, check all the heating vents and exchanges in your home to be sure that they’re not blocked. A blocked heating vent can prevent the necessary air circulation to keep your home warm. This will also cause your furnace to work harder than it needs to, as well as create fire hazards by causing your furnace to overheat.

Check the Batteries in Your Alarms

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are important safeguards in any home. Every time you change the filters in your furnace, you should also check the batteries in your alarms. In addition, you should replace smoke and carbon monoxide detectors every ten years to be sure that you always have the most effective technology available.

To test your alarms, simply push the “test” button on the front. If it sounds, then your batteries are good. If it doesn’t, it’s time for new batteries!

Test Your System

Test your furnace before it gets too cold. Just turn it on, turn it up, and make sure it kicks on and blows hot air. The first time you activate your system for the year, it could take a few minutes to actually kick on. This is simply because it sat idle for months on end and it’s getting back into the swing of things. If it doesn’t turn on, then you know you need to get service before the weather gets too cold!

Call in an HVAC Professional

It’s a good idea to have your system serviced at least once a year. When the fall months arrive, call your local HVAC professional to have them come in and do a thorough inspection and cleaning of your entire system. They will make sure there is no dirt, grime or contaminants clogging the system, they’ll check your filters, and they’ll make sure all the parts are moving and working right.

They will turn on the power and let it run for a bit to be sure it’s all working correctly. Don’t panic if you notice a dusty smell or ozone. That’s normal as it clears out the system after months of sitting idle. As long as it’s blowing heat with a strong air flow, that’s what’s important. The technician can also clean your air ducts as necessary and tend to any major repairs you need.

If you’re in the Las Vegas area and you need help to prepare your heating for fall, Legacy Air can help. We provide full-service HVAC cleaning, maintenance and installation. Don’t forget to ask about our Family & Friends program that includes ongoing service and discounts on parts and labor! Get in touch with us to schedule your appointment today.

Are You Overworking Your Heating Unit?

During the winter months, you rely on the heating unit in your home to help you and your family stay warm. However, although you may not realize it, your quest for your comfort may be overworking your heater, and if you don’t give your heating unit a break, you may cause serious damage that results in expensive repairs.

Learning about a few ways that your heating unit is being overworked can help make sure that you’re preserving your heater for future winter seasons while reducing your energy bills at the same time. Here are a few of the biggest ways that you may be overworking your heating unit and some advice for keeping the heating unit in your home in tip-top shape.

Always Keeping Your Heat On

One of the most common ways that homeowners overwork their heating unit is leaving their heater on at all hours of the day, even when they’re not home. While it’s understandable that you’d want to return to a toasty house after a day out, leaving your heating unit on when you’re out of the home causes a great deal of unnecessary wear and tear and waste money for heat when no one is there.

When you leave your house, or while sleeping, you should lower your thermostat so that you’re not overworking your heating unit. A possible solution to gain more control of your home heating system and lowering your gas and power bills in the process is to install a programmable and//or WIFI thermostat such as a NEST or ECOBEE thermostat. While the initial purchase price of these “Smart” thermostats are more expensive ($180-$250) than the cheap ones you can find at Home Depot, the smart thermostat can more than make up for their cost by saving you money on your power or gas bills as they better monitor your home and how it reacts to changing outside temperatures and adjusts accordingly.

Cold Air in Your Home

While there are a variety of ways that your heating unit may be overworked, one of the most serious is simply having cold air inside your home. If your house isn’t properly sealed, cold air can enter your home via the crevices around your doors and windows. Having a leaky, drafty house will cause your heating unit to work double time to heat your home, adding to the unit’s ware and tear while wasting money and heat loss.

If you want to make sure your heating unit can effectively warm your home without being overworked, you should seal any air leaks in your house to keep cold air outside where it belongs.

Blocking Air Vents

To work correctly, your heating unit depends on air being able to circulate warm air freely, which is why there are multiple heating vents placed strategically throughout your home.

A major cause of an overworked heating unit is closed vents or vents that are blocked by furniture or other household items. If a heating vent is blocked, it can make your heating unit work harder to evenly distribute warm air in your house.

To reduce strain on your heating system, take a walk around your house and make sure all your vents are unblocked and air can circulate freely.

Keep Your Heater Working Well

As you can see, there are several ways that you may be overworking your heating unit. Fortunately, with a few simple tweaks, you can reduce long-term wear on your heater so that will run for years to come while saving money from your heating bills. If you need help with heater maintenance, your best resource is working with the team at Legacy Air.

Our certified technicians know how to maintain your heating and cooling system, and can give you tips so that you don’t overwork your heating unit. Contact Legacy Air today to learn about our commercial and residential services.

Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Heating System

Your heating system is essential to your overall comfort while in your home or office, which makes it essential to know when it’s time to invest in a new system rather than keep wasting money on repairs. While your system might be working perfectly fine now, Legacy Air believes it doesn’t hurt to be able to recognize the signs you should start looking for a replacement to keep you and your family or employees comfortable.

Your System Needs Frequent Repairs

If you’ve found yourself calling an HVAC technician more and more lately and needing to wait for the right parts for a while, it might be time to ditch your current system and get an upgrade. While you may not feel you can afford a new system, you also likely can’t afford to keep wasting money on so many repairs with a practically non-existent ROI.

Your System Is Old

If you’ve had your system for 15 years or so, do yourself a favor and start saving up for a new one. While it’s true that regularly servicing your unit and having it inspected by professional technicians can improve its overall life expectancy, getting a head start on buying a replacement is sure to work in your favor.

Your Unit Is Making Odd Noises

A noisy system could be the sound of a death rattle, one that shouldn’t be ignored. Specifically, banging, squeaking or rattling are noises to take heed of, and the same is true if you feel cold air coming from the vents instead of warm air. If your heater operates or sounds in any way that’s out of the ordinary, call a professional to see what’s going on.

You Aren’t Comfortable in Your Own Home

Some rooms in your home might feel hotter or warmer than others, even after inspecting the inside of your vents and making sure nothing is blocking your vents. Oftentimes, older heating systems aren’t able to work as efficiently as they once were, which often manifests in rooms having different temperatures. Rather than make continuous adjustments to the thermostat, you’re likely better off checking out your options for a brand new system.

Your Utility Bills Are Steadily Rising

If you always have your thermostat at the same temperature no matter how cold it might get and your utility bills are getting higher, your unit might not be as efficient as it once was. What’s likely going on is that your heating system is working harder to sustain the same temperature, which requires more electricity or gas, which results in higher utility bills. To be on the safe side, consider having an energy audit performed on your home to determine for sure why your utility bills have started to creep up or at least have your HVAC system fully inspected.

If you can’t remember the last time your home’s or business’s heating unit was serviced, or if you’ve noticed any of the signs touched on above, don’t hesitate in bringing an experienced HVAC expert into the equation. Get in touch with a Legacy Air representative today by calling 702-453-4229 to inspect your system and/or start exploring your options for a new unit.

How often should I get a furnace inspection?

If you have never had your furnace inspected it might be time to get it done. Although furnaces don’t get the “fanfare” that A/C units get in a hot weather climate like Las Vegas, they are just as important to have inspected regularly (if not more important) than the A/C unit. The reason that furnace inspections are important even in Las Vegas where we don’t use them that much is because you are still dealing with natural gas and combustion gases. If the equipment has been installed improperly, is not up to code or just failing due to old age or a lack of service, serious, sometimes even life threatening things can happen.

This is article is not meant to send you rushing for a gas mask or meant in any way to scare you. The incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning or gas leaks are extremely rare. You are statistically more likely to be hit by lightning while riding a polar bear in Death Valley (maybe not quite that rare). It does happen. If you google CO2 poisoning you are bound to find a link to some YouTube channel advising you of the dangers that furnaces can present as well as families here in the USA that have experienced problems.

An annual check of your system can give you more than piece of mind. Legacy Air’s inspection service or maintenance can also make sure your system is running properly and at its most efficient. Any good furnace service is going to make checks of the flue gasses, gas pressure, and overall system performance. We will clean the flame sensor of carbon buildup that can overtime, prevent the sensor from detecting a flame which will in turn put your furnace into ignition lockout and lead to a costly and unnecessary service call. We will make sure that all of the safeties are doing what they are supposed to be doing such as the pressure switch and limit switches. We will make sure that some other contractor never bypassed them (which is more common than you might think).

Legacy Air will also take a look at your ductwork to make sure it is sealed. We will take a temperature split to make sure the temperature rise as it crosses your heat exchanger is within its ratings. We disconnect the blower motor to make sure the limit switches that are installed are actually working so that if the blower motor does fail you don’t have the system’s combustion cycle continuing to run with no blower.

Another advantage of getting your system regularly inspected is the increased longevity of the system, the chances of a breakdown diminishing and with most programs (including Legacy Air) you usually receive discounts on parts and equipment should you ever need to make a repair.

If you would like to get a furnace maintenance or inspection done please give Legacy Air a call at 702-453-4229 and we will get you scheduled.