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What Is Considered an HVAC Emergency?

Turning on Carbon Monoxide alarm

If you’re like most homeowners, the lines between needing some HVAC service and full-blown HVAC emergency are easily blurred. For some, the simple fact that the system isn’t running exactly as it should may constitute an emergency, while others need a complete break down on a cold winter night to be convinced to make a call for professional service. 

Generally, any dangerous situation or system malfunction that can’t be solved with basic troubleshooting and can’t wait until a later date would be considered an HVAC emergency. Keep reading to discover what is considered an HVAC emergency by industry experts, so you know what to do no matter what is happening with your HVAC system.   

Carbon Monoxide Leaks 

Carbon monoxide (CO) leaks are considered HVAC emergencies that require immediate action and attention. Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no colour or odour, and it is a by-product of the burning of various fuels, including natural gas. When you have a leak, you will breathe in the carbon monoxide and it will accumulate in your blood quickly, replacing the oxygen. 

Mild symptoms include dizziness, nausea, and headaches, but if you are sleeping or don’t remove the gas, over a long period of time it may to lead to death. The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to have CO detectors in your home and ensure they are operational at all times. If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, get out of the house as soon as possible and call your gas company.  

Natural Gas Leaks   

If you have a natural gas furnace, a gas leak would also be considered an emergency that requires immediate action and attention. Like carbon monoxide, natural gas is odourless, but gas companies add a substance called mercaptan that makes it smell like rotten eggs. This makes it relatively easy to detect a leak, and a good sign that you need to get out of the house. 

A natural gas leaks sets the stage for a fire or explosion, so it’s crucial to follow some important rules as you exit the premises. First, don’t light any matches, lighters, turn on electrical appliances, or do anything that could potentially cause a spark. If possible, turn off the source of the gas so it stops entering your house and call the fire department and local gas company once you are out and at a safe distance. 

Unusual Smells 

As mentioned above, the smell of rotten eggs is a definite HVAC emergency, but there are other odours that may catch your attention. The smell of something burning in your home is never a good thing, and this includes your HVAC system. Whether there is debris that has become hot and begun to burn, the electrical system has overheated or certain components are melting inside due to excess heat, you’ll need attention as soon as possible. Shut the system down and call for professional service if you ever detect a burning smell from your HVAC system. 

If you detect a musty, moldy kind of smell from your HVAC system, then you likely have too much moisture and have started to develop mold. This won’t necessarily affect the performance of your system, but it can get into your ductwork and affect the health of everyone living in the house. While not an emergency, it’s still a good idea to call for service as soon as possible if you suspect mold. 

Unusual Sounds 

Hearing strange noises coming from the furnace is enough to increase the anxiety level of many homeowners, but it’s not always an emergency that requires immediate service. Here are some common noises, and some possible reasons you are hearing them. 

  • Popping or Banging – If you hear sounds like an engine misfiring when your furnace is starting up, it could mean that the burner is working hard to get hot enough to create combustion. If you hear the same sounds when the system shuts down, it may be your air ducts expanding and contracting.
  • Rattles and Rumbles – Rumbling and rattling are often caused by loose debris or minor issues with the ductwork, but they could also indicate a broken fan blade or a serious issue with the motor. If the rattling persists, call for service. 
  • Squealing – In addition to being terribly annoying, a squealing HVAC system could mean that you need a good cleaning and lubrication, or there could be a dangerously high level of pressure in the compressor. You will need a service call, either way, but it’s best not to wait too long.  
  • Clicking – The ignition or heat exchanger often create clicking noises, but it might also just need a quick tune-up to tighten loose fixtures. Once again, when there is a potentially serious cause, calling for service sooner than later is ideal. 
  • Whistling and Vibrating – Whistling and vibrating may indicate a clogged air filter or issues with the ducts, but it isn’t likely to be an emergency situation. 

Performance Issues   

If you don’t have a life-threatening gas leak and don’t hear any odd noises and it’s just a performance issue, then you’ll want to assess the situation and act accordingly to determine if it should be considered an HVAC emergency. If you aren’t getting the cool, comfortable AC air you’re accustomed to on a summer night, you’ll want to call for service the next day but it’s not an emergency. However, if it’s -25 degrees in the dead of winter and your furnace stops working, then you’re in a situation where you can’t wait until regular business hours to have it fixed. In these cases, it all depends on the details and how long you can wait for service and still keep everyone in the household safe and comfortable. 

Family Staying warm under blanket with hot drinks

Tips for Staying Warm 

If you find yourself in a situation where your furnace has stopped working on a winter night and you’re waiting for help to arrive, you’ll need to find ways to keep warm. If you know that your emergency HVAC technicians are on the way and it’s uncomfortably cold in the house, you can pile everyone into the car and turn on the heat. Just make sure it’s in a driveway and not in a garage, or you’ll create an entirely new carbon monoxide situation. 

If that’s not an option, or you have to wait for a longer period of time, some other tips you can try include: 

  • Gathering in one room and sealing it off from the rest of the house with blankets, towels, etc. to keep the heat in and generate body heat. 
  • Getting bundled up in your winter clothes and extra layers. 
  • Make some hot food and hot beverages to warm up. 
  • Keep candles burning or use incandescent light bulbs to generate some heat. 
  • Plug in some heating pads, space heaters or electric blankets to create warmth. 
  • Spend quality time snuggling together for additional body heat. 

What Is a Furnace Short Cycle?  

Furnace short-cycling occurs when your furnace comes on but then shuts off before it has heated your home to the temperature you set on the thermostat. In some cases, a furnace that is short cycling won’t create any heat at all before it shuts down. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal situation because it leaves your home colder than you want it to be, and gives an indication that something is wrong with your furnace.  

Some possible reasons for furnace short cycling include: 

  • A very dirty and congested furnace filter 
  • Blocked exhaust fan 
  • Blocked heat grates 
  • Bad flame sensor 
  • Having a furnace that is too big for your house 
  • Mounting the thermostat in the wrong location 

Some of these are easy fixes, but if you can’t wait for service during business hours, then call and have a professional take a look. 

Quick Troubleshooting Tips  

While it’s always a good idea to call in a professional when you have HVAC issues, there are some troubleshooting tips that might help if it’s something really simple that doesn’t require any outside help. Here are some easy ones to try before you call: 

  • Check that the thermostat is on the correct setting. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to believe the system has failed, only to find out the thermostat isn’t set to ‘heat’ or ‘cool’. It’s also a good idea to turn the fan setting to ‘auto’ instead of ‘on’ if it seems to be blowing continually. 
  • Check the circuit breakers to make sure the breaker that controls your furnace wasn’t tripped. Sometimes, a disruption in electrical power or some other cause may trip the breaker and you’ll lose power. 
  • Check the air filter to make sure it isn’t clogged and dirty. A severely dirty filter could cause your furnace to shut down, and the fix is as easy as removing the current one and sliding a new one in. 
  • Make sure the gas valve is turned to the ‘on’ position if you have a gas furnace. You can also make a quick call to see if the gas company hasn’t shut off the gas for some reason. 

Prevention Is Always Best  

As with anything, prevention is always the best way to deal with a potential HVAC emergency. When your system is well maintained, clean, and free of small issues that could mushroom, the chances of experiencing an emergency are slim. If you need to schedule a maintenance check-up for your HVAC system, get in touch with us today. And if you have an HVAC emergency, we have a one-hour call back guarantee so you won’t be left waiting around.   

For all of your HVAC needs call the experts at Anchor Home Comfort. We are here to help keep your family comfortable and safe day and night.