What to do When Your Heater Stops Working After a Storm

Heater Stops Working after a Storm

Heater Stops Working after a StormIt’s that time of year again when severe weather is a possibility. One of the dangers of thunderstorms is the potential for lightning strikes. A lightning strike can cause all sorts of problems for your home, including knocking out your furnace or heat pump. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic! Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you get your heater up and running again when your heater stops working after a storm.

Is Your Thermostat Displaying Properly?

It doesn’t mean your furnace should be working properly if it does still display right; it’s just where I always start. Some thermostats only run on the 24 volts provided by the furnace, and some thermostats have AA battery backup. (I just want to know if the system is calling for heat or not.) You’ve probably already tried this, but if you haven’t, observe what condition the stat is in. Is it blank, looks normal, and calls for heat? If it’s blank, the thunderstorm could have taken out the low voltage to your furnace. But before opening up the furnace or air handler, let’s check the high-voltage power source.  This can also be a reason your heater stops working after a storm.

Check the Main Electrical Panel

Your furnace is supposed to receive 120 volts from the breaker panel on the side of the house. (Some people have high voltage panels located inside the house.) Heat pumps have 240-volt power supplied to them. As a reminder, the air handler or furnace will be located in a closet, the garage, the attic, or maybe you have a package unit on the roof or side of the house. But the first thing you’ll want to do is check to see if the power to your furnace is turned off at the breaker box.

If the breaker is “Tripped,” flip the switch to the “Off” position, then to the fully “On” position. Wait a few minutes to see if the furnace turns on. If it doesn’t, there may be an issue with the power supply to your home. In this case, you’ll need to contact your HVAC contractor to investigate and make any necessary repairs.

Inspect the Furnace for Damage (Charring, Soot)

A bolt of lightning hitting near your home can send an enormous amount of damaging heat and energy through your home’s electrical system. If the breaker is still on, but there doesn’t seem to be any power flowing to the furnace, the next step is to inspect the unit itself for damage. Start by looking for any signs of damage to the exterior of the furnace, such as burns or melted plastic. If you see any black charring or soot, it’s possible one of the components inside the unit blew, like a control board, relay, or safety switch. If you see any damage, it’s probably best to call in a professional heating and cooling technician to take a look and perform any necessary repairs.  Fox Family can always help finding out why your heater stops working after a storm.

Check for Error Codes

While you’re checking the unit, see if there is a sight glass, maybe an inch wide, on the front cover. Without opening the cover, see if any red or yellow LEDs are flashing. Count those flashes and make a note of it. Your HVAC contractor will thank you for having that flash code. Maybe it blinks three times long and two times quickly. That would be an error code of 32. Maybe you just see five steady flashes. The error code would be 5. Each brand is different in how they display error codes, but once the outer panel is removed, a sticker is usually attached to the inside that identifies what those error codes mean. You should really know what you’re doing before removing any panels, though. You have to think about your safety first.

Reset the Furnace

What to do When Your Furnace Doesn't Turn on After a Lightning Storm

If you’ve checked both the power supply at the main panel and the furnace itself for damage and error codes, and everything seems to be good, the next step is to reset the furnace itself. The easiest way to reset the furnace is to unplug it from the outlet, wait for 30 seconds and then plug it back in. While you’re doing that, observe the condition of the outlet cover and plug. If it has burning and soot around it or on the plate, the wiring inside of it could be charred. If you feel comfortable, take a small screwdriver and take the cover plate off to inspect the wiring. If it looks clean, it’s probably okay, but I would still replace the plug and cover plate as soon as possible. The cord that leads to the plug should not be melting or discolored either. If it is, that’s another thing I would consider having replaced soon.

After you plug the furnace back in, make sure the thermostat is still calling for heat and wait up to five minutes to see if the furnace turns on. Some types of systems have protection that forces the system to lock out for up to five minutes. To us technicians, this can be the longest five minutes EVER!!!

DIY Troubleshooting

Some people are brave enough to move on with troubleshooting their heat pump or heater is not working after a storm, but I have some pretty good articles and videos already posted about how to do that.

Lightning strikes can cause all sorts of problems for your home—including knocking out your furnace or heat pump. If this happens, don’t panic! Follow these troubleshooting tips, and you might be able to safely get your furnace up and running again in no time. And remember, if you’re ever unsure about what to do or how to fix something, it’s always best to call in a professional who can help. Stay safe!

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Thanks so much for watching, and we’ll see you on the next video.

Turning on the Furnace for the First Time Each Year

Turning on the Furnace for the First Time Each Year

What is that burning smell when turning on the furnace for the first time each year?

As the winter season approaches, a lot of you will turn on the furnace for the first time this year.  That can be a very intimidating situation for some people.  You may have just moved into your first apartment.  Or perhaps you’ve just moved into your new home this past summer.  The AC worked fine, but now it’s time to see how the furnace is going to work this winter.

Whether you walk over to the thermostat or turn it on manually, what’s that burning smell the first time you’re turning on the furnace for the year?  In this week’s blog, let’s break down the gas furnace, and some of the sounds and smells you get when it comes on for the first time each year.

About Turning on the Furnace

You should understand the nature of the furnace is to provide warm air for your home.  And it does that with a gas flame.  But that gas flame isn’t just flying around uncontrolled the way it does in a fireplace for example.  A very structured flame is sent into the furnace.  If the flame were to roll out or overheat the furnace, a series of safety switches will engage, turning off the furnace.

Whether you walk over to the thermostat or turn it on with your smartphone, the sounds and smells that you experience can be confusing.  That’s not how the air conditioner sounded when it came on, and that’s definitely not how the air conditioner smelled when it was working.

When the furnace gets turned on, the thermostat on the wall tells the furnace which is in your attic, your garage, or your closet in the hallway to initiate a sequence of events that will ultimately shoot a gas flame into the firebox, or heat exchanger.

Turning on the Furnace:  the Basic Parts

There are a few parts that come on before that flame starts to heat the home.  The thermostat tells the control board inside the furnace to come on.  The control board is the brains of the system that will control the following events.

The first motor to come on will be the inducer motor.

Not a large motor by any means, but it’s the one that gets rid of the fumes spent by the flame that warms your home.  The control board and a pressure switch acknowledge that the inducer has come on and is working properly.

The ignitor will come on next.

Usually, it’s a hot surface ignitor made of silicon carbide that glows red hot.  About 2500 degrees.  The timer on the control board then allows the gas valve to open up and pour a controlled amount of gas over the red-hot surface ignitor.

Creating the Flame

This creates the flame we were talking about earlier, that shoots into the metal firebox, which is better known as a heat exchanger to us technicians. A small flame sensor then verifies the flame is on and sends a signal to the board that everything is burning properly, and the system is safe to continue heating the home.

Blower Fan Comes On

If the flame sensor says everything is okay, the control board then tells the blower fan to come on.  The sequence is complete.  Warm air will then start flowing into the rooms until it gets to the desired temperature.

That whole sequence of events that happens takes about 1 minute from the time thermostat tells the furnace to start, to the time the blower turns on and gives you heat through your registers.

When the thermostat senses the room’s warm enough, it tells the control board to end the call for heating, which then cuts the flame.  Meanwhile, the blower stays on just long enough to cool the furnace down quite a bit, about 60 to 90 seconds.  This helps extend the life of the system.

So how does the heat exchanger work?  Well, it “exchanges heat” by keeping the flame and its fumes inside the metal box while a fan blows air over the outside of the metal.  The heat that comes off that metal and the air from the blower is then carried into your rooms where you feel the warm air.

What’s That Burning Smell?

Folks call in every fall when they’re turning on their furnace for the first time and say the system IS working but there’s a strange smell coming through their vents. Almost like a burning smell.  When we get out to their home and verify all the motors are working properly, we let them know something most people don’t know until it’s happened to them.

So what’s that smell the first time you turn on your furnace each season?  It’s just a fine layer of dust that’s settled onto the heat exchanger.  The dust from your house has made its way past the air filter and blower assembly to the metallic heat exchanger.  As the metal heats up, the dust burns off and creates that burnt smell.  It can happen the first few times you turn the system on, but after that, you shouldn’t get that burning smell any more.

If the smell bothers you, you can just open the doors or windows to your house and let it vent out that way for about fifteen minutes.  But rest assured it’s not carbon monoxide.  That odorless gas can only be picked up by a carbon monoxide detector.

Safety First

If you do turn your furnace on for the first time or ANY time this year and your home’s carbon monoxide detector does go off, don’t just remove the batteries.  Don’t treat it like it’s some nuisance alarm, either.  Go ahead and step outside of the home and call the Fire Department.  Let them come out to make sure everything is okay before going back inside.  It might cause a big show for everyone in the neighborhood, but who cares?  It’s your family’s life on the line.

If you don’t currently have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor and the main hallways of your house, now would be a good time to pick those up from your local hardware store.

About Detectors

Speaking of detectors in your homes – if you haven’t done so already this year, it’s time to change out the batteries in those detectors around your home.  Your local fire department usually will come out for free and help you replace those batteries if you have trouble reaching those detectors on your own.  If they won’t and you’re in our area, just provide the batteries and we’d be happy to come out and change them for you.  Otherwise, any handyman in your area would be up to the task.

As a reminder, the single-most-important-thing you can do to keep your furnace clean is to change those air filters.  If the system can’t breathe in because of a dirty air filter, then it won’t be able to breathe out for you at the supply registers in your rooms either.  Again, if you can’t do it because you’re elderly or physically unable to reach the filter, give us a call!

Remove Flammables Before Turning on the Furnace

Another bit of advice we’d like you to consider is to make sure there are no flammables around the furnace.  Remember, we said that the furnace is either in the attic, the closet, or the garage. These are common places to store items that tend to be forgotten over time.

A metal flue pipe that gets very hot when the furnace is turned on can be dangerous if left unattended.  Broomsticks, cardboard, newspapers, clothing, and other materials can scorch over time if they’re resting on the flue pipe.  Setting away from the furnace any flammable varnishes, lacquers, oils, and gasoline will help keep your home safe.

Don’t Wait to Turn on the Furnace

Although you might be nervous to turn your furnace on that first time every year, do it.  Turn it on when it’s still mild outside.  Maybe don’t wait for the first winter snap to hit before finding out your furnace doesn’t work.  If you do wait, you might find yourself at the end of a long line.  Other homeowners and property management companies may be requesting service at the same time you are.

Taking Care the Easy Way

If you don’t already have someone coming out to your house each year just to make sure everything is running safely for you and your family, we’d love to be the company that gets to do it for you.  Fox Family offers an easy way to automate this. You won’t even have to remember to call us. We take care of it all.

Your furnace runs better when it’s been cleaned and maintained, much like your car. Every Fall or Winter is a good time to get the required maintenance done on your heating system. Don’t have a desire to be on an automatic program? Call for a furnace tune-up. A typical cleaning lasts 45 minutes to an hour and a half. It’s usually about a 30 point checklist, but I’ll go into that on another post.

Turning on the Furnace: a Recap

The nature of a gas furnace is to use a controlled flame to warm your house.  It’s done in a VERY controlled way by a series of safety switches.  Any unexpected events within the furnace components tell the control board to shut down the unit.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post!

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Low NOx Furnace Requirements

Low NOx Furnaces

Have you heard about Low NOx furnaces?  Do you even know what NOx is?  Keep reading for some great information about this topic on today’s blog post.



As a Trane dealer here in Sacramento, I was anxiously awaiting the release of the new S8X1 furnace line.  The main reason I was looking forward to it was the 34” cabinet was going to be a lot easier to deal with when replacing a furnace in a home’s closet or attic.  But when the rest of the country was getting the new S8 furnaces months before us, Californians had to wait for the release of the Low-NOx models mandated here in California.

We all know what greenhouse gases are and how they negatively affect the world we live in.  It’s bad for our health and limits the quality of life for our generation as well as future generations.  NOx is just another gas that needs to be reduced to help our planet remain stable and healthy for us humans to exist.

About NOx

NOx is an abbreviation for nitrogen oxides.  They’re poisonous and highly reactive gases that are created naturally during lightning strikes and wildfires.  Both events include the combustion of oxygen and nitrogen at very high temps.  So it makes sense that the combustion that takes place in the gas and oil-fired furnaces we work on would also produce these nitrogen oxides.

The two most dangerous nitrogen oxides are nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide.  Nitric oxide (NO) is formed naturally in the body to help relax and dilate blood vessels in the body.  But it’s also a product of high-temperature situations like combustion in a furnace. 

Nitrogen dioxides (NO2) are produced by vehicles and cigarette smoke in their own combustion processes, but also when gas and oil furnaces fire up, too.  NO2 causes inflammation in the airways, coughing, increased asthma attacks, and just a greater risk of negative breathing problems associated with pollution. 

NOx and Greenhouse Gas Production

Although the end-user of the heat being delivered through the ductwork isn’t going to be exposed to the gases that way, the accumulation of it in the immediate area of the combustion chamber and on to the flue pipe adds to the overall production of greenhouse gases generated by humans.

According to the EPA, NOx contributes to respiratory problems, acid rain, smog, elevated algae levels, and global warming.  They also say greenhouse gas emissions that come from homes in California represent about 25% of the state’s total emissions.

NOx emissions from a furnace are primarily influenced by the temperature of the flame right at the burner assembly.  So, what are manufacturers doing to produce low NOx furnaces?  Most efforts to reduce NOx ultimately want to lower the temperature of the flame.  Air/fuel mixtures are dialed in, flue gas circulation is enhanced through advanced inducer motors, and ultra-lean premixed burner technologies are all ways to achieve more control over the flame temperature inside the furnace.

Low NOx Furnace Analysis

Performing a combustion analysis will ensure the correct operation of the low NOx furnace once it’s installed.  Installers just need to make sure the airflow to the system is properly sized so the static pressures going through the system are right.  The installer also needs to make sure the gas valve inlet and outlet pressures are adjusted to the proper settings.  These two items alone will help create the recommended temperature rise across the heat exchanger as well as flue gas temperatures exiting the unit.

As I was researching this technology, I was reminded that carbon monoxide, which is another regulated pollutant, and nitrogen oxides are both majorly influenced by the air/fuel ratio directly at the burners.  As that ratio increases, the temperature of the flame increases, and NOx levels increase, while CO decreases and vice versa.  Having the proper mixture is what Low-NOx is all about.

In most Low-NOx furnaces, the air mixture is sort of delayed to stretch out the chemical reactions happening at the burners.  Low NOx furnaces also compensate for seasonal changes in the ambient air, humidity levels, and minor differences in the gas coming from the utility at any given time.

Furnace Start-Up Conditions

To go a little further with the whole CO and NOx discussion, the typical start-up conditions of a furnace on a cold morning means that the metallic chambers are cold, there’s an excess of air to mix at the burners, the air inside the chambers is colder, the gas temperature is initially lower, and, the flue gases themselves are moving more slowly from the heat exchanger and on to the flue pipe.  All these conditions create higher levels of carbon monoxide at startup, because the system is not burning as hot.  As a result, NOx emissions tend to be lower.

On the opposite side of that, the hotter that furnace gets after being on for several minutes and several times that day contribute to higher levels of NOx and lower levels of carbon monoxide.

When we’re talking about these gases and If I had my choice of which gas to focus on reducing, it would be NOx because of the contribution to acid rain and the breathing problems associated with it.  CO has it’s own detriments as well, and I can’t really tell which gas is more harmful at certain concentrations.

I’m not a scientist and my knowledge really only goes so far about this topic.  But there are plenty of discussions online about NOx and carbon monoxide. 

Low NOx is About the Atmosphere

Remember, Low NOx doesn’t have anything to do with the heat that enters the house through the ducts or the air the homeowner is breathing.  It has more to do with what is leaving the flue pipe and entering our atmosphere.

Nitric oxides and dioxides that are produced by flames are part of the poisonous NOx family.  The more we can reduce them while still heating our homes effectively is really what it’s all about.  And we do this by controlling the temperature of the flame at the burner assembly.

Reaching the 2030 Emissions Goal

Replacing older gas furnaces with Low NOx furnaces will help California reach its 2030 emissions goal.  If you want to go even further than staying with a gas furnace, you could switch over to a zero-emission heating solution by replacing that gas furnace with a heat-pump system.  It eliminates flue gas, flue pipes, NOx, and still heats your home just the way you like it.  

I hope this has helped you understand what the fuss is about what NOx is and why the industry is pushing Low NOx furnaces.  If you have any comments or additional information you can share with us down below, please do.  We’d love to hear what you have to say about Low NOx furnaces and the drive to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog!


The HVAC Industry Continues to Experience the Effects of COVID-19

HVAC and covid 19 Featured image

HVAC Supply Pricing Continuing To Rise

Folks who purchased their new AC system at the beginning of the year should be singing their praises.  The industry continues to see rising costs of materials combined with a shortage of workers.  

A colleague of mine said, “When something like COVID interrupts any part of the supply chain system, including how those parts get shipped from there to here. We’re experiencing a weird dynamic right now with worldwide stress, but also with a high demand for our products and services. Also, considering the low numbers of employees working in these factories, the only thing to expect is chaos. The scenario is creating an almost panic for our industry to perform.”

Halfway through the summer of 2021, things haven’t gotten any better.  We continue to be frustrated.  Selling equipment is tough enough, but to get the okay from a customer and potentially not have their equipment is challenging.  It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with since becoming a contractor in 2015.

What happens is, when we order our equipment online in the past, we could see the inventory levels of our distributor.  We would look up a particular furnace that matches up with a condenser and evaporator coil and see that they had 20 of those furnaces.  Now when we win a job, we have to submit the order and wait for the distributor to get back to us and let us know if they have the equipment to fill that order.  If they don’t, we have to call the customer back and let them know.

On a few occasions this year, we have had to offer the customer an entirely different brand than Trane, which has always been our equipment of choice.  This has worked out for those customers, and we appreciate them being flexible enough to understand.  

Every HVAC contractor in the United States is dealing with this equipment situation.  Manufacturers say they can’t get equipment out fast enough for the rising demand for new equipment.  This has created the highest rate of price increase we’ve seen in a very long time.  Each year, we typically see a 4% to 6% increase in the cost of equipment.  

attic furnace unit

This year we’ve already seen a 21% increase in that same equipment. This has resulted in your basic $10,000 HVAC system increasing by $2,000 in just one year.  Higher-end equipment has grown exponentially.

With a few to several more months of rapid inflation in the world’s economy, we continue to brace for whatever price increases we may see. These price increases ultimately get passed along to our customers. 

So, like we said this time last year, as we’re getting close to the end of the hottest time of the year, local suppliers should have an easier time restocking their shelves as demand goes down.  Winter months are relatively mild around the Sacramento Valley, so that we won’t get that high intensity of equipment change-outs experienced in other areas of the world with longer, colder winters.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed America get’s back to normal soon.  People need heating and air conditioning. It’s not a luxury for some people.  With continued demand and lower inventory of equipment and the parts that make that equipment up, inflation continues, stressing this contractor out.  

Stay safe and follow CDC guidelines so we can get through this sooner than later. Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time.

Preparing Your Furnace for Fall

preparing your furnace for fall

Preparing Your Furnace for Fall

The onset of fall or winter triggers an avalanche of calls to Fox Family Heating & Air to address furnace issues. While furnace problems are at times inevitable, many of those issues can be prevented. Read on and discover some of the ways through which furnace maintenance can avert many of the potential problems during the heating season (fall and winter).

Replacing Dirty Filters

Dirty furnace filters can cause airflow issues around the home. This will become apparent once the entire home or parts of it aren’t getting enough heat even if the furnace is working. You can prevent such furnace problems by checking and replacing the filter once you find that it clogged. The filter can be located in the air inlet or within the furnace itself. Refer to the user manual and perform this crucial preventive maintenance activity. HVAC filter replacement is a routine task conducted by Sacramento heating and air conditioning companies during scheduled HVAC maintenance visits.

Fixing Unusual Pilot Light Functioning

The pilot light or furnace ignition can flicker or change color to yellow. This may be an indication that exhaust gases, such as carbon monoxide, have accumulated within your furnace. Could there be a blockage in the exhaust vent? Check whether the fan is working as it should. Ask for professional help in case you cannot immediately identify why the pilot light is flickering or appears yellow.

Stop Frequent Cycling

You can also prevent the furnace from cycling on and off at short intervals by prepping your furnace for fall. Confirm that the settings of the thermostat are correct. Incorrect settings (settings close to the ambient temperature, for example) may cause this frequent cycling. Airflow problems or clogged filters could also trigger frequent cycling. Call an expert from Fox Family Heating & Air if the frequent cycling doesn’t end once you implement the DIY fixes suggested.

Prevent Blower Belt Malfunctions

The blower belt can become frayed or it could slip. This can trigger an unusual sound in the furnace. Heated air may also fail to move around the home since the blower won’t be able to do its work of passing air over the heat exchanger. Get the blower belt checked as summer is coming to an end so that the furnace will be ready for the demands of fall and winter. Contact a Sacramento heating and air conditioning repair company for help if the blower develops a defect suddenly after the onset of fall.

Ensure Sufficient Clearance

Another way to prepare your furnace for fall is to inspect the area around it and remove any objects preventing airflow around the unit. This step is important in case you store belongings within the same location as the furnace during the months when the furnace isn’t needed. Remove everything that is within the clearance radius recommended by the manufacturer of that unit. This simple undertaking will avert those problems which originate from a congested space around the furnace.

Troubleshoot Electrical Component Issues

The limit switch can fail. Worn wiring can also cause the furnace breaker to trip. It is advisable to ask a professional to inspect the furnace before fall so that any defective electrical components can be repaired before they affect the performance of the furnace during the colder months of the year.

As you can see, you can perform some of the activities needed to make the furnace ready for fall. However, it is best to ask an expert from Fox Family Heating and Air to service the furnace so that it performs reliably and efficiently throughout fall and winter.

8 Reasons Hot Surface Igniters Fail

How Does a Gas Furnace Work

The Hot Surface Igniter has become an industry standard in gas heating systems in the Sacramento Valley.  To technicians and furnace manufacturers everywhere, the sequence of events that takes place for a gas furnace to start a flame that jets into the tubes of the heat exchanger is like a well-choreographed dance.  Stick around while we talk about an integral part of the sequence to bring heat into a home: the hot surface igniter.


As the winter season approaches, we are going to be using our gas furnaces more and more.  A lot of those furnaces won’t be lighting up when they’re turned on for the first time this season.  The hot surface igniters that start the flame in a gas furnace often fail.  It’s almost as common as replacing a capacitor in air conditioning systems all over the city every spring.

How They Work

Hot surface igniters are a resistance element made of silicon carbide or silicon nitride.  Anywhere from 80 to 240 volts are applied to the wires attached to the igniter.  A ceramic base insulates the wire connection to the carbide element which looks like the letter M on most applications. Spirals are another shape I see.  Most nitride igniters are formed in the shape of a 1.5-inch flat stick or a 2-inch long cylinder.

When the voltage is applied to the wires, the element starts to glow because of the resistance the carbide creates from one wire to the next.  When it glows long enough, gas is poured over it, and the flame ignites.

Hot Surface Igniters are Resistance Heaters

As mentioned earlier, hot surface ignitors, or HSI’s, are resistance heaters.  The element itself glows orange when the voltage is applied.  How hot that element gets depends on the voltage being applied to it.  A 120-volt HSI will glow at around 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most gas fuels will ignite around 1100 degrees, so 2500 degrees is a little excessive.  A 240-volt igniter burns even hotter.  Several control boards these days are made to support an 80-volt igniter.  This way the carbide breaks down slower, adding life to the system.

Hot Surface Igniters are Better Than a Pilot Light

Before hot surface ignitors and spark ignition was around, we had gas pilot lights that would stay lit burning a 1 to 2-inch flame year-round whether the heat was on or not. When the heat was turned on, the gas valve would flow more gas over the pilot to ignite the burner assembly that carried the flame.

For a pilot to stay lit all year, it could cost up to $150 dollars a year depending on where you are in the US.  Some of you reading this post have pilot lights still going strong on your 35-year-old furnaces!  Although very reliable when needed, and not a truly major expense, it’s not a great use of resources to just let that gas flame just burn all year.

On-Demand Efficiency

You might be okay with a small pilot burning in your furnace all year, but it really freaks out some of our customers.  A lot of people don’t even know that new furnaces these days don’t have pilots anymore.  They come with on-demand ignition components like an HSI.  Meaning the ignitor only comes on when needed and even then, it only comes on for less than a minute at a time.

Hot Surface Igniters are Silicon Carbide

Silicon Carbide is one of the most common components that make up a hot surface igniter.  Not only are these igniters used to light gas furnaces, but they are used for lighting stoves, boilers and other appliances that heat things around your house. Carbide is used as an abrasive, as a cutting tool, and has some automotive applications as well.   The first carbide igniters were actually produced in 1969.  From then until now they have become one the main choices for manufacturers to use as their ignition source.  The other source being spark igniters, which we’ll talk about on another blog post.

How Long Do Hot Surface Igniters Last?

Just like most components on your HVAC system, these parts last about five to ten years.  Yes, you can get lucky and have one last for twenty years, but it’s few and far between.  Different hot surface igniters last longer than others.  The trend over the last five to ten years has been to use the more durable silicon nitride igniters.  They seem to be less brittle, making them better able to stand the test of time.

Why are Hot Surface Igniters Such a Common Replacement Item Each Year?

So why do these silicon carbide igniters break so often?  The fact is, a gas flame pours over these ignitors which applies a lot of damaging heat to them.  The same thing that makes them work also destroys them!

8 Reasons Why Hot Surface Igniters Break Down Prematurely:

1. Brittle HSI’s

Just today as I was called by one of my techs who said they accidentally broke an HSI as they were cleaning the burner assembly on a routine maintenance call.  It happens.  If you took your index finger and thumb and brought them together even somewhat quickly, that would be enough force to break the carbide tip of a hot surface igniter to pieces.

2. Overuse

A furnace that cycles on and off excessively will reduce the lifespan of an HSI.  Making sure the system is properly sized for the house is probably a good idea.  We say it all the time, but an improperly sized unit is going to cause all kinds of problems.  Maybe not in the first year of its life, but long after the contractor who installed it is gone, and not responding to the customer’s phone calls anymore.

3. High Voltage

If an HSI is exposed to higher voltages than it’s supposed to receive, they will surely break sooner than they should.  An 80-volt HSI should have about 80 volts applied to it.  Applying 120 volts to that HSI will cause it break, and sometimes almost immediately.  Having too low of voltage may not let the igniter burn hot enough.

Once, in my early service years, I replaced a 240 ignitor for a package unit with a 120 ignitor.  Not only did the HSI break on the first start-up, but the high voltage backfired to the control board and took it out as well, which put my employer in the position of having to now replace the customer’s control board.  I never did that again…

4. Contamination

Some field experts say that the oils on the hands of technicians will cause the carbide tip to break down earlier than it should.  Other experts say it won’t.  One thing is for sure, the fewer contaminants that touch the surface of this red-hot igniter, the better.  Other contaminants around the house that can get on the hot surface igniter are sheetrock dust, condensation, dirt, rust, and fiberglass.

5. Gas valve pressure

An overfired gas valve will cause the flame to be hotter than it should be.  Any kind of heat is going to break down the HSI naturally.  It’s parts can last longer if you make sure the system is set up properly.

6. Faulty control board

In most cases the ignitor on the furnace is lined up with the flame that shoots into the heat exchanger.  It starts glowing red-hot when the control board tells it to come on.  If the board doesn’t tell the HSI to turn off, it will continue to glow red hot. You’d likely have a faulty board in this case, and that won’t be good for your HSI either.

That hot surface igniter will be energized in about a minute.  Most igniters achieve maximum temperature in less than 15 seconds.  Some ignition sequences can leave the igniter burning for about a minute.  The less the igniter has to be on, the longer the lifespan of the igniter.  Some things can’t be changed on a furnace such as this designed ignition sequence, so sometimes we’re just stuck with what we’re given.

7. Propane gas

Propane is a very viscous gas.  If you were to compare a natural gas furnace to a propane gas furnace after just five years of use, you would see the burner assembly on the propane system looks like it needs to be cleaned more than the natural gas burners.  I’ve seen hot surface ignitors that stand in the stream of a propane flame have the top half of the carbide tip ripped off after just 3 to 5 years.

8. Radiant heat

A heat exchanger that is overheated at shutdown could radiate extra heat on the ignitor to damage it or its ceramic base, especially in closed combustion systems like those Coleman or Intertherm downflow furnaces you find in modular and mobile homes.  A fan cools the heat exchanger once the call for heat has been satisfied.  Making sure the fan stays on for more than 90 seconds might be a way to correct this.

Standing pilot lights are a thing of the past.  Furnaces these days have spark igniters or hot surface igniters.  I don’t know that one is really better than the other.  Hot surface igniters are replaced about every five years.  Spark igniters have their downfalls too, though, which is why the industry hasn’t dedicated itself to one technology or the other.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post.

Average Cost of Furnace Repair

Average Cost of Furnace Repair

Average Cost of Furnace Repair in Sacramento

Nothing could be as bad as your furnace breaking in the evening just as temperatures are dropping rapidly in winter. The first thing that is likely to occupy your mind is the cost of fixing that furnace or heat source since a replacement is often very expensive. Sacramento furnace repair experts explain that the repair cost will depend on the type and model of furnace you have as discussed below.

Repairing an Electric Furnace

Electric furnaces move air over coils in order to heat that air. The heated air is then distributed to the different rooms in your home by a network of ducts. Electric furnace units tend to be small, so the cost of repairing them also tends to be lower than the cost of repairing the other types of furnaces. Sacramento furnace repair experts estimate that it requires a maximum of $300 for repairs but the cost varies depending on the particular make/model of the electric furnace.

Propane Gas Furnaces

Propane gas furnaces run on liquefied propane. The gas burns in order to push heated air around your home. A pilot light sets off the operation of the furnace by igniting the burners located inside a combustion chamber. Heat travels from the combustion chamber to the heat exchanger from where it continues to the rest of the home. Propane furnaces are more expensive to repair and the cost will range from $300 to about $1,200 depending on the specific component affected. The heat exchanger is the most expensive component to repair (about $1,200 to replace it).

Natural Gas Furnaces

Fox Family Heating and Air technicians explain that natural gas furnaces only differ from propane gas furnaces due to the fuel used. The rest of the components and mode of operation are identical. Consequently, the repair cost for natural gas furnaces is similar to the cost you are likely to incur if you had a broken propane gas furnace.


Some homes are heated by hot water. This water starts out in the boiler where it is heated before a network of pipes moves it around the home. Radiators amply the effect of the hot water so that each room feels cozy and warm.

Hot water systems rarely develop major problems suddenly. Instead, minor issues build up until the system malfunctions. For example, mineral deposits can slowly accumulate inside the water tank until they finally cause it to spring a major leak. Honest furnace repair experts will tell you that the repairs will cost from $180 to nearly $600 depending on the exact defect found.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps work by transferring heat from outside to the interior of your home during winter. The pump then reverses and channels indoor heat outside during the hot months of the year. The heat pump is usually linked to your air conditioning system. Some heat pumps rely on geothermal energy while others rely on heated water to operate. Repairing a heat pump costs more than repairing an electric furnace. For example, the thermostat alone will cost you about $300 to replace while a damaged defrost control board will cost you double what the thermostat costs.

How to Limit Furnace Defects

As you can see from the estimates above, you will spend a lot of money on furnace repairs if you don’t take steps to preserve the condition of your furnace. Greg Fox recommends two key measures to avert most furnace issues.

  • Annual Inspections. Ask technicians from Fox Family Heating and Air to inspect and service your furnace once each year. So, that any developing problem is detected and fixed early before it causes more costly damage to your unit. For example, a faulty seal can be replaced before it causes the blower motor to fail.
  • Furnace Filter Replacement. The Sacramento furnace repair professional should also change the furnace filter during the annual service visit. You can also learn how to perform this simple maintenance task to save time and money.

Talk to Fox Family Heating and Air, a professional Sacramento HVAC company, before you have any repairs done. You will be given advice regarding the suitability of repair or replacement of the furnace unit based on several factors.