4 DIY Furnace Repairs to Do Before Calling a Repairman

by Travis Pizel · 27 comments

It was a bone chilling winter day in Minnesota with the forecasted high temperature struggling to rise above zero. The air seemed chilly in the house, so I bumped the thermostat up a few degrees as I walked down the hallway.

About an hour later, my home still seemed cold. Checking the thermostat again, I noticed the air temperature was 61 degrees even though it was set at 70. Putting my hand over the nearest air vent I could feel that the furnace fan was running, but it was blowing out cold air.

My furnace was broken! “Great”, I thought. As any man would do, my first course of action was to descend into my basement mechanical room. I stared at the furnace hoping some sort of divine intervention would occur to impart wisdom on me as to how the metal giant actually worked.

After a few minutes, and a few choice words that no wisdom had arrived, I decided it was time to attack this problem from another angle. There was no way I was going to call the repairman before I exhausting all my efforts.

If there was a way I could save several hundred dollars by doing the repairs myself, then I was going to do it.

My wife was not so convinced. As I sat down in front of our laptop at the kitchen counter she was already pulling out the phone book to look up numbers for someone who could come take a look at the furnace.

I asked her to give me just a few more minutes to see if an internet search would provide any clues as to why our furnace was refusing to heat our home.

I found a handful of items that an average home owner should investigate:

  1. Furnace Engagement: Turn the thermostat down low so the furnace turns completely off. Turn it back up, and listen for a “click” that would indicate the furnace engaged. In my case it did click, and the fan started running again.
  2. Pilot Light: I went back to my furnace room and ensured that my pilot light was lit. Yes, it was.
  3. Furnace Filter: If the filter is too dirty, it blocks the air flow. The warmer air of the home that’s trapped inside the furnace tells the unit it’s already warm in the home, and thus will not produce more heat.
  4. Air Intake: If the air intake pipe, located on the exterior of your home is blocked, the furnace will not be able to pull fresh air into the unit and will not run correctly.

That last item on the checklist is when I struck gold. My intake pipe is located just below my deck, and had a massive icicle growing on it, completely blocking the opening.

While it was frigid that specific day, the daily temperatures had been unseasonably high in the preceding week. With the thawing during the day, and the refreezing overnight, snow on my deck had melted and dripped through the cracks onto the intake pipe underneath.

I kicked the icicle off the pipe, and the furnace began blowing hot air almost immediately. What a simple fix!

With a little internet searching, and some good old fashioned homeowner curiosity, I was able to save the $80 (minimum) HVAC service call. My attempts at homeowner DIY solutions don’t always work, but in this case it was a success!

So before calling someone to fix any of your home repairs this winter, do a quick search online (or even call a friend/family member to help) and troubleshoot your problem. You may be able to save yourself a good chunk of change, and the repair guy a bit of time and headache.

Do you have any homeowner fix-it-yourself success stories? How much did it save you?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Lily de Grey says:

    Awesome article, Travis! I’m glad that you’ve shared this with us because I’ve been thinking about repairing my furnace. I think your’e absolutely right: it’s important to regularly perform maintenance on your heater so it’s working properly. I’ll be sure to check the furnace’s filter before I call a technician; thanks for the tips!

  • Jeremy says:

    heres another: when my thermostats AA battery wears out, the heater fan blows but no heat comes out.

  • Ethel says:

    It is good to know that you can do some stuff yourself in terms of furnace repair. Trying to fix it by myself would be something I wouldn’t originally attempt but, your advice makes a lot of sense; it’s something for me to follow! I didn’t know that the filter on the furnace could make that much difference in the intake of air. Using these quick tips, I will make sure I don’t have these problems before calling in a professional!

  • Emily says:

    Wow, that was awesome!

    All I know about our furnace is to change the filter often. I’m hoping I would do a search before I called a repair man. But if my fingers were too cold to type, that might not be the case….

    • Travis says:

      It’s amazing what you can find on the internet, Emily. If it got to the point where it was really cold in the house I’d probably call a repair man too….but then keep searching anyway. 🙂

  • Olga Morozova says:

    This article is a life-saver. I’m hopeless when it comes to these kinds of things, but I want to rely less on repairmen. I never would have thought to check the pipes outside, especially in the winter when I don’t want to go out anyway. But learning how to do repairs without a repairman saves a lot of money so I’ve got to try it. I’ll bookmark this for the future!

  • Money B. says:

    Our furnace has a small LED status light that will blink in the event of a problem. They’re pretty cryptic but you can look them up online to get a better idea. In one case, the most likely cause was a heating element failure, which is what it was and did require a repair visit, but at least I knew. In another case, it indicated that the exhaust was not venting properly, and it locked the furnace as a safety precaution. This happened after a very windy night so there was likely some downdraft in our roof vent stack. The wind had died down, so I reset the furnace via the switch, and it restarted and worked fine. Now, granted, I always try flipping the switch anyways, so I would have likely not called a repair person, but at least I knew.

    • Travis says:

      Well, your small LED may be cryptic, but it’s light years ahead of what mine does…which is nothing. It just stops working. LOL. My water heater has that kind of alert system though…I’ve diagnosed a few issues with that beast, although I’ve always had to call a repairman.

  • Stephanie Smith says:

    These are good steps to take before calling a professional. It helps to know how to troubleshoot and diagnose an issue. For me, it gives me a sense of independence and pride, and it’s great saving a few hundred dollars for a repairman to fix what I could do myself. Thanks for the tips!

  • Johnny McCarron says:

    I really like that you listed several things that you can repair before calling a furnace repair man. That really makes sense to me as I think that it is imperative to try and do what you can to repair it on your own. You really can save a lot of money by trying to do projects on your own. Do you have any other tips when it comes to finding a good heater repair man?

  • Alex Jennings says:

    Hey, Travis. Thanks for posting this helpful, informative article! I think something is wrong with my furnace, so I’ll follow some of the suggestions you mentioned. I doubt there is anything wrong with my air intake pipe, so I think I’ll likely have to hire a professional on this one. I’ll let you know what it is!

    Alex Jennings |

  • Whitney Black says:

    Thank you for your advice on the four points a home owner should investigate. Checking the filter is a great easy way to make sure the furnace runs smoothly, and I loved your tip on checking the outside pipe to make sure it’s not blocked. I wonder if there are specific filters that don’t have to be cleaned as often?

  • emily bennette says:

    I like that you pointed out that you should look at your furnace filter. It does seem like it would be smart to do some checks of your furnace before calling a professional. That way you can tell the repairman what you know and hopefully, that will fix the problem faster.

  • Breck Lewis says:

    I agree with you that calling a repair man is the last thing we want to do. I had a similar experience just like you and did everything in my power to try to fix it myself. In the end even though I invested a lot of time trying to fix it I was okay paying the service man to do it because I knew I did everything I could. Thanks for posting a great article about your experience!

  • Charles Mulstein says:

    The air intake! But of course! I try to keep a close eye on my furnace. Winter is coming around again, and I’ve checked all the basics. Usually when the furnace starts to choke up like this cleaning the filters helps a lot. This year I already did that, but it still barely heats the downstairs. I wanted to look up other basic repairs, and after reading this I’m almost certain that the air intake must be the issue. I’ll have a look. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Raylin Sutter says:

    My heater hasn’t been working for a while but I haven’t really needed it much. However, winter is on the way and I really need to get it fixed. It starts up, makes some noise, and automatically shuts off after about twenty seconds. The light goes on and everything during that time. We are not looking into heating repair.

  • Celestial Air says:

    Also check to make sure that your ductwork isn’t also blocked. Not only can buildup in ducts restrict air flow, but it causes the air to recirculate dust, allergens and dirt that accumulates in them.

  • Braden Bills says:

    My furnace hasn’t been working properly lately. I’ve tried to engage my furnace again, I’ve looked at the filter, everything! It seems like now would be a good time to hire a professional, because I have no idea what’s wrong.

  • Callie Marie says:

    I grew up in Minnesota, so I can relate to frustration of keeping a house warm in freezing winters. Thanks for the great suggestions for parts of the furnace to check when it breaks, I will remember that if my furnace ever needs repair. I’m glad to hear that your solution was as simple as knocking down an icicle.

  • Deanna R. Jones says:

    Thanks for the information! I agree, it seems like there are a few things that homeowners can do to fix their furnace before calling a repair technician. There are a few simple repairs that anyone can do themselves, so it’s important for people to know how to check for the repairs that they can do on their own. There have been a number of times when I called a technician to fix my furnace when the only problem was that the pilot light was out. It seems like I should start checking to see if the pilot light is on from now on before I call a professional to fix my furnace.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Agree, Deanna, homeowners can save themselves some money by doing some very basic things prior to calling a repairman. My list of things I can do on my own grows all the time!

      • Deanna R. Jones says:

        That’s great! I really like the independence that comes from fixing something on my own, so I’m glad that you’re doing the same.

  • Whizcraft says:

    Thanks for these DIY tips.. can save some money by just doing these checklist.. very useful.

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