Every furnace is equipped with an air handler. This is the component that is often referred to a blower unit. It’s used to force the treated warm air into the home where it’s then distributed to each area via the ductwork and vent system. Essentially, a blower unit is a large fan that has a number of moving parts that can fail every now and again. It’s likely that at some point during your ownership of a home heating system that the air handler will need a repair or replacement. In this article, we will look at four common air handler issues, some simple fixes and the importance of regular maintenance.
A Quick Safety Message
There are some air handler related issues that can be fixed by anyone if they are confident. There are also other problems that should only be handled by a certified professional HVAC engineer. They will have all the experience, appropriate tools, and spare parts to make the necessary repairs. Also, it’s important to state that there are many different makes and models of air handler and the issues and fixes mentioned here may not apply to your particular model. If you’re in any doubt consult your owner’s manual or contact an HVAC professional for expert help.
- Interrupted Airflow
The air handler is the component at the center of the entire system, and it needs to move treated air through the ductwork. It’s vital that there are no obstructions to impede the airflow. The most common issue that prevents an adequate amount of airflow is a clogged or blocked air filter. The air filter is essential to maintain proper airflow and to prevent dirt, dust, and debris, from entering the heating system. Another common issue is blocked supply vents, people move furniture over vents or close them without considering the airflow implications. If the airflow is interrupted for prolonged periods, it will cause the air handler to work harder in an attempt to compensate. This can cause the component to wear out faster than expected leading to an early replacement. In extreme cases the air handler could overheat, tripping the circuit breaker and even cause a fire.
The best way to avoid these types of air handler issues is to establish and stick to a regular schedule for air filter replacement. This is a simple maintenance task that you can carry out every month and all the details will be in your owner’s manual. It’s also important to make sure that the air vents are not blocked or closed for prolonged periods.
- Condensate Lines
The air handler in a high efficiency furnace should have a condensate line to deal with water vapor that is a byproduct of the combustion process. When the weather is cold, any moisture is forced through the flue, out to the exterior where it may condensate as a liquid and then it goes back into the drain located in the furnace flue. The flue is usually installed at an angle; this allows the water to drain toward the furnace and then it drains into plastic tubing. This tubing then drains the condensate into a pump or pipe where it’s finally drained into the sewer system. If there is a break or crack in the tubing or a loose fitting, water could leak into the furnace cabinet. This can lead to puddles of water or corrosion issues at the base of the furnace.
If you’re going to attempt to clean up the condensate water that has accumulated in and around the furnace be very careful. When the fuel is burned in a high efficiency furnace any condensate the forms, there could become acidic. It’s possible to receive a chemical burn by touch this water with your bare hands. This solution can easily corrode metal parts, and that’s why the drains and vents are made from plastic. Over time the water could cause significant damage, and it’s essential to get the issue fixed quickly. The condensate drain could be blocked, or the drain tubing could be compromised. This is probably a job for a local HVAC professional; they will have the experience to fix this issue quickly and safely.
- Common Blower Unit Issues
An air handler is a complex piece of equipment, and it is comprised of mechanical and electrical parts. If you notice a rattling noise in your heating system, this could mean that the fan blades are becoming loose and they need to be fixed. A loosened fan blade can break off and cause damage to other parts in your air handler. Another common problem is caused by drive belts that can wear and break over time. If this happens, you may notice a screeching noise and a reduction in the airflow coming from your vents. There could also be electrical issues, such as corroded wiring, circuit breaker trips and bare or frayed wires causing grounding problems.
These types of air handler problems should be handled by a certified HVAC technician that has the experience to work on your air handler safely.
- Basic Air Handler Maintenance
An air handler is made up of several different components that can vary a little depending on the specific make and model. There is usually an electric motor, a blower wheel and this can be located in a cage that is often referred to as a squirrel cage. Some air handlers are driven by a belt motor, and many have a capacitor to power an electric motor unit. During a maintenance check, the belt tension will be checked on a belt driven motor, and some oil may be applied to the oil ports. Some blower motors are housed in sealed units, and they have no oil ports at all.
Inspecting, checking and oiling a blower motor is a job best left to a professional HVAC engineer. This would be an essential maintenance task that should be carried out during an annual checkup. It’s a good idea to schedule a checkup before the start of the heating season in early fall. As the weather gets colder, many people turn on the furnaces for the first time in months only to discover that their heating system isn’t working as it should. A good local HVAC engineer will be in high demand to fix these heating systems and restore heat to the affected homes.