As the temperatures start to drop, the furnace becomes one of the most vital pieces of equipment in your home. While you may feel confident changing your furnace filters, one of the most complicated and potentially dangerous parts of your HVAC system is the ignitor. So, how do you know if your furnace ignitor has gone bad and you’ll need to call in the professionals?
Familiarizing Yourself With the Furnace Ignitor
The first step to determining if your furnace ignitor has gone bad is to figure out what precisely the ignitor is. In simple terms, the furnace ignitor is the component in your heater that turns the fuel into heat. The ignitor lights your burner to spark the entire combustion process. While this is a basic explanation, for the curious minded, there is a little more to learn.
In the past, most furnaces used a pilot light to provide a flame that would ignite the gas from the burners to start the heating process. Pilot lights are standing flames that continually burn as a constant link to a small gas flow is maintained. This was a standard feature in furnaces that may still feature on your furnace if you’ve not replaced it in the last decade.
Today, furnaces typically use an electric hot surface ignitor to perform this function. This is a more dependable system, and it can save money on utility bills as it doesn’t need that steady stream of fuel the way a pilot light does to keep burning. The ignitor features a thin wire that then it receives an electric signal it will glow red hot to create a spark and start the heating process. The components are typically made using high heat resistant materials such as silicon nitride or silicon carbide. These materials can create and withstand sparks that are hot enough to produce that all important combustion reaction.
Signs of an Ignitor Problem
Fortunately, there are a number of signs that your furnace ignitor has started to go back. These include:
- The furnace won’t run; This is the most obvious symptom of a bad ignitor. Since it fails to ignite properly, your furnace will fail to run when you switch it on. While this issue can be caused by a number of other issues, if you’ve already checked that the furnace is receiving fuel and power, the ignitor is a likely culprit.
- The circuit breaker is continually switched; When your circuit breaker keeps getting switched, it is a sure sign of some kind of electrical problem inside your home. If you can narrow it down to the breaker for your furnace, it is likely to be a problem with the ignitor. When you keep having to check your breaker and find that the furnace switch is flipped, it is a sign of a voltage issue for your ignitor. This is a potentially dangerous situation, as your circuit breaker is dealing with lots of power. If you have a circuit breaker that is continually switched, it is important to call in professional help as soon as possible.
- A sudden break in heat; As the ignitor creates the heat needed to spark a combustible reaction, there are a number of fail-safes built into furnaces to prevent shorting out or reactions from dangerous situations. For example, when you’ve failed to clean your filters and debris has accumulated to clog the area, it will prevent the furnace from operating. So, if there is a sudden break in heat, it could be a sign of an ignitor problem. It is vital to have a professional HVAC technician check your furnace to determine the underlying problem and restore functionality.
The ignitor is a vital component of your furnace, so as we touched on above, there are a number of safety measures built into your ignitor. While an ignitor can go bad, the ignitor will also fail to start the combustion process if there is a potentially dangerous situation. If the system detects compromised airflow or another hazardous scenario, the ignitor will fail to operate. So, if you suspect that your furnace has an ignitor problem, it is crucial that your furnace is thoroughly inspected. An experienced professional will assess your ignitor to determine if there is a problem, but the technician will also check your furnace for any underlying issues to ensure that your furnace is safe. Remember that any furnace repairs are potentially hazardous unless you have the expertise, knowledge, and skills needed. So, if you suspect any furnace issues including a bad ignitor, be sure to leave any repairs or diagnosis to the professionals.
Taking Proactive Action
A bad ignitor can create problems in your home, as you’re likely to notice that it has failed when you need your heating the most. Fortunately, you can take a proactive approach to reduce the risks of a bad ignitor making your home feel uncomfortable. Regular servicing will not only ensure that your furnace is operating efficiently, but it provides an opportunity for preventative maintenance. An experienced HVAC technician will check your heating system for signs of wear, and if any components are looking old or damaged, they can be replaced before they fail and cause heating problems. Furnace ignitors have a typical lifespan of between four and seven years, so your HVAC technician will check the ignitor to determine if it is time to have it replaced. This not only eliminates the inconvenience of a breakdown, but it can save you money on repairs. Preventative maintenance involves smaller repair bills and avoiding the premium for an emergency call out. You can also reduce the risk of a cascade failure prompting a massive bill or a need for premature replacement of your entire furnace.
If you suspect that you have a bad ignitor or any other furnace issue, be sure to speak to an experienced HVAC repair specialist. With the proper care and attention, you can expect your furnace to last up to twenty years, so it is crucial that it receives professional servicing and repair.