Repairing furnaces is difficult and potentially hazardous work, so leave this job to the professionals.

Repairing furnaces is difficult and potentially hazardous work, so leave this job to the professionals. (Photo: Dreamstime/TNS).

With the year’s coldest months underway, your furnace will be working overtime to keep the house cool. And if it breaks down, fixing it will quickly become your top priority. Here are some do’s and don’ts about what to do if something goes wrong with your heating system:

Do what you can first
Some heating problems stem from basic sources. Before calling professional help, check to ensure no circuit breakers have tripped. Verify that the wires around the furnace are in good shape. And check the thermostat batteries! Some thermostats, particularly older ones, operate on batteries without wired backup, and your problem could be as simple as swapping out a couple of AA batteries.

Many newer furnaces include digital displays that can show a diagnostic code or even a description of the problem. Check the display and have this information handy when you call your pro.

And as always, replace your furnace filter regularly. It’s the best thing you can do to maintain your system’s health.

Do take natural gas seriously
Natural gas is usually odorless, but utility companies use an additive to give it a distinctive rotten-egg smell. If you smell natural gas in your home, act immediately. Get everyone out of the house and a safe distance away. Once you’ve evacuated, call 911 or your local utility company. Professionals need to repair this as quickly as possible. Wait until you’re out of the house to call. Static electricity from electrical devices can ignite the gas.

Don’t DIY
Aside from the elements listed above that you can check for yourself, don’t get in over your head. Both the heating and cooling components of HVAC systems are sophisticated mechanisms that use potentially hazardous materials such as gas and refrigerant. Unless you really know what you’re doing, you can easily make the problem much worse or cause serious damage to your home and health. Leave heating repairs to the pros.

Don’t hire based on price
Your HVAC pro is a vital service provider who will be working in difficult areas on expensive equipment that impacts every part of your home. Before you have problems, find someone you get along with and trust. And remember to have them do a twice-yearly inspection that can find minor issues long before they become serious ones.

Do check their experience
As always, verify that your contractor is licensed, bonded and insured. When talking to them, ask if their technicians are trained on your specific system. Various HVAC manufacturers employ very different designs, and experience with that particular manufacturer matters.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion
Not all contractors are conscientious about their recommendations. If they’re suggesting a major and expensive job, such as a complete replacement, get a second opinion to see if a repair might solve your problem. An ethical pro should have no problem with this.

By Paul F. P. Pogue, Ask Angi (TNS). Tweet your home care questions with #AskingAngi and we’ll try to answer them in a future column.
Visit at