What Causes A Furnace Ignitor To Fail?

Most households rely on their furnace for heat to keep everyone in the family warm, especially
during the winter season. It’s usually very convenient to use and operate. It’s also more cost-
effective than a fireplace.

However, like any machine, your furnace may malfunction and be susceptible to different types
of damage caused by foreign debris or even wear from long use. There might be days wherein
the heater blows in cold air instead of warm air or the machine just won’t turn on at all. These
occasional breakdowns may be caused by different factors such as a busted furnace ignitor.


What Is A Furnace Ignitor?

Basically, an ignitor is the component of the heater that uses fuel to produce heat. This combustion process gives off heat that keeps you warm on cold days. It’s an essential part of the furnace because without it, the furnace will be blowing in cold air instead. Older versions require a steady supply of gas to maintain the pilot light.

Nowadays, more homes use an advanced ignitor system that doesn’t require a steady supply of gas. Electric ignitors utilize a thin wire to conduct electricity through a surface, which, in turn, gives off heat. This is more economical since you may turn it off when not in use. However, like any other mechanical device, the ignitor may be prone to malfunction. A broken ignitor is one of the most common causes of a faulty heater. That’s why it’s wise to get quality heating products that require less maintenance.


How To Know If The Ignitor Is Not The Problem

There are many factors that can affect the furnace’s ability to produce heat that’d allow you to have a more comfortable stay in your home. With that said, it’s a must to inspect the other components or parts of the equipment before ruling in a faulty ignitor.

  • If The Furnace Does Not Turn On

One indicator of a malfunctioning ignitor is when the furnace won’t turn on. This may cause your house’s interior to be cold, especially during winter. However, you should check the settings on the thermostat prior to concluding that the furnace won’t start. There are instances wherein the settings are left in ‘cool,’ making it seem like the furnace isn’t functioning since it’s not giving off warmth. Taking a look at the thermostat is a practical way to confirm whether your furnace is turned on or not.

  • If There Are Problems With The Breaker

Another way to know if you have problems in turning on the heater is through your circuit breaker box. You may check the furnace’s electrical connection through its breaker. Make sure it’s turned on or that it hasn’t tripped, which may disrupt the supply of electricity. Without electricity, you won’t be able to turn on the furnace, which may lead you to think that your furnace is faulty.

  • If It Provides Intermittent Heat

Having an unsteady flow of warm air may suggest a broken ignitor. However, if you’re experiencing intermittent heat, then chances are your furnace is turning on and off. With this issue, it’s best to check the air filter first since having a dirty one may affect the airflow needed for combustion. This applies to furnaces that utilize gas for heating.

  • If There Are Clogs In The Filter

Aside from having a dirty filter, small debris may also clog the air supply needed to ignite with gas. It’s best to take notice of any on-and-off instances early on. If you keep experiencing this, it may be a sign that you need to replace the ignitor. It’s advisable to clean the air filter regularly and check for small particles that may be trapped inside. You may also replace the filter every year to avoid having problems with the furnace.


When Checking The Ignitor

After ruling out the other reasons that may be causing the furnace to malfunction, you can then go ahead and examine the ignitor. If you’re planning to check on it on your own, remember to take safety precautions. First, make sure that the heater is unplugged. This is to avoid any untoward accidents such as touching a live wire and getting an electric shock.

Second, it’s a good idea to let the furnace cool down before you touch anything inside it. Otherwise, you might end up with second-degree burns, which may lead to serious skin problems and infection. That’s why it’s best to wait, especially after using the furnace for a long time. Lastly, if the furnace is connected to the gas supply, turn it off prior to the inspection. This is to avoid any flares or ignition while you’re getting up close and personal with the heater.


Reasons A Furnace Ignitor Fails

If you’ve already checked some of the parts that may be affecting the furnace’s performance and found that they’re in good condition, the main problem may be the ignitor. Here are some of the reasons the ignitor may not be working properly:

  • Electrical Issues

A power surge may negatively impact the ignitor and cause it to short-circuit. Most heaters may handle a range between 110 and 125 volts of electricity supply. Anything above that may cause the ignitor to fail. This may lead to serious consequences, including starting a fire or triggering a neighborhood blackout.

It’s imperative to consult with the local electric company beforehand and make sure that a transformer is installed. This may help in regulating the electrical supply, which may prevent any surges in the future.

  • Installing The Wrong Ignitor

Getting the right ignitor is crucial in order to have a functional furnace. Most brands use specific ignitors that are made for their equipment. Those may vary in size and connectivity, so use one that’s suitable for the brand of furnace you own.

Some may get away with using a different ignitor for a while, but doing so might cause more problems in the long run, especially when the furnace is often used. Moreover, the ignitor must be handled carefully during installation to avoid damaging its parts.

  • Has Noticeable Damage

If you see visible damage on the ignitor, this may mean that you need to replace it right away. Having areas that are chipped or warped may be harmful when ignored or left as is. Using the ignitor despite the irregularities may cause it to crack or, worse, its wires to melt. This may pose safety risks. To minimize issues, have a new ignitor installed as soon as possible.

  • Used For A Long Time

No mechanical component lasts a lifetime. Even with excellent maintenance, certain parts must be replaced after several years of use. They may have sustained wear and tear throughout the years, which would eventually compromise their performance and quality. That may cause irreversible damage when the components are pushed to their breaking point.

Therefore, it’s important to replace an ignitor that’s old and worn out. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s equally crucial to keep a spare one for unexpected furnace troubles.


Heed The Warning

At first signs of a malfunctioning furnace, it’s best to check on it right away and find out what’s happening inside it. Don’t wait for the problem to worsen before getting it fixed. Keep a set of tools handy when inspecting the internal components of the equipment. It may be beneficial to keep spare parts as well, especially the ones that are hard to find.

If you lack the knowledge to handle the repair, you may ask for professional help on maintenance work and checkups. Moreover, it’s recommended to have the furnace looked at regularly, especially in winter. Having a heating problem during the cold season may pose many problems, and service personnel might be in demand and busy.


The Takeaway

Having a furnace is essential in keeping the house warm once the cold season comes around. However, with continuous use, the furnace may not work as efficiently as it should after a while. If this happens to you, it’s practical to check the thermostat settings and make sure that it’s on ‘heat.’ It’s also ideal to check if the filter is dirty or clogged since this may affect the heating function. Also, you may check the electrical supply and make sure that the furnace breaker hasn’t tripped.

After everything checks out, that’s when you can consider the possibility that the ignitor’s failing since it’s one of the most common causes of problems with the furnace. Faulty ignitors may be caused by a high-voltage supply of electricity, which may cause short-circuiting. Having a worn-out ignitor may also impair the furnace’s performance, so it’s important to replace it after several years of use. Lastly, get the correct ignitor for the furnace brand in use to prevent all sorts of issues and ensure warmth throughout winter.