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How Often Should A Furnace Kick In?

Have you ever played the game, “Would you rather?” It’s a fun children’s game where someone asks whether or not someone would rather be X (which is usually bad) or Y (which is equally bad). One of the most common questions that gets asked is:

Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

Unfortunately, when it comes to a faulty furnace, you may end up with the (dis)comfort of getting both. That’s why today we’ll be looking at how often your furnace should be kicking in to give your home just the right amount of warmth this winter.

A furnace is like a really good waiter at a restaurant: it comes when needed but doesn’t overstay its welcome at the table. In the same way, a furnace will turn itself on when temperatures drop too low and turn itself off when things heat up. This process is called “cycling” and can happen several times an hour.

But how often is too often?

First and foremost, the amount that your furnace is kicking in will depend on a couple of factors: the size of your home and the weather outside. Obviously, the larger the home, the harder it is to heat (and keep heated) which means your furnace will be turning on more frequently. It’s the same with the weather: the colder it is outdoors, the more often you’ll hear that familiar furnace coming alive. Also, it can depend on whether or not you have a one-stage or two-stage furnace. The two differentiate by the open position of valve position dictated by the control board. This action is influenced by the fluctuation of the temperature inside a home.  

Believe it or not, in the coldest winter conditions, it is not uncommon for a furnace to turn on very frequently (between 3 and 8 times per hour). That’s because larger houses require more heat which, consequently, requires more work from the furnace.

Makes sense, right?

But a lot of people assume that when a furnace is continuously turning on and off, it is “short-cycling” which is symptomatic of a damaged furnace and can significantly increase energy bills. That said, short cycling has less to do with the number of times a furnace kicks in and more to do with how long it stays on when it does. In other words, furnaces can turn on frequently without their being a problem, but if they’re only staying on for a few seconds or a minute at a time, then you likely have a larger issue. A warm, healthy furnace should be running for several minutes in any given cycle.

So when it comes to the common question, “how often should my furnace be kicking in?” there is, unfortunately, no clear cut answer because it depends on your home and the weather in your area. Using the length of the cycle rather than their frequency is a much better litmus test for understanding if your furnace is working too hard this winter. 

If you’re ever questioning the ability of your furnace, please reach out to us and we will take care of any issues you may be experiencing.

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