Diamond Certified Experts: Home Troubleshooting Tips

by James Florence


When things stop working in your home, a little troubleshooting may help you avoid an expensive service call. Photo: Burkell Plumbing, Inc. ©2020

When your furnace, dryer or garbage disposal stops working, your first instinct may be to call a professional. In some cases, however, all it takes is a little troubleshooting to avoid an expensive service call. We asked five Diamond Certified Expert Contributors to share their home troubleshooting tips.

Troubleshooting a Thermostat

If your furnace thermostat isn’t working, there are a couple of things you can check before calling an HVAC company. Jake Newman Jr. of Burkell Plumbing, Inc. suggests starting with the simplest possible cause: missing or dead batteries. “Locate the battery compartment either by taking the thermostat off the wall or removing its face or cover,” he instructs. “While you’re checking for batteries, also check to see if there’s any corrosion on the battery contacts. If there is, clean it off using a cotton swab and white vinegar.”

If the batteries are in place, you’ll need to take another step to diagnose the problem. After removing the thermostat from the wall, take a gator clip or piece of insulated wire and insert the ends into the R and W terminals on the wall-mounted wiring panel. This technique is used by HVAC technicians to “jumpstart” a furnace when its thermostat malfunctions. “If you’re able to turn on the heat, you know your problem is either a malfunctioning thermostat or just dead batteries,” explains Mr. Newman. “If you don’t get a response, the problem may be internal, in which case you’ll need to call a professional.”

For a more detailed demonstration, watch Mr. Newman’s video below.

Troubleshooting an Air Conditioner

If your air conditioner isn’t operating at full strength, you might assume it’s malfunctioning, but Michael Zieglar of Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Solar says there may be other causal factors in play. “One possibility is that you simply forgot to set the thermostat to the ‘cool’ setting or at a low enough temperature. Another factor that can affect an air conditioner’s performance is dirty or clogged components such as the filter or evaporator coil. Before calling a professional, clean these components and see if it makes a noticeable improvement.”

If your air conditioner isn’t working at all, Mr. Zieglar gives some additional troubleshooting tips. “First, make sure the unit is connected to power. Next, check your electrical circuit or fuse box to make sure the problem isn’t being caused by a tripped breaker or blown fuse. If there aren’t any power issues, it may be something more serious like a blown motor or compressor, in which case you’ll need professional assistance.”

Troubleshooting Dryer Vent Issues


A crimped or crushed exhaust line can inhibit dyer performance. Photo: Best Chimney Sweep ©2020

Have you noticed your dryer isn’t performing like it used to? It’s very likely that this dip in performance is linked to a venting issue. Andy Gatley of Best Chimney Sweep says there could be a couple of causes and solutions. One is when the line from the dryer to the exterior vent becomes constricted. “If your dryer gets pushed back against the wall, it can cause the line to become crimped and/or crushed. This will restrict air flow and cause the unit to overheat and underperform, particularly if the line is made of pliable material like Mylar or plastic. Check behind the unit to make sure the line isn’t constricted. If visibility is an issue, use a long-handled mirror to get a better view.”

Another possible cause is that the dryer vent is being obstructed from the outside. “Whether vegetation growth, an animal or insect nest, or a child’s toy, it’s easy for something to get into the dryer vent and block air flow,” continues Mr. Gatley. “For birds, a dryer vent is like a rent-free condo with central heating, which makes for a great winter home. As cute as this may sound, the air flow obstruction can reduce your dryer’s efficiency and even pose a potential fire hazard, so be sure to regularly check this area and remove any foreign objects.”

Troubleshooting a Garbage Disposal


Garbage disposals are known for frequently malfunctioning, but on the plus side, the solutions are often simple. Lamine Elabed of LW Construction & Handyman Services offers some troubleshooting steps, starting with a simple reset. “On the bottom of the unit, there should be an ON/OFF power switch and a red reset button,” he explains. “Set the disposal’s power switch to OFF and press the reset button. Set the power switch back to ON and see if the unit will work.”

If this doesn’t solve the problem, Mr. Elabed suggests trying to unjam the disposal manually. “Your garbage disposal should come with a mechanical hex key specifically for this purpose,” he says. “If you don’t have this key, a 1/4-inch Allen wrench will work. After turning the unit’s power switch to OFF, insert the tool into the slot on its underside. Crank it left and right a few times—this will rotate the disposal’s metal teeth to manually clear the blockage. Turn the unit back on and see if works; if not, you may need to call a plumber.”

Troubleshooting a Power Outage

If you’ve lost electrical power in your home, don’t panic—assuming it’s not a blackout or a scheduled Public Safety Power Shutoff, the problem may have a simple solution. Chris Bennett of Bennett Electric, Inc. says one such situation is if one of your home’s ground fault interrupters (GFIs) has tripped. “GFIs are typically found in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages. To tell if a GFI has been tripped, simply look to see if the green indicator light is on. If not, press the RESET button. When the indicator light comes back on, the power should be restored. You can also test your GFI by pressing the TEST button, which will turn off the power, and then pressing RESET to restore it.”

Another instance where Mr. Bennett says you can easily restore power is a tripped circuit breaker. “You can tell a tripped breaker by its position. Like a light switch, a breaker that’s on will point up, while a tripped one will point down. To restore power, simply flip the tripped breaker to the ON position. Sometimes a breaker will appear to be in the ON position, yet the power will still be out. In this case, reset it by forcefully pushing it down and flipping it back up. This may take a couple of repetitions, but it should restore power.”

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