How Turlock’s Renewable Solar Energy Surge Can Cause Unusual Electric Furnace Problems

turlock renewable solar energyHave you ever noticed how the sun always seems to be shining in Turlock? Maybe that’s also why folks there seem to have embraced solar panels and renewable energy more aggressively than other places. I looked into this, and it turns out the sun actually does shine more there than the rest of our service area. Even dry Sacramento averages 4 inches of precipitation in January, while sunny Turlock gets a measly 2.5. Maybe that’s why the TID Solar Generating Station, which provides solar energy throughout the region, has made its home here.

One commonality among solar-powered homes in sunny places like Turlock is they often have electric furnaces perfect for using the sun to generate heat. So, let’s talk about how solar panels and electric furnaces work together, as well as ways to recognize some problems that may crop up when your home is heated this way. An electric furnace paired with a solar panel is a great combo for your home and for the environment, but the bottom line is that it still needs to keep your family warm, even in a place as sunny as Turlock.

The New Dynamic Duo

While not nearly as well-known as Batman and Robin, solar panels and electric furnaces are a dynamic duo. One of the realities of solar power, especially in sunny spots like Turlock, is that many homes accrue a supply of unused solar electricity. This is called solar outset, which means that your system generates more electricity than your home can use over time. A great outlet for this excess power is having an electric furnace installed, rather than a traditional one. Traditional furnaces require fuel, usually natural gas, to generate heat. Electric furnaces, on the other hand, can take the surplus solar electricity and use it to create heat for your home.

How does an electric furnace do this without combustible fuel? As with a traditional natural gas unit, the electric variety also has a blower that pulls air in and runs it through a heat exchanger, but instead of using a combustion reaction to heat the air, they use pure electric voltage. Think of it like an enormous hair dryer that doesn’t need natural gas or oil to create heat. It simply draws in voltage and applies it to a metal heating element within, causing the air around it to build up heat. An electric HVAC unit works the same way.

Trouble in Electric Paradise

As with even the world’s healthiest marriages, the union of solar panels and an electric furnace are going to disagree from time to time. The most common issue I see with this setup is blown fuses. For many homeowners, this can be a frustrating and mysterious problem. It does not often occur with gas or oil furnaces, because electricity only controls a few minor functions within those units. With an electric furnace being fed solar power, however, electricity is involved in nearly every facet of the heating process.

Here are a few common reasons fuses are blown in electric heating equipment:

  • Strain: In general, a blown fuse happens when an appliance puts too much strain on a fuse. Most electric heaters require a great deal of electricity. If a homeowner lacks the proper electrical system to support that, fuses are likely to blow.
  • Insufficient fuse size: A common problem I see is that electric furnaces have the wrong size fuses installed. If a fuse is too small for the furnace, it’s going to blow and it’s going to blow often.
  • Malfunctioning thermostat wire: When the thermostat wire makes contact with the metal frame of a furnace, it causes more voltage than wires are equipped to handle to surge into the fuse on the control board, blowing it. A blown fuse on a control board means the draft inducer in the electric furnace cannot start, which means no air can be drawn in for heating.
  • A faulty transformer: Over time, transformers can wear out inside any electric appliance and become faulty. When this happens inside your heating unit, it will lead to blown fuses.
  • Loose wires: If there are loose wires in either your solar power system or your electric heater, it will cause an inability to function, which I’ve seen many homeowners mistake for a blown fuse.

Even in Turlock, where the average high temperature in January is 54 degrees, the sun won’t be able to heat the air enough to make your home comfortable, especially overnight. It’s crucial to have a furnace you can rely on without the looming threat of a blown fuse.

Don’t Blow a Fuse

Even if you’ve blown a fuse in your heater, it should be the only fuse you blow. Just take a deep breath, count to 10 slowly, and call a trained HVAC technician. While some of the fixes for a furnace that repeatedly blows fuses can be somewhat simple, like replacing it with a larger capacity fuse or using a voltage meter to determine if there are loose wires, most require service by a trained HVAC technician.

Problems such as strain and faulty transformers are nearly impossible to repair on your own without significant training. And don’t forget you’re dealing with electrical equipment here—attempting to fix these issues by yourself can get dangerous, posing a threat of electric shock. There are, however, things you can do to minimize the biggest cause, strain, including improving facets of your home that keep warmed air inside and reduce the need to use your furnace so much, like installing better insulation in your attic or walls, or getting multi-paned windows that don’t allow as much air to leak out.

Whichever route you decide to go, a trained HVAC professional can evaluate your electric furnace to figure out where the problem is, recommend solutions, and also give you estimates on windows and insulation. When you have all of that in order, you can go back to basking in the warmth of your sunny, solar-powered home in the heart Stanislaus County.

Don’t let blown fuses scare you off electric furnaces. Call the trained professionals at Bell Brothers today. We’ll help guard against malfunctioning electric furnaces in your solar-powered home.