This is my first Winter in this house and I've just realized that I can't make the heat turn on. The home has natural gas heating and baseboard vents. There's no A/C or other units; just baseboard heating.

I'll pay a pro to come out if I have to, but I just want to make sure that I check everything obvious first, since this probably would've come up in the home inspection if there were really something wrong with the heater.

Here's a list of what's been checked:

  1. Thermostat -- seems to work fine and is a very simple electronic model. Heat is set to ON with a (desired) temperature of 71, but actual temperature shows as 55. I tried turning it on and off, up and down, etc.

  2. Water -- hot water works fine.

  3. Emergency shutoff switch -- heat is set to ON. Tried turning it off and on.

  4. Other valves / pipes -- I can't figure out which pipes are supposed to connect to the baseboard units, but I made sure that everything I could find was switched on.

I have to admit that I am very ignorant in this area. The same furnace that heats the water is the same one that should be heating the air, right? If so, it seems to be on and working.

This photo has the furnace, water heater, and gas in it:

enter image description here

You can see the baseboards in the bottom right of this photo:

enter image description here

  • Are the baseboard units hydronic, or...? Oct 23, 2016 at 20:22
  • @ThreePhaseEel I'm sorry, I don't know. If that means that they use water I think so but I'm not sure. The reason I think so is that I don't see anything that looks like an air duct except for one tube going from outside the basement to the furnace, which I assume is for exhaust.
    – Hack-R
    Oct 23, 2016 at 21:48
  • Can you post photos of the ends of the baseboard units? Oct 23, 2016 at 22:15
  • @ThreePhaseEel Sure, I will. In the mean time you can see them here in photos 5, 9, and 23 from this real estate website: redfin.com/MD/Riviera-Beach/8472-Church-Rd-21122/home/98275121
    – Hack-R
    Oct 23, 2016 at 22:21
  • Is the hydronic boiler actually firing up and getting hot? Oct 24, 2016 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


Based on the photos you provided I am sure that your heating system is hydronic, i.e. water is heated by the furnace and then flows through your baseboards giving up its heat to the room. The unit on the left in your photo is your water heater which operates independently of your heating furnace (the unit on the right). That's why you can have hot water without room heating. The large cylinder near the top of your furnace is the expansion chamber designed to handle the increase in water pressure as the water is heated by the furnace. Your problem, however, may be due to the small unit to the right of the expansion chamber, the one with the electrical conduit attached. I believe that is a damper designed to close when the furnace is off to prevent heat being wasted by going up the flue. When the furnace is on, that damper will be open to allow the gas combustion byproducts to go up the flue. If that damper is not working properly, and stays closed, the furnace is designed to turn off to prevent those byproducts from filling your basement. You should check to see if that is your problem. If your thermostat is asking for heat, and that damper is closed, then the furnace will not run and you will not get heat. One way to cure this problem is simply to disconnect the damper as it does not increase the furnace efficiency very much anyway. Or you can have it replaced. No guarantees, but this is easy enough to check. Another possibility is that the furnace pilot light is out or the thermocouple is defective. You probably will need to call a repairman for these problems.

  • Thank you very much. This is a very knowledgeable answer. I'm going to go investigate this with your answer open on my computer. I will come back and update this thread when I have something to report. I know I heard some faint sounds coming from the square box (the furnace) earlier, so I guess some part of it must be working. I thought that it was heating the water in the water tank, but I guess that must not be the case based on your answer.
    – Hack-R
    Oct 24, 2016 at 2:05
  • Still no luck. I left a voicemail with an HVAC place. I tried restarting the pilot light (it's automatic -- you flip it off then back on). No luck. There's a temp gauge on the furnace and it shows it as being 0 degrees...
    – Hack-R
    Oct 25, 2016 at 19:44

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