Your Furnace Winter Checklist

winter heating checklist

If your heating system needs maintenance or repair this winter, the certified technicians at South West Plumbing can help. Call (206) 932-1777 today!


Common Winter Heating Problems and How to Fix Them

winter heating

Seattle can get surprisingly chilly in the winter, with average lows in the 30s. The last thing you want at that temperature is a heating system malfunction that leaves you huddled up in a mound of blankets on your couch.

Such problems can be prevented with an annual inspection, but sometimes, homeowners lose track of time and forget to schedule regular maintenance. If that sounds like you, be sure to keep your eyes peeled this winter for these five signs that your heating system is on the fritz.

You’re Freezing to Death

In the dead of winter, a frosty abode is everyone’s worst nightmare. Unless you enjoy shuffling around your home in a puffy winter coat, you’ll need to call an HVAC technician to fix the problem. Typically, total heat loss is the result of one of four common problems:

  • Lack of power – Ensure your heating system is getting electricity by checking that the circuit breakers are “on” and wiring near your unit’s components isn’t frayed.
  • Faulty thermostat – Your heating system can’t turn on if it doesn’t register your house is cold. Double check your thermostat’s battery, and if that’s not the issue, call a professional to install a functioning thermostat.
  • Frosted heat pump – During the winter, it’s common for the coils of your heat pump to freeze. A functioning heat pump will switch to defrost mode to clear the ice away. However, a malfunction in the defrosting process will render the heat pump ineffective. You can try removing ice buildup manually on your own by pouring warm water over the coils. If this doesn’t work, call an HVAC technician.
  • Ineffective pilot light or ignition system – The pilot light is the flame that ignites the fuel in your furnace to produce heat. If the light isn’t on or the sensor is dirty, your furnace will not work properly. Leave this issue to the professionals.

If you want to avoid this problem in the future, it’s a good idea to schedule annual maintenance on your heating system before winter arrives. A trained professional will be able to catch many of these problems before they become full-blown malfunctions.

Your Living Room Is Toasty Warm, But Your Kitchen Is Freezing

Inconsistent heating is highly frustrating and energy inefficient, but the problem may not be a faulty heating system at all. Drafts can easily cause the temperature to plummet. Double check the weather stripping and insulation in vulnerable areas of your home and do a simple “smoke test” to ensure no warm air is escaping. If drafts aren’t the issue, your system may have a dirty coil or air filter or the air handler may be malfunctioning.

Your System Keeps Cycling on and Off

Your system should cycle between three and eight times an hour. If it is cycling more than that and is only producing heat for a short amount of time, your unit may have a problem called “short cycling.” This can lead to spikes in your energy bill as well as chilly spots in your home.

There are two common causes for short cycling:

  • Dirty air filter or blower – Your air filter is responsible for keeping the inside of your heating system clean, and your blower distributes warm air throughout your home. If your air filter or blower is clogged, the warm air won’t make it into your home and your heating system will sense it’s overheating and shut off. Switch your air filters every three months or monthly during high-use periods to keep your system running as smoothly as possible. You will need to hire a professional to maintain the blower.
  • Faulty thermostat – If your thermostat is broken, has an old battery, or is in direct sunlight, your heating system can’t get an accurate reading of your home’s temperature and can’t deliver the appropriate amount of heat. You’ll need to replace the battery or install a new thermostat.

Your Skin Is Dry and You Wake Up with a Scratchy Throat

An arid home interior can dry out your skin and throat, cause nosebleeds and worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. Humidity levels below 30 percent may even damage your home. Wood, for example, needs moisture or else it will crack. That means crown molding, furniture, hardwood floors and instruments are unsafe in an overly dry environment.
One solution to this problem is purchasing a portable humidifier. While these can move wherever you need them, they are expensive and noisy, require constant upkeep and need to be filled with water regularly.

An easier solution is to install a humidifier that integrates directly with your HVAC system. Once the humidifier is installed, it pulls water directly from your plumbing system, ensuring your house is comfortable year-round.

Nothing Seems Wrong

Even if you can’t hear, feel or smell anything wrong with your heating system, there is still the potential for serious and even dangerous problems. Carbon monoxide leaks most often occur with heating units that are 10 to 15 years old. The gas is odorless, tasteless, colorless and fatally toxic, so you’ll have to take precautions to make sure a leak isn’t happening in your home.

The easiest way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector in the vicinity of appliances that are fueled by natural gas. If you suspect a crack in the heat exchanger, the carbon monoxide detector goes off or you start to experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the premises immediately and call emergency services. After the initial crisis is over, have an HVAC professional inspect your entire system.

Fix Your Heating System This Winter With South West Plumbing

Even though Seattle’s winters are mild compared to many places in the country, no one wants to be stuck freezing at home with a malfunctioning heating system. If you do find yourself in that predicament this winter, the certified plumbers and technicians at South West Plumbing can help. We’ve been serving King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties for more than 35 years, and in that time, we’ve seen every heating system problem imaginable.

Our experienced staff can handle any repair or installation, whether you have a gas furnace, boiler, radiant heating system or water heater. Call us at 206-932-1777 to schedule your service today!

Meet Our Staff

Meet our staff of licensed and highly trained plumbers. They are always ready to handle any problem you might have from digging sewer lines, fixing leaky faucets, or repairing water heaters.

Read their bios here.

Dead-of-Winter Plumbing Woes

plumbing problems

It feels like technology seems to fail us when we need it most – in the case of cold winters, heating and plumbing systems tend to bite the dust just when the weather is at its most frigid. Many of these issues can be attributed to the additional stress that the cold weather puts on pipes and water heaters.
Here are three common plumbing issues people experience during the winter and the steps you can take to prevent them from happening to you.

Three Common Winter Plumbing Issues

    • Exposed pipes freezing and bursting – Frozen exposed piping is one of the most common plumbing problems homeowners face. Whether the exposed pipe is outside or within your home, any frigid air that reaches exposed pipes can freeze, warp and crack them easily. You can take care of this nuisance by taking freeze prevention steps before winter arrives. Cover exposed pipes with insulation and turn off outside water completely with shut-off valves. Examine your home for cracks in walls, the foundation or anywhere near exposed pipes. Even the tiniest concentration of freezing air flowing past or on an exposed pipe can cause it to crack, so be diligent when identifying problem spots. Open cabinets and other coverings to allow heated air to move freely in the home, as trapped cold air can also wreak havoc on your pipes.
    • Loss of water heating – There’s nothing worse than your water heater malfunctioning in the dead of winter. Stay on top of things by servicing your system before winter arrives each year. The increased use of hot water during the winter places much more strain on your system. Alleviate the strain by spacing out your showers, especially if you and your family take showers after each other on busy mornings.

Experts believe a good 10 minutes between showers is sufficient time for the water to keep warm and prevent strain on your system. You can also turn up your thermostat a few degrees to ensure you’re entering a warm environment when you step out of the shower, as most people turn shower temperatures up because the air outside the shower is much colder during the winter.

  • Poor heating and heating retention – Regardless of what type of heating system you have, it’s best to have it checked before winter’s arrival and ensure it can handle your heating needs throughout the coldest days and nights of the season. A key aspect to quality heating is whether your home is properly insulated. Insulation can keep chilly air out and prevent warm air from dissipating through walls. Schedule an insulation inspection or installation if you haven’t already had it upgraded. Insulation will reduce the strain on your heating system, saving you money on heating costs while keeping your home’s interior nice and toasty.

Prepare Your Home for Winter with Help from the Professionals at South West Plumbing

South West Plumbing will never leave you out in the cold with exemplary plumbing and heating services and much more for your winter heating needs. Our certified plumbers and technicians have the necessary training to execute all projects with expertise.

South West’s 24/7 emergency services are what our clients depend on in their times of need, whether their plumbing malfunctions in the dead of night or the early hours of the morning. All costs are presented upfront before any work begins, as we work by the job instead of by the hour.

Whether you’re having an issue with your heating or need your plumbing examined or repaired, we guarantee our South West plumbers will get the job done right the first time. Contact us todayat (206) 932-1777!

Sewer Sorrows: Has a Sewer Pipe Burst In My Yard?

sewer pipe

We rely on our water pipes and sewer lines to shuttle clean water into our homes and dirty water out. With so much waste water from our toilets, showers and sinks, it’s no wonder sewer pipes wear out and burst every now and then. When a pipe bursts on your property, though, the signs may not always be obvious. Keep an eye out for these pesky symptoms of a broken pipe to minimize water damage in your home.

The Smell

Perhaps the most immediate and unpleasant sign your sewer pipe has burst is the inevitable odor of dirty water and sewage in your home. This stink often comes directly from your tub or sink drains, but the stench may also grow so strong that it permeates the entire property. If your home suddenly starts to smell like a dirty restroom, you may have a larger problem than you realize.

Flooding and Growth

Broken pipes often occur in your yard where your home’s pipes lead out to the street to meet with the local municipal pipes. When a broken pipe pushes gallons of water into your yard, it won’t take long for your perfectly trimmed grass to look more like a swamp. However, even if you don’t notice the telltale flooding you may expect to result due to a broken pipe, you may still have a problem. If your grass looks especially lush in bizarre patches of your yard, it may be time to check those pipes. Sewage is great fertilizer and a leak may be encouraging extra growth in your lawn.

Pest Problems

Sewer pipes are breeding grounds for many types of pests, including cockroaches and rats. Although most homeowners never see a living pest in their home, the signs of infestation are apparent. Dead cockroaches, palmetto bugs or sewer flies in or around drains or pipes and rat droppings throughout cabinets may be indicators of a broken sewer line. Pest infestations are a severe health risk, especially for children, pregnant women and the elderly, so it’s best to handle them quickly. In situations where an infestation may be a direct result of a broken pipe, get both issues handled as soon as possible to prevent the recurrence of an infestation.

Backups and Mold

It’s easy to ignore a little flooding in your yard, but when you notice water damage in your home, it’s time to get serious about repairing that broken pipe. You may find it’s almost impossible to take a shower or wash your hands when you have a burst pipe due to reduced water pressure and flow or even a complete cessation of water service. Perhaps all your toilets have flooded due to a drainage backup. When a busted pipe halts your daily activities, you’ll need to call in a professional as soon as possible to get your life back to normal.

All that excess flooding in your home could create some serious hazards, including water damage, rot and mold. Call in a plumber for emergency service to keep your loved ones safe and avoid additional damages.

Pipe Repair and Installation Services in Seattle, WA

Even if you notice only one or two of the signs of a broken pipe around your home, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Water damage can be disastrous for your home if left unresolved, so erring on the side of caution and calling in a plumber could save you a lot of money on water damage repairs later on.

If you think there is a leaking or broken sewage pipe in or around your home, give the plumbing pros at South West Plumbing a call. Our highly-trained plumbers offer fast and courteous service at a reasonable, upfront rate that you can approve before committing to our services. Schedule your service online or call 206-932-1777 today!

How to Choose the Right Piping for a Repair or Replacement

copper pipes

Most of the time, homeowners don’t worry about their piping as long as it reliably delivers water to the places they need it most, like the shower, sink and toilet. Some even ignore the first signs of plumbing trouble because the problem doesn’t seem serious enough to warrant an intervention.

What many don’t realize is that even tiny leaks, especially if they occur one after the other, indicate a full piping replacement might be in order. Replacement might also be worthwhile if you are concerned about lead from old pipes contaminating your family’s water or simply wish to update your system with a newer, sturdier material.

The following are surefire signs you need a plumber to come evaluate your pipes:

  • Decreased water pressure
  • Damp walls or floors after water usage
  • Mold growth
  • Noises like dripping, gurgling or knocking
  • Discolored or rusty water
  • Slow draining even after using drain cleaner

You should consult with your plumber to decide which pipes will work best for your situation. Here are some of the differences between the most common types of pipe materials.


There is a good chance your pipes are made of copper, as this has been the standard metal pipe in homes since the 1960s. There are multiple reasons for its popularity, including its durability, resistance to rust and ability to handle both hot and cold water. Copper is durable enough to withstand sunlight, the elements and even high heat like during a house fire. These pipes are safe enough to transport drinking water, as they are lead-free and bacteria-resistant.

Despite the many positives that make copper a go-to choice, there are a few significant drawbacks:

  • The cost – As a valuable metal, copper is relatively expensive at $285 per 100 feet of pipe. Its high valuation also makes copper piping a target for thieves.
  • The installation process – Compared to the lightweight nature of all plastic pipes and the malleable flexibility of PEX pipes, copper pipe installation can be slower and require more demolition.
  • Inability to handle acidic water – If your water supply is particularly acidic, your copper pipes may corrode.

Galvanized Steel

Another viable metal option is galvanized steel. “Galvanized” refers to a process where pipes are coated in zinc in order to prevent corrosion of the pipe. Unfortunately, galvanized steel pipes don’t withstand corrosion forever and may still experience rust buildup and blockages over time.

If you have an older house constructed between 1930 and 1990, it is very possible you have galvanized steel pipes. You should consider replacing them because corrosion can lead to water discoloration or contamination. Galvanized steel may still be appropriate for use when repairing pipes that are already made of the same material.

Nowadays, new galvanized steel pipes have fallen out of popularity in homes and are typically reserved for heavy duty applications, like outdoor and underground plumbing or water line replacement. They are cheaper than copper and can last upwards of 100 years!


Polyethylene, or PEX, pipes are a cutting-edge technology in the plumbing world. Made of flexible plastic, these pipes can easily cut around corners and snake through walls, meaning installation takes less time, demolition and labor. PEX also has many other qualities that make it perfect for indoor plumbing:

Cheap cost – PEX piping is currently over nine times cheaper than copper, costing only $30 per 100 feet.

  • Versatility – PEX pipes pair well with many kinds of pre-existing pipes, making them great for repairs and retrofits.
  • Insulation – PEX pipes don’t lose heat quickly and are fairly resistant to freezing and bursting.
  • Color coding – Unlike metal pipes, PEX pipes can be color coded, indicating the temperature of the water that flows through them.

Because these pipes have only recently become popular in the US, we don’t yet know how they will hold up over decades of use or if there are any ill effects of consuming water from aging PEX piping. However, they have met rigorous safety guidelines and are increasingly a plumbing industry favorite.


Another type of popular and cost-effective plastic piping is PVC pipe. Besides its multitude of DIY uses, PVC pipes are extremely popular for use in homes, pools and irrigation systems. Because they’re plastic, they do not corrode and don’t require soldering or drawn-out installations. They also handle high water pressure well.

The largest drawback of PVC pipes is that, unlike PEX, they are not particularly temperature resistant. High temperatures will cause the pipe to warp, meaning there could be severe pipe damage over time. Thus, they are generally used for drain lines, vent stacks and water supply lines.

An alternative form called CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) piping is sometimes used instead, as it can handle all water temperatures while ensuring the water remains safe for consumption.

Repair or Replace Your Pipes with South West Plumbing

No matter which kind of pipes you have in your home, South West Plumbing can assist you with any and all repairs or replacements. We have been in the business for more than 35 years and we are the largest plumbing company in the local King, Snohomish and Pierce County area. There’s a good reason more than 15,000 of your local neighbors have trusted us with their home’s pipes this past year alone. Our plumbers are state certified and available 24/7, providing high quality service no matter when you need it. Give us a call at 206-932-1777 today to schedule your service appointment.