A furnace pressure switch is a safety device located near the draft inducer motor of a gas forced-air furnace. It is a round-shaped switch that is fairly easy to identify once you have removed your furnace's front cover.
The switch is there to prevent the furnace from running unless the correct venting air pressure is present. It is designed to sense the negative pressure created by the draft inducer motor during the furnace startup and to shut down the furnace ignition if the air pressure isn't sufficient for removing the exhaust fumes.
The pressure switch on a furnace may fail or get stuck in an open position, and there are few simple checks you can complete before testing the switch for electrical failure. Testing the switch itself requires a multimeter.
How the Draft Inducer and Pressure Switch Work
The draft inducer is a blower that creates a flow of combustion air through the furnace's heat exchanger(s) to make sure all combustion exhaust fumes are vented outside the home via the flue vent. During combustion, the combustion blower creates air pressure that is less than atmospheric (negative pressure) between the inlet side of the combustion blower and the inside of the burner box of the furnace.
If the furnace is operating correctly, the pressure switch senses the proper degree of negative pressure and remains open (off). But if the vent pipe gets blocked or if certain parts in the system fail, then the pressure switch recognizes that there is no longer the proper negative pressure, and it turns on (closes the circuit) to stop the operation of the furnace. Without the pressure switch, there is the potential for exhaust gases to fill the living space if the furnace malfunctions.
A pressure switch that fails to turn on could be caused by a number of problems, including:
- Failure of the draft inducer motor
- Restricted intake air vent
- Restricted combustion air vent
- Leaks around assemblies
- Clogged condensate drainage
- Electrical failure of the pressure switch
Types of Pressure Switches
The furnace pressure switch can use a different design depending on the type of furnace:
- In a single-stage conventional furnace, there is one pressure switch and it has one hose leading to the body of the draft inducer fan.
- A single-stage condensing furnace has one pressure switch with two hoses on the switch, one for sensing the pressure at the draft inducer/burner enclosure and the other for sensing proper venting pressure at the condensate collector box.
- Two-stage furnaces may have two pressure switches, and modulating furnaces may have three pressure switches.
Equipment / Tools
- Pressure switch hose (if needed)
Turn off the Power
Turn off the power to the furnace by switching off the disconnect switch located near the furnace. It often has a red faceplate. If there is no disconnect switch, turn off the furnace's breaker in the home's service panel (breaker box).
Inspect the Pressure Switch Hose
Remove the main access panel on the front of the furnace. Inspect the hose(s) connected to the pressure switch to make sure it is connected at both ends and is in good condition. If the hose is cracked, replace it.
Check for Obstructions in the Hose
Remove the pressure switch hose(s) after carefully noting where it is connected (if there is more than one hose, remove and reinstall them one at a time). Make sure the hose is not obstructed inside. Do not blow into a hose that is connected, as this can damage the pressure switch.
Check the Hose Port
Use a flashlight to inspect inside the hose port on the pressure switch and make sure there are no obstructions. Remove debris with a small screwdriver or similar tool, being careful not to poke into the switch body. Do not blow into the inlet to remove the obstruction. Reinstall the hose(s).
Inspect the Furnace Cover
Inspect the ventilation slots on the furnace cover to make sure they are clear of debris. Clean the vents, if necessary.
Look for Vent Blockage
If the furnace is a condensing type, check the vent pipe for blockage. The vent pipe is a PVC (plastic) pipe typically extending out of the side wall or through the roof of the house.
Test the Switch for Resistance
Disconnect the wires connected to the pressure switch by pulling the wire connectors off of the switch terminals. Set a multimeter to test for resistance (ohms). Touch each tester probe to one of the switch terminals. The tester should read 0 or close to 0 (indicating no resistance). If the reading is higher, the switch has failed and must be replaced by a qualified technician.
Test the Furnace Operation
Reconnect the wires to the pressure switch. Reinstall the furnace access panel, and restore power to the furnace. Test the furnace operation. If the furnace still won't operate, the fault may lie elsewhere and it would be best to get a certified technician to inspect the system.