Monday, December 8, 2008

Furnace Update

The furnace is fixed. Apparently. I hope.

No heat all day Saturday. That afternoon I made a batch of sugar cookies, but 350 degrees in a modern oven doesn't do much to warm up the kitchen, let alone the house. The house temperature went down to 44 and stayed there.

Oh, well, the cookies rolled and cut out beautifully on the marble board. No trouble with sticky dough at all.

In the meantime, I turned off the pilot light and the gas to it. No point in running it if it wasn't going to do any good.

Just as an experiment, though, I turned the ignition back on around 7:30. Went upstairs to make some phone calls, came back down twenty minutes later, and hey, presto! the furnace was on! And proceeded to run the thermostat up two degrees above its setting.

No complaints about that. Went to bed, woke up yesterday morning, and the furnace was off. Again. 50 degrees and dropping. 49 degrees by the time I left for church.

It was a very good day to have things scheduled outside the house until nearly 7:00 PM. I returned to find the inside temperature stabilized at 43 degrees (21 outside). Made another batch of cookies. And lots of hot tea. The coldest part was unloading the dishwasher. Those stoneware plates and bowls were freezing!

A bit before 11:00 PM, I tried the ignition again. Just for fun. And what do you know? the heat kicked on! I goosed up the thermostat to a temperature I figured would require the furnace to stay on all night and not cycle off, and apparently it worked. I still had heat this morning.

But that didn't solve the problem of why the system wasn't working properly in the first place.

Around 8:00 this morning, I got a call from the heating and cooling people. A third person, different from either I'd spoken to before, was on the line. "Your heat is off?" he asked.

"Wait a minute," I temporized. (I admit it-- I was still wrapped in my warm covers, putting off getting up and out into the cold.)

I went downstairs to check the thermostat (the register in the bedroom never gives much heat; no point checking that). 59 degrees. "Let's say I have intermittent heat." And I described what had been going on.

"Could it be your air filter?"

What? I went through this with their other guy on Friday!

"No, I just replaced it less than a month ago."

"It still could be dirty."

"I checked it on Friday. It's gray, but not filthy."

"Do you have a programmable thermostat? Maybe it's just the program cycling off."

"No, I don't have it set that low!"

"Well, maybe it's the factory settings."

I about lost it. "Nooooo!!! At 43 degrees?!" Good grief, man, don't patronize me! And don't you guys communicate? I went through all this with your colleague the day before yesterday!

"Well . . . "

"Do you have the serial number?" I asked.

Of course he didn't. He didn't have anything. But he said, "I'll be out within the hour."

More like an hour and a half. The serviceman was younger than I'd visualized. Funny, but his questions had made me imagine a middle-aged, burly, "I've-got-all-the-answers-and-the-homeowner-knows-nothing" type. I apologized for having lost my patience with him (if other people are acting like idiots, no point in being an idiot yourself) and showed him downstairs.

Having turned off the furnace, he turned on the now-futile ignition. "This unit doesn't have a pilot light," he said.

"But I saw---"

"It's not on all the time. It's got an electric ignition. Did you hear this clicking when it wasn't turning on?"

I listened. "Yes, but I thought it was the metalwork rattling or something" (guess this homeowner doesn't know everything!) "You mean it's like the burners on my gas stove?"

Yes, indeed. Having fished my calico cat out of the bowels of the furnace, I took myself and her upstairs and left him to it. And after a few minutes of poking and prodding, after him having me jack the thermostat up to see what that did, after some turning off and on of switches, the serviceman called me back down the basement.

"It was your ignition sensor. Your pilot light was coming on, but the sensor couldn't tell, so it wasn't turning the gas on. I've cleaned it, and I've shut the furnace off and on twice to make sure. Here, I'll do it again." He hit the switch (which is, as I'd recalled, at the breaker box) off, then on. The furnace shut off, then powered back up. "I think that was it."

And apparently it was. He took the home warranty call fee and went on his way.

And God willing, that will do it. Though I can see that getting somebody out to clean the whole shebang wouldn't do any harm. But not this firm, most likely. I'd like somebody who's a little better at internal communication.


Sandy said...

If only I had known you had no pilot light! I could have asked pertinent questions and suggested that it might be the flame sensor.

I have to have my flame sensor cleaned at least once a year or it will just keep trying to come on with no success. Of course, my house is 900 sq. ft. all on one floor, so the litter box (in the bathroom behind the utility room) and the washer and dryer in the utility room kind of keep that little, expensive sensor coated with stuff that has to be cleaned off regularly. And it can only be cleaned so many times before it has to be replaced. Sigh.

Richard Quicke said...

The advisable time to change air filters is every three months, and that is for highly-efficient ones. Also, it would depend on the usage. So, if you tend to use it too often, it would be suitable to check if it’s already dark, clogged or dirty and in need of replacement sooner.

Richard Quicke @ Sauer HVAC