I do not remember where I first heard the saying, “The School of Life” but I find that it is very true. You see, the school of life charges tuition. Whether that tuition is in the form of money or time, each mistake we make or uninformed decision has the potential to enroll us in the School of Life. The best way to avoid hefty tuition charges, is to learn from other people’s mistakes and life lessons. In the School of Life series, I will be sharing some of my mistakes so that you may learn from them.
[blockquote]Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.[/blockquote]
Around the middle of October I decided that it would be a good idea to have our furnace tuned up. We have a forced air gas furnace that was installed circa 2001. While it did provide hot air when I turned it on, a tune-up coupon and the thought of three years of vacant house prompted me to call in a local HVAC company. On the scheduled day, the technician came out and gave the unit a once over. She made several repair suggestions such as removing the broken attached humidifier, replacing the flue exhaust pipes, and replacing a leaky drainage condensate hose. All of these repairs were in the range of my DIY capabilities so I declined the $95/hr + materials work and over the next couple of days made the repairs in my free time. I learned a bit about furnaces (tip for readers, always ask lots of questions when a tradesman visits your house) and our furnace was given a clean bill of health. In short, all was well.
Fast forward a month and Shae mentions to me that the house feels colder than usual (our programmable thermostat varies the temperature between 60-64° depending on the time of day). I look at the thermostat and it reads 57° in the middle of the day on a Saturday. Something is wrong.
I headed down into the basement to take a look at the furnace. My four years of college education basically boils down to how to take a big problem and break it up into a bunch of little problems. The big problem was that the furnace wasn’t making hot air. Commence troubleshooting.
- Has the electrical breaker tripped? No. ✓
- Is the electrical switch on the side of the furnace in the ‘On’ position? Yes. ✓
- Is the thermostat set to “Heat”? Yes. ✓
- Is the gas valve in the “On” position? Yes. ✓
- Does the furnace blower start? Yes. ✓
- Does gas start to flow to the furnace? Yes. ✓
- Does the auto igniter light the gas? No. ✗
With very little knowledge of how a furnace actually works. I was able to deduce that the part responsible for lighting the gas on fire was not functioning properly. Some gas furnaces use a pilot light, a flame that continuously burns 24/7 and needs to be manually lit at the start of each heating season. Our furnace and most furnaces manufactured in the last decade have done away from pilot lights because they are not as energy efficient as lighting the gas on demand.
What I didn’t know, was where the igniter was located in the furnace cabinet, what the replacement part was, or where I could purchase said replacement part. It was a Saturday with about 2 hours of daylight left before the temperatures would start falling very quickly. Time to call the HVAC company and pay some tuition at the school of life.
$230 and 5 minutes of technician time later and our furnace was once again a roaring inferno.
Here is what I learned.
- An ignitor can be changed in less than 5 minutes with only a screw driver and a socket wrench (to take off the burner box door).
- The ignitor is located in the burner box (it usually has 1 or 2 little windows that you can see the burners firing)
- The flame sensor is also located in the burner box and can be cleaned and reinstalled at the same time.
- None of the big box home improvement stores (Lowes, Home Depot, or Menards) carry ignitors in stock, at least in our area.
- Ignitors have a lifespan of 3-5 years, meaning that you’ll likely go through multiple during the lifespan of your furnace.
- The $113 replacement part on the invoice is a markup of nearly 400%.
- PexSupply.com carries a variety of ignitors at reasonable prices.
I have already ordered and received a igniter replacement part for the next time that the furnace stops working. With Murphy’s Law, that will most likely happen during a -20° ice storm right after a sharknado strikes town.
I hope my little story helps save someone else some tuition expense. What is a recent goof that you made that others could learn from?