Thursday, November 1, 2012
Furnace repair: how to do it yourself and ruin a perfectly good Sunday with the help of Google, Facebook and Words with Friends
I love how connected we all are. I couldn't live without my Android phone. I even have a website dedicated to all of the cool things you can do with a Smartphone. From productivity to games, from reading books to watching...um...other stuff. I don't miss calls or emails or text messages, and I can even see what far-away loved ones are up to via Facebook or video chat on my laptop, tablet, desktop, Android or iPhone.
Because of the amazing Smartphone and Internet technology, arguments (except when you're talking politics or sports), are almost non-existent, thanks to the ability to Google or look up anything under dispute, any time, any place.
A couple of Sundays ago it started getting a bit chillier in the metro Detroit area. So chilly in fact, that I fired up the furnace. Or at least tried to.
I flicked the heat switch on the thermostat and set it to Auto. Then I cranked it up a bit to get the ignitor to trigger and light the burners (ooo, almost sounds like I know what I'm talking about). Initially, it sounded just like it did last year when the furnace kicked on. Except this time the burners only stayed lit for about five seconds, and then shut off.
What the hell? I don't want to call the heating and air conditioning people who are going to charge me an arm and a leg to come out and probably fix it in a minute. And how do I know if whatever they tell me is wrong is even really the problem, or if they are just feeding me some bull-pucky to milk more cash from me. Sometimes it can be expensive to be this stupid.
So, I decided to go on Google and search for a solution to my problem and do it myself (DIM). That way, if it was a simple fix I could run to Lowes (lowes.com) or Sears (sears.com) or Aco (acohardware.com), or is it Ace hardware.com (I always get those two confused) and get whatever I needed. Enter: "lennonx furnace lights and shuts off in five seconds." Voila! Hundreds of people have had this same problem. So I started clicking on the links to the forums where people were describing their problems and even showing Youtube videos of exactly the same problem that I was having.
Then the good news. According to EVERYBODY, It's really easy to resolve and it won't cost me anything (except the time to do it). Yay!
Boo! Nothing is EVER as easy as it seems. EVERY half-hour job takes me somewhere between three hours and eternity. But, what the hell. Maybe I can do this.
Tackle the challenge
After reading entries in multiple forums from people who were having the exact same problem as I, it seemed almost certain that the problem was that my flame sensor needed to be cleaned. All I needed to do was take some sand paper or steel wool, clean off the thick wire-like sensor, put it back in place and everything should work just fine.
Next search: "how do I remove flame sensor from lennox value series furnace?" This search returned lots of results including video showing me just how easy it is to change it. Unscrew one little screw on the front plate that holds the burners in place, slide out the sensor, clean it, put it back, screw in one screw, turn on furnace, enjoy the warmth.
After removing the front cover panel and looking inside, I easily determined where the flame sensor was. However, my furnace didn't afford the opportunity to JUST REMOVE ONE FREAKING SCREW. No, no! In order for me to get to the damned thing it looked like I had to remove brackets and probably even the burners themselves just to get access to the sensor, which is probably the one part that needs to be accessed the most, since so many people seem to have had the exact same problem that I was having.
So, back to the computer. More Googling. Finally, I found a video made by a guy showing me how to remove a flame sensor from a furnace that doesn't have a convenient screw (insert convenient screw joke here). Yup! Remove the outer bracket, remove the bracket behind that, and them remove the goddam burners. Then simply (yeah right) clean off the now exposed sensor, put it all back together and...enjoy the warmth.
Not gonna do it
As I knelt uncomfortably on the tile floor staring into the furnace and contemplating getting my socket wrench to start taking things apart, a sudden burst of common sense hit me in the face. Hell no! I'm not doing that. Me? Taking apart a contraption that fills up with gas and ignites creating a flame which remains burning until I'm toasty? I don't think that's such a good idea. I know me...and my abilities as a handyman.
So, I was mildly proud of myself for determining exactly what the problem was, but decided that actually taking apart my furnace wasn't real bright.
I commenced to put the cover back on the furnace and informed my wife that, although I felt quite manly for figuring out the problem, I couldn't get this "simple" task done because when given an opportunity to not blow up my house and family, I usually take it.
Enter: Internet again.
My wife, while on Facebook, mentioned that I had successfully diagnosed the dirty flame sensor problem with my furnace, but that I was such a loser that I was incapable of actually fixing it. Okay, she didn't put it that way, but that's how I interpreted it. She asked if any of her friends knew of anyone who could help (and not require getting a co-signer).
Shortly after my wife posted that message on Facebook (of which I was not aware), I received a text message from friend with whom I was playing a game of Words With Friends. It simply said: "Kevin will be calling you shortly." At first I thought that she was just demonstrating her psychic abilities. Then, two minutes later, the phone rang and WTF, it was a guy named Kevin. He explained that Denise had given him my number after she saw my wife's posting on Facebook and was wondering if he could help.
After I explained the problem and told him what I believed was the remedy, he confirmed my diagnosis. Yay, again! Then he told me to "simply remove the dirty flame sensor and clean it off with some sandpaper or steel wool, put it back in and enjoy the warmth." No, no, no, no, no! I knew that. The problem was that I couldn't get at the part I needed to clean.
As I was trying to explain how it was all configured (after I disassembled the front of the furnace a third time), he said, "I wish I could see it." When I suggested that I take a picture with my Android phone and forward it to his phone, he said, "my phone has a red button and a green button." Okay, chalk that idea. He did, however have an email address, so I sent a couple of pictures there.
He took a look, called me back and suggested that I remove the two hex nuts on the top bracket above the burners. I did that, and (not very easily) was able to cram my hand back behind the burner where the flame sensor was located and basically clean it with little tiny movements (not much room) with a toothbrush and a piece of steel wool.
I "cleaned" it as best I could and decided to just put everything back together and see what happens. If it doesn't work, then that wasn't the problem and I'd have to have a heating and cooling guy come out.
I went upstairs, clicked it on, cranked up the thermostat, and it has been working just fine ever since.
Thank you Google. Thank you Facebook. Thank you Hotmail. And thank you Words With Friends (Note: I kicked Denise's ass in the game).
As it turned out, I was originally planning to watch the Detroit Lions football game, and they lost anyway. Apparently, there is more than one way to waste a perfectly good Sunday.
Afterthought: In case you found this page when you were really looking for furnaces
If you are looking to purchase a gas furnace, there are some great options online. Believe it or not Amazon.com has a number of furnaces (Ducane, Rheem, you can purchase and have shipped, and lowes.com now carries a few furnaces (and lots of wood burners) that you can purchase and pick up or have delivered from your local Lowes location. Sears.com has a full line of Kenmore brand furnaces.