Sunday, January 03, 2010

I ran out of oil. How do I start my furnace? I have asked the same. This is what I know about it.


Sigh. "I ran out of oil." I've said that too many times. I am a dumbass. You're smiling. Good. It's frustrating as hell to not be able to start your furnace, especially when it's 20 degrees out and windy!
Disclaimer: WARNING! I AM NOT AN HVAC TECHNICIAN. I AM NOT LICENSED IN ANYTHING DEALING WITH YOUR PROBLEM. IF YOU DO SOMETHING WRONG, IT COULD RESULT IN YOUR HOUSE BURNING, INJURY OR EVEN DEATH! MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING, IF NOT GET A PROFESSIONAL! I AM A DO IT YOURSELFER, THAT IS ALL.
Now that we've got that out of the way:
Ok. When you run out of oil, the last few ounces travel through that tube that comes out of your oil tank under the concrete and up to your furnace. Kinda like when you drink a soda from McD's, you're sucking air. The furnace recognizes this, that there's no flame and shuts down. The magic red light comes on on the restart button on your furnace. So you put on your Superman cape and push the button. You hear the air rushing in for a few seconds and then the thingy that pumps the oil into the burner. If you don't hear the "whooooom" sound of "fire" it will run for a few seconds and shut off. Now, I've heard that you shouldn't push this button more than a couple few times as some fumes can build up and...... well. Not good. I'm guilty of pushing the button too much. I'm lucky I'm alive, I guess ;) So, now, you put 2 and 2 together and get 5 and you walk over to the oil tank and it says , O as in zero. You say a bad word and think, "I thought we could go two more weeks!!!" Now you have to explain to your wife how stupid you were, but you change the story so you're not at fault. Could be your furnace is full of soot, but more on that later...
   Ok, so now you call the oil man. "We ran out of oil and I need a delivery." "Do you need a startup?" A "startup" means that he will come downstairs and (for a fee of 35 bucks) bleed your line. "Bleeding the line", what the heck does that mean?? When you sucked all of the soda out of your cup, you just go refill it and then suck on it and voilla! you have soda in your mouth. It doesn't work like this in your oil burning system, unfortunately. What happens is your oil pump that is on your furnace (the thing that goes when you push the magic red button) starts sucking from the line from your tank. The only thing is, air is expandable. Much more so than liquid. So it "stretches" the air until the burner says, "I see no oil, I'm shuttin' down." and then the air "springs back" and you never get anywhere. That's my theory, not a fact that I know of:)  So what you gotta do is get a flat head screwdriver and unscrew this little black (on mine it's black) "bleeder valve". Oh yeah, get a pan to put under it as oil will eventually drip out. Probably a good idea to wear some rubber gloves unless you don't mind getting oil on your hands. Anyhoo, when you unscrew this thing, you will see some little oil bubbles. Wait until you get a "drip drip drip" and tighten it back up and try the magic red button. This may not work on the first try. Open it again and you might see some more bubbles and then the drip. Try again. If it starts, thank God. If it doesn't, you could try again. Like I said before, be careful. If you're impatient, you could loosen the brass colored hex head thingy on the pump and that seems to allow quicker expulsion of air in the line. Don't forget to tighten it later:) Now, that tube, or "line" is kinda long and is full of air, so you have to get it all out.
    If you don't get any bubbles or drip, you may have a blockage in your system that is not allowing oil to get to the burner. In the bottom of your oil tank is sludge. Sludge is produced, I believe, from moisture and fuel and impurties. It's like black mud. When you have a lot of oil, sludge is not that big of a problem. The oil and very tiny bits of sludge normally flow through the hole in the bottom of your tank. The filter coming out of your tank takes out most of this gunk. Now, when you only have a gallon of oil or so left, the sludge sees this as an opportunity to ooooze into that hole. Most of the time, this is NOT the problem (judging from the several times I have run out:) ). One time it was. I was not getting any oil at the burner, even after bleeding it. I changed the oil filter next to the tank. No good. I turned the valve off under the tank. By the way, these valves are opposite what you think. It's not like the water spigot on your house which you turn counterclockwise to open, you turn clockwise to open. It's weird! To make it easy, when you feel the "screw" coming through the "twisty thing" it's opening up. When the "twisty thing" falls off, it's closed. But don't screw it that far! When its loose in your fingers, it's closed, in other words. DO NOT USE A WRENCH on this thing. I did and ruined it! Fingers only!!
   So, as I said, I wasn't getting any oil flow from the tank. I closed the tank "petcock aka twisty thing" and removed the filter housing. With a pan underneath, I opened the petcock. It should have flowed like a cow taking a piss, but it lightly dripped. Not good!! If you haven't screwed up your petcock by using a wrench on it, you could open it up and stick some flexible thing in there to try and loosen up the sludge. Not a wire hanger, something flexible, like maybe an old cord from a vacuum cleaner (you'll have to cut the end off, dummy!). I've never done that, mind you, but I'm guessing it might work.  If you remember, I screwed up the petcock and had to buy another one at the plumbing supply store. They don't have these at hardware stores or Lowes or Home Depot, so don't waste your time going there! Now, if you do have to unscrew this petcock thing, if you have 275 gallons in your tank, keep in mind that you could end up with 275 gallons on your floor!!!!!!!!! Nightmare! I did it when I only had a few gallons in the tank. When I did unscrew it, it was only dripping. I stuck a wooden spoon in the hole and HELLO! here comes the oil flying out! I quickly screw the new petcock thing into the hole. Be patient if you do this. If you crossthread it, your f***ed! I wouldn't change this unless you are daring. Call the professional. I got the sucker to fire up after that however. I was very proud of my bad self.
    If you run out of oil and ain't got no money to buy the 150 gallons until payday, they tell me you can use diesel fuel, which is pretty much the same thing as heating oil. They actually put a red dye into heating oil to prevent truckers from using it. Apparently, the tax on diesel is higher. If a cop sees a red dye in the trucker's "diesel", it's a fine. That's what I understand. Again I am not an expert. If you do put diesel in your fill pipe, keep in mind that you need enough so that the liquid level is higher than the "bleeder" at the burner. It's a gravity feed and if the level of fuel is lower than where you are bleeding it, it won't flow. I had to put like 12 gallons or so before the level of fuel was high enough to allow me to bleed the air out. Strange but true.
   The thing that happened to me this morning is that I had the guy come out to start my furnace cause I couldn't do it, even with all my tricks. He came out on New Years day. He took the pump cover off and assorted other maintenance things. He got it going, but he said he didn't "like the flame". It was burning too rich. He used the nozzel they specified in the manual, but he said it was running too "rich". "Rich" means too much fuel in proportion to the air. "Lean" means too little fuel in proportion to the air. He told me, you need to get someone out here to clean out your furnace. There's a lot of soot in there. I was like, "Ok." I was thinking, "yeah, right give me some money to pay for it".  So, I was happy that it was running. Two days later, this morning, my wife says she smelled something. I go downstairs and I could smell nasty smoke. I open the little "window", the thing on the furnace with a wingnut on a metal flap that rotates, and some flames are shooting out with some black smoke!! I shut off the emergency shutoff switch (that red switch at the top of the basement stairs) and cough a bit and call him up to explain what happened. He said he'll be out at noon.
   I think about it and I'm thinking, "It's the old potato in the tailpipe trick!" In old movies, they would put a potato in the tailpipe of  a car if they wanted their enemy's car to stall. You see, if the exhaust fumes can't get out, they choke up the whole system! The fact that smoke was SHOOTING out of there, there was a lot of pressure that wasn't being released through the chimney. So I did my best Dick Van Dyke impersonation in Mary Poppins and popped off the front cover of my Pensotti boiler and took off the burner black plate, burner and all (WAIT UNTIL IT'S COOL!! DUH!) and saw a bunch of soot that was clogging up the works! I was surprised. Soot accumulates more than you think. I brushed off as much soot as I could, buttoned it all up and started the furnace. SUCCESS! To a certain degree. It wasn't puking out smoke anymore, it was only a little bit. Still the smoke should be invisible, not black. I called him with my Buckwheat hands and told him, "I got it running and it's not smoking anymore. I cleaned out the soot." He said he was on my street already and just wanted to see how it was running. He still didn't like how rich it was burning. He changed the nozzle from a .75 to a.65 but that didn't work, so he put the .75 back in. Oh yeah, if your thing ain't burning well, you should change the nozzle. Nozzles make a nice "spray" that makes it easier to ignite. If your nozzle is clogged, it may not spray nicely or not at all. You can't clean these things, I hear. Don't use a needle, you'll just screw it up. Just take the one you have and bring it to the store and show them. They are under ten bucks, I think. Anyway, he didn't charge me anything and monkeyed around with the air settings and got it running perfect. Nice guy.
   So, I've covered all my experiences with this stuff. I don't know anything but what I've learned. I wrote this because I was like you, looking for help online and someone else wrote info like I'm doing. If you're stuck and need a shoulder to cry on, I might be able to help. Email me at   musicmensch68@gmail.com  If this helped you, I would love to hear about it so I don't think that I wasted my time. If  you're like me, you won't email me. That's ok. I'm glad I helped you. I've been there,done that. Good luck, we're all counting on you.
TJBJB

9 comments:

fb said...

Great post, but a question that's been bugging me for years. If the inlet pipe from the tank is at the bottom, and the sludge is at the bottom with the clean fuel floating above it, why does the clean fuel get consumed first and not the sludge?. Since it's on the bottom I'd expect the sludge to get drawn in first.

In other words why is sludge so polite to wait out of the way, letting the clean fuel flow past it until you're out of fuel and only sludge is left.

It's a total mystery to me and makes no sense, unless sludge floats.

I'd gladly buy a beer for whoever can solve this mystery for me.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't suck the slUdge because the pipes dont go all the way down they stop 4 inches before the end....

Anonymous said...

It doesn't suck the slUdge because the pipes dont go all the way down they stop 4 inches before the end....

Tenwhy said...

thank you very much i was stuck until i decided to read your post. i didn't know that the oil value had to be turned clockwise to release the oil. I was trying to bleed the air from my oil pump because i ran out of oil and then i got a hard lockout with means that i had to hold the reset button in until it started blinking. I had to hold it in for about a min. I guess i was afraid to hold the button that long. Again thanks now i have heat and hot water again.

Anonymous said...

Having just lost my job and the wife hers as well, it was looking a bit grim this Christmas,. So when the tank ran dry rather than pay out for a full tank we got some diesel, and used your advice to bleed the thing, cash flow! buying as we use it, and we can have a bit of a Christmas after all. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

TJBJB here. I can't get into my account, but I'll answer your question asbestos I can ;). You wrote, "In other words why is sludge so polite to wait out of the way, letting the clean fuel flow past it until you're out of fuel and only sludge is left.". I think it's kinda like if you put a layer of flour in your sink and then put a few inches of water on top, the flour would end up settling at the bottom. If then you opened the drain, you would see the water going down the drain, as it flows WAY better than the "sludge" you just made.

Anonymous said...

You're very welcome, Tenwhy!
-TJBJB

Anon, yes I lost my job too :( I'm glad I could help.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say thank you very much. You blog helped me immensely, as things are tough and we ran out ourselves. I did what you recommended prior on my last filter change and bleeder nut debacle, my only worry was clogging the sprayer nozzle. I have intial smoke that smelled gross (to assume bonafide co2 poisoning right there) and so far, everything looks and smells ok (at the moment). Thanks again for all your help.

* KittaKat *

(Yes I am a girl, and yes I did work on my furnace - by myself - lol ;p )

Anonymous said...

A chick that works on your furnace.. Nice!! My wife works on stuff like that too.. whenever I need help with a project, she is always there to help me out, and in a big way, not "ohh I might break a nail" way either..hahahaa.. my wife just ripped the entire dashboard out in her Nissan Murano to change 2 tiny bulbs that went out.. and then put everything back together, all in about 2 hours. I was standing there scratching my head because i would have definately broke something, and put it back together wrong also.. anyway what I am trying to say is.."you go girl !!!" Hopefully your man appreciates your skillz, i know i appreciate my wife's.. maybe that is why we have been together for almost 20 years.. best friends first.. that is the secret to staying together and appreciating every day with your significant other...