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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.