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What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Mike Johnson
Date: December 20, 2017 01:26PM
Alright, first the disclaimer: I do get my heater checked serviced regularly by the gas company. Last time was fall of 2016 (and while he was here, he also installed a new meter). Right now, the heater is off, the gas is shut off, we’re not using it. I scheduled an appointment for Dec 7 but that was while we were under mandatory evacuation from the Thomas Fire and I had to reschedule, and the new appointment is still several weeks from now. We lost 500+ homes and two apartment buildings in town so the gas company people around here are busy with more pressing issues like reconnecting the homes that weren’t burned to the ground.

It’s an old heater, original to the house, built in 1957. It’s been great -- the only real drawback is no HVAC contractor will repair or inspect it. The Gas Company will inspect it for free and service it for a small charge and they always tell me it’s working fine and they compliment me for keeping it going.

Okay, so it has two burners. There’s white shmutz on the right hand burner bar, and only on the front half of the burner, which it also where the pilot is. The stuff looks minerally, crystally:


Looking up into the plenum, eek:

You can see why we’re not using it right now.

I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence that those deposits are above the pilot. The flame sensor looks like it has hard water deposits on it -- I don’t recall it looking like that last year. And see the white spray of stuff on the burner bar from the pilot? Could it be this stuff built up over the past year because of dirty gas feeding the pilot? I had water heater problems over the summer and the plumber said it could have been caused by dirty gas, whatever that means. My neighbors say they haven’t had any issues.

Because of asbestos, a new heater will probably cost close to $10,0000. I’d rather not do that if I don’t have to, at least not without really researching all my options. I don’t feel like I can trust hvac salesmen, though. At the same time, I’m wondering if the gas company is to blame for problems with both my heater and water water heater, and I’d hate to spend thousands on some fancy new heater if dirty gas means it will have as much trouble as my water heater.

While I wait several weeks to have a pro look at it, does anybody have an idea what’s going on here?
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Kraniac
Date: December 20, 2017 01:56PM
That can come from 'incomplete' combustion..could be dirty gas..the white powdery stuff could be regular old household chemicals in the air..being burned and then falling to the surface..seriously..sounds crazy, right? IT's true

What's the humidity like in your basement?

Is your Furnace near the laundry room?

Are you wearing underwear?
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Mike Johnson
Date: December 20, 2017 02:11PM
Quote
Kraniac
What's the humidity like in your basement?

Is your Furnace near the laundry room?

Are you wearing underwear?

It’s not in the basement, it’s in a hall closet. I do use a humidifier in the house, got it Dec 2016. I use it when the humidity drops below about 15%. It’s not a big humidifer, but it’s not too far from the heater; in a bathroom off a bedroom off the hallway. I used the humidifier off and on last winter, on those cold dry days, usually days the heater would be going, then put it away in March maybe. That’s an intriguing possibility, though it’s a massive amount of bloom from just three months of off and on use. If that’s the cause, I’ll probably want a new heater with a whole house humidifier. I really like my humidifier.

Yes, I am wearing underwear. I’m wearing long underwear this morning. Chilly.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: STL
Date: December 20, 2017 02:24PM
1957 ? It's 60yo.
Dump the old unit and buy a new one.
With the huge improvement in efficiency between a 2017 unit and the 1957 unit you will have lower utility bills and more comfort. Plus the lower bills will likely pay for the new unit.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: billb
Date: December 20, 2017 02:38PM
looks like salts from water evaporation

high humidity, new construction, rain water coming down the vent.



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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Filliam H. Muffman
Date: December 20, 2017 02:40PM
Quote
Mike Johnson
...I do use a humidifier in the house, got it Dec 2016. I use it when the humidity drops below about 15%...

Bingo. I looked at it again and wondered if you had a humidifier nearby. I think space-time(?) had a similar issue with a humidifier.



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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Mike Johnson
Date: December 20, 2017 02:53PM
Quote
STL
1957 ? It's 60yo.
Dump the old unit and buy a new one.
With the huge improvement in efficiency between a 2017 unit and the 1957 unit you will have lower utility bills and more comfort. Plus the lower bills will likely pay for the new unit.

Lol, that's what the last HVAC salesman said. I spend maybe $150/year on heating. How long to come out ahead of it costs me $8000 for a more efficient heater?
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Mike Johnson
Date: December 20, 2017 03:08PM
You guys are awesome. Thank you!!!
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: numbered
Date: December 20, 2017 04:49PM
btw, if you consider a new furnace you will almost certainly have to replace the duct work in Cali. Ducts were not insulated in 1957 (or even 1967). Not sure whether the estimate you have included that....

It is hard to justify a new furnace in SoCal.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: modelamac
Date: December 20, 2017 06:17PM
First of all the white ash that you see is a natural product of a gas pilot light. It is a combination of the impurities in the natural gas and airborne dust. I saw it on every gas stove I worked on in my 23 years of appliance repair. I have never heard of "dirty natural gas". That sound suspiciously like an excuse. There would have to be other evidence/symptoms of "dirty gas" before I personally would believe it. Between the expanding and contracting of the metal (heating and cooling) plus the rust from moisture in the air, the steel/iron will erode over time. Seventy years will account for a lot.

If the unit worked last year or the year before, it should work now, barring any outside interference such as an incompetent or careless service tech. Let the Inspection reveal any problems with the flame sensor. DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN IT. Let the tech do that.

Unless you know there is a problem, do not look for one that is not there. Do not let your imagination create worry. Caution is great. Speculation is not.

Quote
Mike Johnson
Alright, first the disclaimer: I do get my heater checked serviced regularly by the gas company. Last time was fall of 2016 (and while he was here, he also installed a new meter). Right now, the heater is off, the gas is shut off, we’re not using it. I scheduled an appointment for Dec 7 but that was while we were under mandatory evacuation from the Thomas Fire and I had to reschedule, and the new appointment is still several weeks from now. We lost 500+ homes and two apartment buildings in town so the gas company people around here are busy with more pressing issues like reconnecting the homes that weren’t burned to the ground.

It’s an old heater, original to the house, built in 1957. It’s been great -- the only real drawback is no HVAC contractor will repair or inspect it. The Gas Company will inspect it for free and service it for a small charge and they always tell me it’s working fine and they compliment me for keeping it going.

Okay, so it has two burners. There’s white shmutz on the right hand burner bar, and only on the front half of the burner, which it also where the pilot is. The stuff looks minerally, crystally:


Looking up into the plenum, eek:

You can see why we’re not using it right now.

I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence that those deposits are above the pilot. The flame sensor looks like it has hard water deposits on it -- I don’t recall it looking like that last year. And see the white spray of stuff on the burner bar from the pilot? Could it be this stuff built up over the past year because of dirty gas feeding the pilot? I had water heater problems over the summer and the plumber said it could have been caused by dirty gas, whatever that means. My neighbors say they haven’t had any issues.

Because of asbestos, a new heater will probably cost close to $10,0000. I’d rather not do that if I don’t have to, at least not without really researching all my options. I don’t feel like I can trust hvac salesmen, though. At the same time, I’m wondering if the gas company is to blame for problems with both my heater and water water heater, and I’d hate to spend thousands on some fancy new heater if dirty gas means it will have as much trouble as my water heater.

While I wait several weeks to have a pro look at it, does anybody have an idea what’s going on here?



Mr. Curmudgeon, on Mav/EC/Sierra/blood thinner & some other "old people pills".



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/20/2017 06:18PM by modelamac.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: space-time
Date: December 20, 2017 06:34PM
Quote
Filliam H. Muffman
Quote
Mike Johnson
...I do use a humidifier in the house, got it Dec 2016. I use it when the humidity drops below about 15%...

Bingo. I looked at it again and wondered if you had a humidifier nearby. I think space-time(?) had a similar issue with a humidifier.


yes, you remember correctly. In my case I noticed that the flame in the stove turned Orange when I used the ultrasonic humidifier in the living room. I found others on the net that noticed the same effect, there are also youtube videos I think.

MIke, is this an Ultrasonic or Evaporative humidifier? I think the orange flame issues happens with Ultrasonic, it should not happen with Evaporative.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Winston
Date: December 20, 2017 07:05PM
Quote
space-time
MIke, is this an Ultrasonic or Evaporative humidifier? I think the orange flame issues happens with Ultrasonic, it should not happen with Evaporative.

That makes sense. An evaporative humidifier leaves anything dissolved in the water in the humidifier (so the "anodes" get crudded up and corroded if not cleaned regularly). It's essentially putting out distilled water. I've never used an ultrasonic, but my assumption is that they turn the water into an aerosol and blow it out. So what's in the water goes out with it.

If you used distilled water with an ultrasonic humidifier you'd eliminate that problem, but it would get costly to feed.

Note that a furnace has to pull air into itself for combustion. Unless it has a fresh air feed from outside (not likely), it's pulling in air from inside the house.

Do you also have problems with mineral content in your water in tubs, sinks, electric kettles, coffee makers, etc?


Good luck.

- Winston



------------------------
Be seeing you.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Mike Johnson
Date: December 20, 2017 08:07PM
Quote
modelamac
If the unit worked last year or the year before, it should work now, barring any outside interference such as an incompetent or careless service tech. Let the Inspection reveal any problems with the flame sensor. DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN IT. Let the tech do that.

Thank you. I do a visual inspection every fall, and I’ve never seen clumpy ash like this. Some years I think it looks dirty, or the pilot doesn’t look right, and I call the Gas Company and they come out and do their magic. They tell me to get it inspected every year but I don’t. Some years it looks fine, I change the filter, everything’s good.

But I like to know what is going on. I’ve learned I can't blindly trust the pros. Dirty gas sounds suspicious to you? It sounded suspicious to me. But that’s what a pro told me. He’s with the biggest, most established plumbing contractor in town.

It’s like, when the previous water heater was failing, the pro told me, of course it’s failing, it’s a Rheem, they suck now, you should get a Bradford White. So when I got a new one, I got a Bradford White. In the last five years the water heater has needed repairs three times (two thermocouples, two computers). The first time, the guy who showed up pointed out that whoever installed the thing forgot to install the required earthquake strapping. (“Who installed this for you?” “Your firm.” “Oh. Sorry.”) The most recent time, the pro told me, well, Bradford Whites are junk now, you should’ve bought a Rheem. Hahahaha. That’s the pro who told me he thinks the reason it keeps dying is “dirty gas.”

How about the pro who hooked my washing machine discharge into the brine tank of my water softener? Or the plumber I hired to replace a shutoff valve, replace a broken closet flange and reseat a toilet? He replaced the valve, chipped off the remains of the flange and handed me a repair flange in a box so I could do the rest myself. (It was late in the afternoon, the job was taking much longer than anticipated, he wouldn’t be able to be back for at least a week.) Oh, and that repair flange in a box didn’t even fit. So then I hire another plumber to do it, and he tells me the first guy replaced the shutoff valve with the wrong kind of shutoff valve, one meant for a sink not a toilet, and it has to be switched because the hoses aren’t the same. I trust him. But a year or two later, that guy sliced through my sprinkler control wires when I had him replace the shutoff valve for my house (they were in the way, he said). He also damaged the shutoff valve in my vault, causing it to leak. When I discovered my parkway was a swamp a few days later, he charged me an exorbitant fee to fix it the next day, rather than wait till the next week (during our drought, no less). It must’ve broken when he turned it by hand, not his fault, it was old.

Or the guy from the biggest HVAC company in town? On the phone, they said, Sure, they service old heaters all the time, they’ll inspect and repair as long as they can get parts. When the guy shows up, he won’t even look at the heater, won’t even open the closet, when I tell him it’s original to the house. He tells me we’re all going to die of carbon monoxide poisoning tonight if I don’t hire him on the spot to replace it, do I want it in the attic or in the closet and he’ll need a deposit. Or the pro who told me it would be illegal for him to clean the blower motor because that would require a permit and I couldn’t get one because asbestos, and really I need to just let him install a new heater, it can be done in a couple days. No mention about asbestos mitigation then but I’m sure it would’ve come up after I signed on the dotted line.

I’ve had good luck with electricians, though. And the gas company, too, but even paying $25 for a priority appointment means waiting weeks.
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Kraniac
Date: December 20, 2017 09:51PM
Mike..you're not alone..and HVAC is populated with a bunch of total scammers..one of the worst..if not the worst...you have to be very careful...and you are..good on ya
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Re: What’s wrong with my heater/forced air unit?
Posted by: Markintosh
Date: December 21, 2017 09:25PM
Maybe someone is suggesting you switch to coal?



“Live your life, love your life, don’t regret…live, learn and move forward positively.” – CR Johnson
Loving life in Lake Tahoe, CA
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