Monday, October 3, 2011

Rolling Out.

Today, another eight o'clock one at that. All that I can say is that every day has an evening. A customer called a few days ago with a boiler problem, with the office girl asking if we fixed boilers. "We do fix boilers" was my reply. She's still new here, capable as she is and with that I was on a boiler call to get them heat and hot water. This was in Laingsburg, the office is in Lansing and I live in Grand Ledge; so this was going to involve a lot of driving.

Five fifteen and I parked the truck in the customers' driveway, greeted them at the door and got to work. The complaint was that the burners inside the boiler would work great for a few seconds and then the flames would develop a mind of their own. Instead of dutifully going upward into the heat exchanger, they would creep out of the burner box to the front of the boiler; scaring the customer and sure surprising the heck out of me. The customer alluded that the gas pressure was too high and that was the reason for the flames leaving the boiler, or "rolling out" as they were.
The propane supplier had already replaced the regulator. The customer had already called someone else to do this, but from what this writer saw, the repair was anything but successful.

I pulled the burners and vent off the boiler and with a flashlight and mirror, looked up inside. The entire heat exchanger was caked with soot to the point you couldn't see through it with said light. After an hour and a half of brushing, using compressed air and a vacuum cleaner to clean up the soot, I finally got the boiler back together and back to rights. $259; $170 to clean the heat exchanger and $89 for the service call (my employer doesn't take off the diagnostic charge for a repair) seemed like a lot, but paled in comparison to what the other contractor wanted to charge.

Admittedly, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, this guy was a couple pancakes short of a stack. He not only intimated to the customer that propane burned dirtier than diesel fuel, he also said the burners would need to be cleaned to fix the problem. The sum for this work and advice, more of a whopper than any real work, was over $450! I got the thing working again for less than half of that, the trip and diagnostic not withstanding. Understandably, the customer, a scientist and his wife, rushed this huckster out the door.

First of all, I only touched the burners to get them out of my way as they were perfectly clean. The reason the boiler sooted at all is because the manifold pressure was too high. Over 20 inches of water column to be exact. Propane, or LP needs about half that number to burn clean, or excess carbon will condense on the heat exchanger as soot, plugging it up. No wonder this one wasn't working right. The natural tendency for hot air to rise was defeated by the soot, and since there was no other way to go, the hot air and the flames chose the next easiest route. This was right out the front of the boiler.

If you're having this problem, the tech needs to take the time to take the burners out and the vent off if this is a natural draft appliance such as an older model furnace or boiler (most boilers are natural draft, but use a vent damper to help save energy). He or she needs to look at the heat exchanger top and bottom and if there's soot, or rust, they need to clean it out and not condemn the equipment unless the heat exchanger's cracked or the furnace is in really poor condition (see previous posts). Home ownership is expensive, why make it more so? Maranatha!

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