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Oil furnace won't light!!

jOsh2513jOsh2513 Member Posts: 1
Came home to freezing pipes because the twenty year old oil furnace isn't working. The whole house smelled like heating oil. So I pushed the red reset button on the pump, which made a whirring sound for about 20 seconds and shut off without any fire happening in the chamber. What could cause this? I had a new nozzle installed within the last week and the furnace cleaned by a service guy who charged me two hundred bucks so I'd like to try fixing this myself. Thanks for the help!


  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,406
    many things

    It could be a clogged filter, clogged oil line, bad ignition transformer, carbon buildup, a bad primary control, etc. DO NOT KEEP PUSHING THE RED BUTTON! That may just put a lot of oil in the combustion chamber and if it does light off you will be very sorry.

    Call the guy back and have him go through the troubleshooting steps to figure out whats wrong.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Oil Smell:

    If you smell oil, and the burner was off and didn't light when you pressed the red button of death (to homeowners who haven't experienced the "Kiss of the Fire Breathing Dragon), DO NOT under any circumstances, try to fire it again. Call a Pro.

    Maybe not the one that just worked on it. But he might deserve a chance. If it was myself, it would be a gratis call.
  • drhvacdrhvac Member Posts: 186
    what to do

    Icesailor, what is the procedure when you know a homeowner has pushed the reset 20 times and the chamber is filled with oil?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,653
    Call the fire department?

    Seriously.  If you suspect that a burner has been treated that way (anything more than two or three pushes), you may have accumulated enough oil in there to have some really serious consequences if you get the burner to fire.

    At the very least, open the firebox up and see what you have.  I would mop up any visible oil.  If there is a fibreglas mat in there -- there often is -- remove and replace it with a new one if it seems to be oily.

    Check and make sure that your breaching is tight -- all the screws in where they should be, etc..  I might also close and hold closed  with a tool the baro damper if there is one.

    Then maybe give it a try... but stand back.  Things can get very very exciting.

    To the OP: this is not a homeowner problem.  I'd get the original company back; it should be a free call.  But get a pro; don't even try to fix it yourself.

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    What do I do:

    First of all, everything that Jamie Hall says is the right thing.

    My experience is that the homeowner never tells you that they have been hitting the reset "20 times". They only hit it "once or twice over a couple of days".

    I've never seen a floater, but I've seen a lot of "Soakers". I hit the reset and service switch. If it doesn't start instantly, or has a delayed oil valve but I don't hear the spark "scratching". I shut it off and start troubleshooting the problems. However, sometimes, it will fire off immediately. As soon as I hear it fire, I shut it off, no matter what, IMMEDIATELY!! Especially if it starts to rumble. If I hear it flaming inside, I stop and let the flame burn out, no matter how long it takes. If it is burning off the oil, and I restart it, there will be one heck of an explosion. Wait it out. Don't open any inspection ports to look for a flame. Just listen. Open up a port, add fresh air, go BOOM. Look in the barometric to see if there is smoke. Switch the control to a latch up after three tries control like a CCT *0600 control. They never know how to unlatch them. That's why they started making them. Those 45 second controls aren't much better than the old, illegal RA117 stack switches. CCT 60200 control doesn't see flame in 15 seconds, it trips out. Three strikes and your out.

    Calling the fire department is like calling the circus parade drop the clowns off.
  • RreyRrey Member Posts: 18
    Second chance?

    It takes a heck of alot of pushes of the button to soak that chamber. A 1.0 Gph nozzle at 45 sec a push..That is one persistent homeowner. If I'm worried about oil buildup to the point it might pop, I light a piece of paper and drop it in the chamber. You can control how fast it burns by how much air you allow in. If it gets too much with the view door open It'll try to pop out at you.

    Sounds like the guy left something a little off, mby poor electrode spacing, too much air, or a weak transformer that couldn't take a change.

    I'd bring the guy back out for a warranty call and give him a chance to prove himself.
  • drhvacdrhvac Member Posts: 186

    This is one of the other things that scares me about getting into oil. I assume its pretty rare that you get one that is that soaked like Rrey said? Icesailor if i understand you right, You turn it on and then off quickly so that if there is a build up of oil it will light and be contained in the chamber and burn off? Or I like Rreys way also by manually lighting it and letting it burn.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Manual lighting:

    Manually light it with a piece of paper thrown into the combustion chamber? Why not throw a hand grenade in. You might get the same results if it is hot enough that the oil is above the flash point.

    What I do is from my experience and I use instinct. Something you develop a "feel for".

    If you fire it off too soon and it is burning, it can explode. Invigorating.

    I always refrained from calling the local fire personnel because they usually had some fire expert that would blame the problem on my, not the one that caused the problem in the first place.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Flooded chambers:

    In all my years, I never saw a flooded chamber. That pretty much ended with eliminating RA 117 stack switches. I always heard about them. Just never saw one/

    Urban legend maybe?
  • rick in Alaskarick in Alaska Member Posts: 623
    flooded chamber

     Quite a few years back I encountered a flooded chamber on a combination oil/wood boiler. The homeowner had just bought the house and was in the process of moving in when he came in and noticed there was no heat. He went to the boiler and found it running and with fuel leaking out the chamber on to the cement floor and down through the floor drain. He shut everything down and called me in. When i got there a couple of hours later, you could smell the fuel from outside. i took the combustion chamber door off and spent the next  hour cleaning out oil from every bit of the cast iron and then religning the chamber floor with a new kaowool blanket.

     After reassembling everything, i tackled the burner and found that the transformer had died and the primary control would not shut off. I replaced the parts and fired it off with the way Icesailor does it. I will leave the inspection port open just enough to keep the flame burning without coming out as I don't  want it to be just smoldering. I have found by experience that if the fire goes out and is smoldering and you try to light it too soon, it makes a bad boom and the barometric leaves the chimney! We did a controlled burn on that thing for 4 hours before we were able to get it to burn off enough so that the burner could take over. Definitely not one I would ever want to see again.

     Not sure what he wound up doing about the floor drain that dumped in to his septic tank, and exactly how much did go in, but I know he did pour some type of chemical he got from the fuel company down the drain to "neutralize" the potential for fire in the drain line. Hopefully it cleared it all up, but not sure.


  • hotpipehotpipe Member Posts: 24
    saw a miller gun chamber

    Burn for an hour on the customers front lawn, and when it died out, the tech reinstalled it and fired the furnace right up.
    Don't blame me, I voted for the old war hero and the business expert!!!!
  • KakashiKakashi Member Posts: 88
    edited April 2014
    Keep pushing it

    Dig your grave deeper and deeper. I have only seen two really oil soaked one was from a retard and an 8184g and the other was a bad stack relay.

    I have had a lot of chochoo trains tho :) Only one scared the hell out of me, I threw an adjustable in the draft regulator and watched from behind a wall. I learned to never trust a home owner again...if I know they pressed it more then 3 times I move my tools to where I came in at and I ask again...they tend to be more honest when you do that.

    Like I said, depending on what they have t-pride wm blue or gold or some units with a nice sight door to where I and look in and see for myself. That would be my "day" work answer aside from a t-pride they are getting a new chamber. T-prides are tanks, put some rages in and take out as much oil as you can use a fire extinguisher to kinda coat the inside and then chooochooo.
  • OuterCapeOilguyOuterCapeOilguy Member Posts: 22
    When I was a kid (around 1964) we had a National U.S. cast-iron monster made in '57 (the ones which could be set up to burn coal, oil or gas) with a "Fibrefrax" chamber. One night the transformer failed-and so did the RA-117. In the morning we smelled oil. I went to the boiler room, heard the motor running merrily away, and looked inside the giant firedoor-at a pool of oil in the bottom of the chamber. The tech brought the chamber out the driveway, where it burned (with the help of a pedestal fan) for the better part of the day. I can't imagine what would have happened if someone had fired that off in the house....
  • Tom79Tom79 Member Posts: 1
    If you are smelling raw fuel oil that tells me that the combustion chamber already has unburned fuel sitting in it and I would not press the reset button anymore. usually after the first attempt of resetting it and it does not ignite I will tear into the oil burner to check either the ignition Transformer or the electrode Gap because obviously there is no spark or else you could have excessive carbon buildup on the electrode tips preventing them from arcing.Usually in this case what I will do after a failed ignition is let it sit for about an hour and I will drop in a burning piece of newspaper through the viewport of the combustion chamber to burn off any excess raw fuel so you don't get a puff back if the burner does ignite after resetting it. the biggest myth I've ever heard about oil-fired appliances is dropping a piece of burning paper into the viewport will cause a Flash which is not true ( unless you do it immediately after trying to fire the burner because there will be atomized fuel present and built up in the combustion chamber) because fuel oil / diesel fuel is not even close to being volatile as gasoline and does not explode because it does not produce fumes, just an unpleasant odor. However if you don't have ignition and it don't smell like raw fuel you either could have a plugged filter or nozzle
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,323
    edited February 5
    in my friend George Lanthier's book, he calls this "Facing the Dragon". Fortunately, with better burners and controls, this is getting pretty rare.

    Oh, and when talking about stack relays, don't forget the RA117's siblings- RA116, RA816, RA817. Plus all the others made by long-gone companies like Detroit, Mercoid, Penn or Sampsel.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • kevink1955kevink1955 Member Posts: 27
    I was the Maintenance Guy for a large building, the boiler was not my responsibility, a low bid oil co. was. I always got the no heat calls so I went out and found an old converted coal now on oil at 3 gph with the burner motor running and no fire. You could smell the oil.

    Turned off the emergency switch and told the boss to call the oil co. (they had been there last week to "adjust the stack switch" from a previous no heat call ) The tech said the transformer was bad and replaced it, he was about to fire it when I asked him if he was sure he wanted to do that. I told him I know this building and for it to be as cold as it was that the heat had to be off for at least 12hrs and if it was pumping oil most of that time the chamber had to be loaded.

    He said "no problem" and flipped the switch. After it ran less than a minute it started to rumble so he flipped the emergency switch off, when the rumble continued he said "Holy S---"

    Just then the owner of an oil co. next door (who lost the contract to this low bidder) comes running down the boiler room stairs to report 10 foot of flame coming out of the 3 story masonry chimney. Since the fire was not getting out of the firebox and chimney, the previous oil co owner and I decided to let it burn with the air shutter closed.

    It burned for an hour, by then the chimney had burned out but the chamber was still rumbling along and the water temp was over 180, we disconnected the burner wiring and turned the power back on so the controls could run the circulator pumps and all was well for about 3 hours and some of the pumps started to cycle off as the rooms had reached setpoint.

    The thermostats were sealed cartridge type so we started to hot wire circulator relays and all was well again.

    That thing burned for 12 hours and the building was 90 degrees when it was all over. The oil company then returned and replaced the stack switch and inspected the chamber. they replaced 1 large brick at the rear of the chamber and put it back in service. That was the last time I ever saw that oil co., guess their contract was terminated.

    Did I mention that this was a Firehouse?? We never let them know what was going on down stairs as it was contained and a few 100 lbs of dry chem only would have made it worse.
  • billtwocasebilltwocase Member Posts: 2,385
    Scary stuff. Once you light it off, you own it. Even closing air bands, and any other air inlet source, it is going to burn baby burn. I never light them off without feeling the inside of the smoke pipe, or inspecting the chamber for oil saturation. New smoke pipe is a must, and if powdering the passage ways, and doing some chamber prep is needed, so be it
  • Jim HankinsonJim Hankinson Member Posts: 73
    The first time I came across a soaker I was fairly new to the business. The homeowner was convinced the burner was not spraying oil so he added some through the sight door. There was oil but no spark. After replacing the dead ignition transformer I fired it off. A few hours later the excess oil had burned off.

    On one occasion we cut loose a small saturated boiler (Weil 368) outside and burned it off. Did the same with a small high boy furnace . Not much duct work and not in a basement.

    Another was a case where one of the occupants got tired of pushing the reset so taped it down. (gov't employee) Several hours later we burned off the flue pipe then let it rip.

    The only time I got a bit nervous was the time a guy had his neighbor take a look at why the burner wouldn't light. He had the electrodes way out of wack. I jammed the barometric closed with my screwdriver and let it rip. My daughter was with me so I made sure she was near the stairs just in case.

    The best one is one I declined to take. Schoolteacher, not one of my customers. She said she had pushed the reset one time. Then she waited awhile and pushed the button again, but "just once." When that routine failed to produce the desired results she figured she needed a professional. She did emphasize that she only pressed the reset button once each time. I told her I was sorry but I wouldn't be able to help her.

  • I know a guy who pushed the reset too many times, and when it started up, the flash caught the house on fire and burnt it down, they had an unlined chimney.
    Thanks, Bob Gagnon
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