I’m fairly new to all this. We bought an old house with a steam-heating system last December, and I’ve been working my way through LAOSH ever since. My heating guy is a grizzled veteran though, and even he can’t make sense of what happened to us this week, although we were limited by the pandemic to a phone consultation.
The story is this:
On Monday, high winds ripped through the Hudson Valley, knocking down trees and power-lines, and we had no electricity for about four hours. Then it came back on.
Tuesday morning, my wife noticed that the Nest unit controlling our heating system was dark and unresponsive, and the house was cold. I’m guessing we had no heat from Monday morning onwards but just didn’t notice.
I powered the Nest back up with a USB cable and it informed me that it wasn’t getting any power from the furnace. (The Nest is wired to a Weil-McLean furnace that has had the oil-to-gas conversion.)
I consulted the Internet, which assured me that furnace shutdowns are fairly common following power outages, and gave me a list of things to try.
I descended to the basement, and verified that the furnace was completely dead—no heat, no sound, no lights.
I went to the electrical panel and checked for tripped breakers. There were none.
I looked around the furnace for GFI outlets that might need to be reset. There were none. All the furnace electrics (the burner, the water-feeder etc.) seem to be wired into the mains via a single distribution box with a single switch and a bright red cover that reads: “GAS BURNER EMERGENCY SWITCH.” The switch was in the On position, because it always is.
I pressed the Reset button on the furnace exactly once. Nothing happened.
Before I could stop her, my 18-month-old daughter, who happened to be in my arms, reached out and pressed the Reset button a further five times. I gently chastised her, explaining that the Internet says pressing the Reset button more than once risks putting a furnace into “Lockdown mode.” She looked at the button with a new respect, and pressed it twice more.
Out of ideas, and suspecting we might now be in Lockdown, I decided to turn off the power to the furnace, wait ten minutes, then turn it back on and re-try the Reset button.
I reached out and flipped the “GAS BURNER EMERGENCY SWITCH” to the Off position…
With a roar, the furnace came to life.
I stared at it, then back at the switch (still Off), then back at the furnace, whose pipes, I verified with my hand, were now heating up.
Shrugging, I figured that between us my daughter and I must have lucked into some kind of furnace cheat code. All that remained was to put the Emergency Switch back into its proper On position and all would once again be right with the world. I reached for the switch and flipped it On.
The furnace went off. I quickly flipped the switch back to Off.
The furnace went on again, and it has remained on ever since, heating the house and coordinating perfectly with the Nest. Everything is fine, except that somehow the Emergency Switch controlling the boiler now has reversed polarity. On is Off, and Off is On. For the furnace to run, as of this week, the switch must now be Off.
I called my heating guy, assuming he’d chuckle relaxedly and say, “Yeah see what you’ve done there is…[something something something].” But he’s as baffled as I am. All he could recommend after a fifteen-minute discussion was that I open up the switch box and reverse the wires, so that On once again means on. Being somewhat wary of electrical work, I asked him if I couldn’t just put tape over the words “On” and “Off” and write in the opposite using a Sharpie, Donald Trump-style, and he confirmed that this would be just as effective.
So that’s what I’ll do but WTF? I don’t particularly mind that the Emergency Switch has flipped its polarity, if that’s all that has happened, but it’s disconcerting. Is it possible this is just the only visible symptom of some larger, more dangerous change to the system?
Anyone have any ideas?