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Worst kind of problem - INTERMITTENT S/W hookup firing

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I have an OLD furnace that is a summer winter hookup providing both hot water and baseboard heat. The furnace is apparently an Ultimate K61. It's so old that I can't find any info on it the internet. If I had to guess it might be 50 years old since I've been in the house 25 years and it appeared at least that old when we moved in. The burner has been replaced in that time and it's apparently an old, rebuilt-ish Beckett AFG burner with a single red button that I believe is a reset button. It's the button I've had to push more and more lately when the burner/furnace refuses to fire periodically. The aquastat is also very old and I'm guessing it's a Honeywell 8124 24V Triple although I haven't found any markings to confirm that. It's hooked up to a Nest thermostat. Intermittently I'll discover that the burner hasn't fired for a call for heat or hot water. Nearly every time it will fire up when I press the reset button without any more intervention than that. A call for heat will cause a click in the aquastat. I wonder if if the call is always getting through to the burner. Intermittent is terrible for diagnosing things, but I am grateful that it does fire with the reset button. I'm not so good with a power meter, but I have seen advice for others that talk about checking the aquastat board to see if it's getting the proper resistance or making the proper calls, but I'm not super-confident in exactly what that would look like. We used to have a great furnace guy, but he passed away several years ago and my confidence in the folds we've had in here since isn't very high. One guy "accidentally" disconnected the aquastat from the thermostat and couldn't get the furnace to fire after cleaning it, called his boss, who also didn't discover the disconnected wire and it wasn't until the furnace hit the low and fired based on the call for hot water that they had resolved that it was back in working order. Mind you it was a working furnace that just needed an annual cleaning. It was later when I discovered it still wasn't getting a call for heat that there was simply a disconnected wire. In any event I don't have a heater guy that I trust to come in here and spend significant time diagnosing and would rather try some limited troubleshooting myself first. No one wants to take it on a service contract because it looks so old and pieced together and this is the first time in 25 years we've ever had problems like this. Everyone suggests replacing it, but other than this and a circulator that my 11 year old and I replaced ourselves years ago, the thing has run great. Any thoughts? Aguastat? Burner? That eye thing?

Comments

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,655
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    Probably needs to be cleaned and adjusted by a competent oil burner tech. Probably isn't burning right because it is dirty, out of adjustment, or has a worn nozzle or other worn parts and fails to fire and locks out sometimes.
    SuperTech
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,310
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    If it fails to fire, but then fires up with just one push of the reset -- it's almost sure to be an ignition issue. But... whether that is worn electrodes or just misadjusted electrodes, or a partly clogged nozzle or a failing ignition transformer... could be any one of those.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mikeydubs23
    mikeydubs23 Member Posts: 6
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    Had my routine cleaning. I was off schedule so this technically only 8 months or so after the last one, but I'll try to get it back to a fall cleaning now. However, after 3 days I did have to reset again on a call for heat. I mentioned having to reset on occasion, but the maintenance mechanic didn't find anything out of the ordinary. He replaced the nozzle, the filter and another cheap item I can't make out on the invoice. Like every other mechanic we've had in since our unaffiliated mechanic, he's recommending replacing it. Again, this is the first issue we've had in in over a decade and I'm guessing it's a simple fix by a qualified mechanic or a handier homeowner good at diagnostics. Why would I spend upwards towards 10K if a aquastat, ignition electrodes, or even the whole motor has gone bad? His argument was that the price of these furnaces goes up every year so best to get it done now; if I had done this 10 years ago I could be looking at issues with this one now. It seems the old stuff was built better. He reports it's still burning at 80% efficiency which might be a tiny bit low, but not much from what I saw.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,506
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    You're not getting 80%, maybe 45% system efficiency. You have a boiler, not a furnace.
    You need a competent tech who knows what they are doing and troubleshoots with the proper tools, techniques and knowledge. You're wasting a tremendous amount of money operating this turd.
    steve
    IronmanSuperTech
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,839
    edited February 2023
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    Can you take a picture of your boiler? Post it here so I might be able to look at it. I have sympathy for oil heat system owners that lose their Oil Burner guy from retirement or death. Sometimes the only thing to do is to replace it with something new in order to get service from a less experienced tech. I don't believe you need to do that. The parts you have mentioned are very common. L8124 triple aquastat relay is still available at most heating supply houses. BUT I WOULD REPLACE IT WITH A LESS EXPENSIVE L7224U if needed. that has more features that you may want.

    The R8184G control (with the reset button) is also still available if you need one, BUT I WOULD REPLACE THAT WITH A CARLIN 70200 PRO primary control with more features.

    There are several ways to find a good oil heat technician. (not a mechanic that just changes parts). Sometimes you need to use a Fuel Dealer that has in-house service technicians in order to get service, but they may require that you purchase oil from them in order to use their service department.

    Another way is to call your oil supplier and ask who they recommend for oil burner service. You see, they can't sell you oil if you don't burn oil. If your oil burner is broken and you don't burn oil, then it is their best interest for you to get it fixed. They should know someone that can help you.

    Picture of your burner from about 3 feet back and from far enough back to see the floor to ceiling piping to the boiler.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 918
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    I believe Ultimate was a rebadged boiler from another manufacturer, maybe Utica? There are quite a few of them in Massachusetts, because Coen Brothers, one of the largest oil dealers there, sold a great many. My experience with them was in the early 1980s. They are dry base, and while reasonably efficient, that one is probably very near the end of its life. 

    Bburd
  • mikeydubs23
    mikeydubs23 Member Posts: 6
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    So it's been a little over 3 weeks and it is much better. Sure there were two times where I thought it wasn't responding to the calls for heat, but it never completely cooled so maybe I was mistaken. I saw one personally and the other was second-hand information. Either way, the cleaning does appear to have made a significant difference and it's running like it's not nearly 50 years old. On a related note, is there any easy way to see (and maybe clean) inside the oil tank in my crawl space? Again that's likely been there longer than 50 years since the house is nearly 70 years old. I hear sludge builds over time.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,839
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    So it's been a little over 3 weeks and it is much better. Sure there were two times where I thought it wasn't responding to the calls for heat, but it never completely cooled so maybe I was mistaken. I saw one personally and the other was second-hand information. Either way, the cleaning does appear to have made a significant difference and it's running like it's not nearly 50 years old. On a related note, is there any easy way to see (and maybe clean) inside the oil tank in my crawl space? Again that's likely been there longer than 50 years since the house is nearly 70 years old. I hear sludge builds over time.

    Probably time to consider replacing the tank after 50 years. Think of it as an investment. You put a thousand or two into a stock, bond or even a CD. In a number of years you end up with more than you started with. Good investment! If you don't put that money in the investment you may just spend it frivolously and you have nothing to show for it, in a few years.

    You put that same money in the new tank and in 10 years you never lose any of that precious fuel into the ground from a leak, and you don't need to pay six figures to clean up that environmental mess that leak caused. …Only to find the insurance company has a “Clause” that does not cover you. After you get all the work done, you need to declare bankruptcy because you can never afford to pay the bill. Perhaps if you don't get a new tank, you should think about putting all your assets in someone else's name so they can keep it when you have to go bankrupt.

    I’m available if you go the re-distribute assets route.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,702
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    > Another way is to call your oil supplier and ask who they recommend for oil burner service. You see, they can't sell you oil if you don't burn oil.

    The other side of that coin is they can sell you more oil if your boiler burns oil inefficiently
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    EdTheHeaterManSTEVEusaPA
  • Grallert
    Grallert Member Posts: 644
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    No way to clean a residential steel oil tank and attempting to could very well result in an oil leak. A fifty year old steel tank is well past it's safe useful life. In a crawl space makes it particularly vulnerable do to likely inattention.
    Miss Hall's School service mechanic, greenhouse manager,teacher and dog walker
  • mikeydubs23
    mikeydubs23 Member Posts: 6
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    I had a couple more issues and had a difficult time getting it manually fired (or reset) one of the times. Even went to far as to bleed it and oil flows nice and clean. Someone suggested maybe it's bad spark so I replaced my Beckett igniter about 5 weeks ago and I haven't had an issue since. Maybe the igniter was simply old or maybe it didn't like the fact that I would shut it down frequently during the summer months only letting it fire when we really needed fresh, hot water. For less than $60, I have seemed to resolve this issue that had been going on intermittently for a good 6 months. The old igniter seemed to work most of the time, but most of the time is sometimes worse then none of the time since none of the time really helps you know the TRUE issue and intermittent just keeps you guessing.
    MikeAmann
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,841
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    If the primary is intermittent ignition, then maybe get another igniter for stand-by, or change to interrupted ignition. 

    Is the boiler steel or cast iron?


  • mikeydubs23
    mikeydubs23 Member Posts: 6
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    Boiler is cast iron I believe. The igniter is a Becket PowerLight which I would have guessed was intermittent, but not certain. I had been know to turn it off (kill switch) mid-firing and like I said that may have not been good for it or maybe it just ran its course. In any event, no resets needed since it was replaced. I'm guessing I either didn't emphasize this intermittent firing to the tech enough or it's better for techs to leave these as problems and potentially upsell customers on complete replacements. I may be wrong on this, but my feeling on oil burners is that they really are like the old component rack stereo systems where you had a separate receiver, tape deck, cd player, and tower speakers... if one thing broke you just replaced it, not the whole thing. These seem like they can be "Frankensteined-ed" to run forever or at least until the boiler itself ever cracks/leaks.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,655
    edited July 2023
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    If the burner isn't set up right the oil can ignite from the spark sometimes and not ignite or go out other times depending on things liek the outdoro and ambient temps, the temp of the boiler, the temp of the vent, the wind, this is what a competent oil burner tech is supposed to check.
  • mikeydubs23
    mikeydubs23 Member Posts: 6
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    Thanks! I guess the most innocent explanation is that intermittent spark from a bad igniter could have been hard to diagnose. If the intermittent issue doesn't manifest itself when the tech is around, it's not really a diagnosable issue. In any event, fingers crossed, no more issues!
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,655
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    Thanks! I guess the most innocent explanation is that intermittent spark from a bad igniter could have been hard to diagnose. If the intermittent issue doesn't manifest itself when the tech is around, it's not really a diagnosable issue. In any event, fingers crossed, no more issues!

    Sure it is. If they are competent they can measure the stoichiometry and draft and look at the pattern and look at a few other things and see if it is in the acceptable range or right at the edge and make adjustments accordingly. Oil burners that go out or lock out intermittently are rarely burning correctly when they aren't failing to ignite altogether. Intermittent transformers can be trickier, usually their resistance it out of spec but not always. There is a thread here somewhere on diagnosing intermittent xfmrs.
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,541
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    A Carlin 70200 or Beckett 7565 primary will provide a diagnosis, or the information needed to diagnose very rapidly.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    STEVEusaPA