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Red light every couple days, but then starts right up with reset

seized123
seized123 Member Posts: 297

Hi everyone. Weil-McLean oil furnace with Beckett burner, old Carlin 60200 primary control, Suntec pump with solenoid. New York State and it's March so it's still running a lot to heat the house and water.

The red light came on right after an oil delivery (and a few weeks after burner maintenance and furnace cleaning).

My first thought was my former problem was back. That former problem was that I'd get a red light after a few days, the motor buzzed and wouldn't turn, I'd muscle the stuck squirrel cage into turning and it would run for a few more days, then gum up again. After a new pump and even a new motor (!) the problem persisted even through a new oil delivery, until finally right after yet another delivery it just went away not to return. Thus we strongly believe it was just too much biofuel in the previous deliveries gumming things up.

Since this time around the red light came on shortly after a new delivery (it was also after a new maintenance, but that was a few weeks prior) I thought Oh no, here we go again. But this time the squirrel cage turned freely, and when I pressed Reset it fired up right away and kept running for a few more days. That's been the pattern.

What could I check? If for some reason something was getting clogged or gummed up over time, maybe if it was something they did during the tuneup that would cause this, or again something in the fuel, I would think that after I press reset the burner would not fire up so readily and keep going for a couple of days before the red light comes on again.

This is intermittent so I know that can be harder to evaluate. If you come up with something I can check, please let me know if it's better done right after the red light comes on, or if I can still check it while things are still running smoothly.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!

Comments

  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,780

    First check the oil flow, if good throw up the thermostats and recycle the burner though the switch . Once every minute to find the issue . Attaching a volt meter on the load side of the meter would help out on the diagnostic ..

    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • seized123
    seized123 Member Posts: 297

    Hi Big Ed, thanks for the reply. After your reply I'm seeing a message "There was an error rendering this rich post." Did your post get partially cut off? The way I'm reading it, it was just two lines and ends after : "would help out on the diagnostic …"

  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,828
    edited March 2023

    I think that was pretty much the whole comment.

    I would add that unless you're an oil tech, there's really not much you can do other than call one.

    SuperTech
  • MaxMercy
    MaxMercy Member Posts: 508

    Intermittents can mean a lot of things (unfortunately).

    If your tank is really old, it might have a lot of sludge in it and a fresh delivery can stir up some, particuarly when the tank is very low. Stirred up sludge can take out a new filter fairly quickly. You can check your filter to see if it's plugged, and also check the flow from the tank into the filter cartridge - if your tank is sludgy, it might have low flow.

    As for the burner, it could be the issue as well - weak/intermitten ignition trans, bad electrodes, nozzle, clean cut solenoid, etc.

    rick in Alaska
  • seized123
    seized123 Member Posts: 297
    Thanks for your replies!

    So, as I mentioned, I'd get the red light but with one press of the reset button the burner would fire up and everything operated well for days. But the last time the light came on, as soon as I pressed reset the motor went on but a short time later - possibly after the 15 seconds that is the Carlin primary control's trial period - it went off and the red light came on again. I did not press the reset button again (except when I diverted the fuel, as described below).

    My plumber can't come for a week, he's so swamped. (So we have no heat or h/w but, although we'll have three nights coming up that'll be just below freezing, I'm not concerned about the pipes because it'll be in the 50's or above during the day. Reasonable?)

    So what I've done so far is:

    1) Checked for flow to the nozzle. I disconnected the small copper fuel line that goes from the solenoid to the electrode assembly, put the open end in a bottle. When I turned on power at the service safety switch, the red light came on immediately (I assume it's just remembering that it was in lockout before I turned off power) but I pressed the reset button, the motor started, I heard faint buzzing which I assume was the igniter, I got a second or three of no fuel which I assume is the delay due to the primary control, followed by what seemed to me to be very good flow. I assumed that thus the filter and pump screen are okay, although later I checked them anyway and both seemed reasonably clean. [Note: I didn't check for flow at the bleed screw because in my ignorance I don't know whether in my 2-pipe system some fuel might still go to the nozzle even with the screw open, and if that fuel didn't ignite and the burner went into lockout again that's more unburnt fuel in the combustion chamber beyond what may have been sprayed the time I hit reset (which I hit only one time, not counting pressing it when the nozzle line was disconnected, which I figure doesn't count because I'm intercepting the fuel, and not counting the times over the past couple weeks when I hit reset and the burner fired up and operated well for days).

    Then to see how it flowed out of the nozzle itself, I removed the electrode/nozzle assembly and reconnected it to the feed from the solenoid, only this time outside of the burner body. (The nozzle is brand new from a tuneup a few weeks ago, but my plumber said it's possible it got clogged.) Directing the nozzle away from the boiler and into a container I turned on power and hit the reset button and got a strong misty spray in what looked to my unpracticed eye like just the kind of cone it's supposed to be, although I have no way of telling if it was exactly the right angle or the exact cone configuration (solid or whatever). But it looked pretty good to me.

    2) Took out the electrode assembly, which was clean, and made sure the electrode tip clearances and the distance from the nozzle to the burner head were correct (using Beckett's plastic Z-gauge).

    3) Checked the igniter using the screwdriver method, got a nice arc, and even checked the arc at the electrode tips by taking out the assembly and sticking its contact rods into the igniter springs, and got a nice tight little arc between the tips. (Did all this with the motor and solenoid disconnected.)

    4) Checked the cad cell by disconnecting the wires from the FF terminal and measuring resistance. It was WAY over 50K in dark mode, way under 10K in light mode, and the Carlin 6020 instructions say >50K and <10K respectively is good.

    So to summarize I got what looks to me like good flow even up to the nozzle itself, good arc, good cad cell. The motor runs, the squirrel cage turns easily, the solenoid appears to work. The only thing I adjusted was the electrode tip clearance - which didn't seem too out of whack, if at all - and I also did that thing with the nozzle to burner head clearance, which isn't too different from what it was.

    What now? Even though I saw what looked like good flow up to the nozzle, do I now need to do those vacuum and pressure checks (which I've never done)? Could incorrect vacuum or pressure still account for these lockouts even though everything seemed to be flowing nicely, at least visually? (If so, any suggestions for exactly what kind of little meter to buy would help.)

    Just to see if all that messing around might have fixed something, can I try powering it up now, pressing reset if it remembers it was in lockout and the red light comes on immediately? As I mentioned, I only pressed reset once when it may have sprayed unburnt fuel in there without igniting, so this would be a second time. The primary controller has a 15 second trial period, so that's as long as it would have sprayed, not 45 seconds or more like I hear the old ones did. NOTE: I am able to open the big door that the burner is bolted onto a few inches without disconnecting anything, enough to see perhaps most of the combustion chamber, and to my unpracticed eye it looks dry as dust. Can I use this as a general indication of whether unburned fuel is in there, maybe enough to have confidence that I can press reset a second time? (Unlike when you guys go on a service call and don't really know who pressed it and how many times, at least I know it was only once so far.) I take what you all say about pressing reset very seriously. There is at least one YouTube video I saw, however, from an allegedly very experienced guy, who says two times is probably okay.

    Another thing occurs to me. Is it safe to say that since I know the igniter works, and since I'm fairly sure the electrode tip clearances are fine, and since the igniter is supposed to come on even before the fuel is injected (that is, if the primary control is doing its job) that any fuel that gets in there will be burnt, and that the red light must be coming on for some other reason, so I should be okay? I'm fairly sure the control is doing its job regarding the igniter because I heard that buzzing when I was testing the oil flow, and also the igniter did come on right away when I tested for arc. So any fuel that gets in there should ignite.

    Thank you for your time and considerable expertise!!!
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,828
    @seized123, unfortunately there is nothing you can do without the proper tools, gauges, smoke tester and combustion analyzer. And if your plumber doesn't have all that, then you should find someone who does. Please do not attempt to repair this yourself. 

    SuperTechSTEVEusaPA
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 2,152
    The tools and meters you need are a oil pump pressure and vacuum gauge, combustion analyzer, smoke pump, electrical multimeter that can measure capacitors and the experience to know how to use them. Steve Lavimoniere and the others on YouTube aren't going to be able to help you DIY fix this without these things.  Unfortunately nothing in your giant wall of text even stated the basics, what burner and flame retention head, nozzle and pump pressure is your boiler using?

    It's probably going to be easier and less expensive to call an experienced professional to take care of this and verify that the burner is operating safely and efficiently. 
    STEVEusaPA
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,818
    The red light appearing just means that the cad cell did not fall within the acceptable range to signal a flame at some point in the burner cycle. Most people assume that this happens at the beginning of call for heat cycle. This is not necessarily true. Of course it is true if there is no ignition of no fuel at the start of the burning cycle. The motor starts and the valve opens then there is no oil or no spark and within 15 seconds the red light. That makes sense. But consider this: the burner starts and everything operates properly. The burner then operates for 10 or 15 minutes. As the long on cycle of operation continues, a partially plugged oil filter, or a partially restricted oil line. or a partially closed oil tank valve, or a loose burner coupling gets to the point of failure. The vacuum increases beyond the acceptable operating range, or the worn burner coupling heats up and expands enough for the pump to slip, or any other minor problem reaches that point of flame failure.

    Now the cycle that should have been 20 minutes has that failure at 15 minutes. The red light comes on. You come home (or wake up to) to a cold home. That partial fuel restriction or worn coupling or other issue has cooled down or worn off or balanced back to normal, and you hit the reset. The burner starts properly because it has been sitting idle for hours, and you don't know why the red light came on in the first place.

    The best diagnostic tool for this type problem that I have found is the Carlin Pro 70200 primary control. There are diagnostics that will help pinpoint the possible source of nuisance lockout failures. You just need to know what the error codes and diagnostic features mean. Sometimes you need to read between the error or failure messages to determine when the lockout (red light on the 60200) occurred and understand the sequence of operation to see the problem.


    So if you got at least one hint from this, you might check the burner coupling for wear. If that coupling is pristine, then you need to look further.


    Mr. Ed
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
    HVACNUT
  • yellowdog
    yellowdog Member Posts: 157
    @seized123 is the "plumber" that wont come to your house for a no heat call for a week the same one that recently cleaned your boiler that worked perfectly fine until he cleaned it? if so, time for a new service person who is not a "plumber". does this "plumber" work at your fuel supplier? working at a fuel dealer, we would have been there the same day it went out the first time after the cleaning.
    STEVEusaPAEdTheHeaterManSuperTechSolid_Fuel_Man
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,818
    Oil dealers KNOW if the burner is not running, they are not going to sell you much oil based on that dynamic. Agree with @yellowdog . Get that burner running as fast as you can!
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • seized123
    seized123 Member Posts: 297
    @Supertech, it's a Beckett AFG, F3 burner head, current nozzle is .75/70 deg. B, the decal on the burner says 140 psi, but I don't know if it's been set to that.

    @yellowdog and @EdTheHeaterMan I agree, besides, this kind of thing is all the oil company does, and I'll call them. (This guy is my new plumber, my old one of 30 years retired and left the area.)

    @EdTheHeaterMan, that was an awesome explanation of the kind of progressive intermittent thing this seems to be. And it made me realize that while previous to this last incident I would notice the red light perhaps many hours after the lockout happened, this last time might have been not too long after lockout, and true to your theory indeed this time upon pressing reset I didn't get ignition, unlike the other times. You also suggested I checked the coupler and I did and it looks fine to me, no sign of wear (it's fairly new, as is the motor). (There is a slight oily coating in the housing where the motor and coupler go, which makes me wonder ...)

    I guess you were saying that sludge can accumulate somewhere under time and pressure, only to be released and free up after a period of dormancy (and then repeat the process). The filter did look free of sludge, though. But maybe in the pump or nozzle? Also, can igniters or solenoids heat up over time and malfunction?

    I just fired up the system after a day of dormancy and troubleshooting and it's running fine, no red light, but that's how it's been. (I was not too worried about puffback because I only pressed reset once when I got no ignition, and because I looked in the combustion chamber and saw no sign of oil.) We'll see how long it
    runs.

    My plan now is to call the oil company for them to come next week - I don't need an expensive emergency/weekend service call because the system is running and it's getting warmer outside and we're comfortable. In the meantime I will try to put in a Carlin Pro-X 70200 as you suggested. I will also look for a pressure and a vacuum meter, and may try that out, using the Suntec manual as a guide, although based on what you're saying it seems to me I would need to do that very close to the time of lockout. Ugh, intermittency. Thanks!
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,818
    I did have an occasion where the old style Ignition transformer would have issues after operating on intermittent ignition (formerly called constant ignition... meaning the transformer would operate the entire time the burner motor was operating). As the transformer would heat up from operating for 10 to 20 minutes then the high limit would cause the burner to go off. When the limit would reconnect within a few minutes, the transformer was still hot and would fail to spark. Once everything cooled down the transformer would operate just fine. Hard to find this problem. I have also experienced a newer electronic ignitor with intermittent failure issues. The way I found it was with the 70200 primary control. There was a message that indicated “LOW AMP TO IGNITOR 17 CYCLES AGO”, in the history. The customer hit the reset button to get heat the night before and there would be no way I would have known that without the 70200 control.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • Dave Carpentier
    Dave Carpentier Member Posts: 587

    Once everything cooled down the transformer would operate just fine.

    I had an opposite in my old house, once the transformer warmed up it would operate.
    Crawlspace lowboy oil furnace would occasionally fail out during the cold night. I'd get down there, test a few things, then it would be fine like magic. After a few repeats of that, I called in a tech. Same thing (magically worked while they were on site). They replaced the primary. Days later, same deal. Now they're saying entire burner (or new furnace, my choice lol). I tried the next affordable electrical 'thing', a used transformer. Never had a problem again with that furnace, go figure.
    I suspect it would get cold in that semi-unheated crawlspace and produce an open circuit inside the windings or terminals. The act of opening the crawl hatch, working over the unit breathing on it, and putting hand on it, warmed it up enough to mysteriously work.



    30+ yrs in telecom outside plant.
    Currently in building maintenance.
    EdTheHeaterMan
  • MaxMercy
    MaxMercy Member Posts: 508

    Once everything cooled down the transformer would operate just fine.

    I had an opposite in my old house, once the transformer warmed up it would operate.
    Crawlspace lowboy oil furnace would occasionally fail out during the cold night. I'd get down there, test a few things, then it would be fine like magic. After a few repeats of that, I called in a tech. Same thing (magically worked while they were on site). They replaced the primary. Days later, same deal. Now they're saying entire burner (or new furnace, my choice lol). I tried the next affordable electrical 'thing', a used transformer. Never had a problem again with that furnace, go figure.
    I suspect it would get cold in that semi-unheated crawlspace and produce an open circuit inside the windings or terminals. The act of opening the crawl hatch, working over the unit breathing on it, and putting hand on it, warmed it up enough to mysteriously work.



    Intermittents are a problem in any repair scenario. Replacing the whole system is the ultimate "parts cannon" solution.

    My mom's house had an intermittent lockout, and it drove me nuts. I wasn't sure if it was a no-start or a flame out. Combustion was right on so I swapped in a new transformer, coupler, CAD, sharpened and reset the electrodes and it would still lock out whenever it wanted - once every 5 minutes or once every few days. The last day I worked on it it would shut down every two minutes with me watching it running nice and smooth with a perfect flame.

    On a hunch, I measured the CAD cell resistance while it was running. To do that, I had to pull the CAD wiring out of the junction box and disconnect the CAD cell to measure after the flame established. Even with a good bright flame and combustion numbers, the resistance was floating about 1500 ohms - dangerously close to lockout threshold. I made sure the CAD cell bracket was not bent and tried another CAD cell and was getting the same high resistance. The flame was fine but the CAD cell didn't seem to be seeing it that way.

    Turns out the small bracket that held down the electrodes to the gun assy was sagging from the hold down screw being too tight after many servicings. The sagging bracket was dipping into the line of sight between the CAD cell and the flame hole in the nozzle flange. I flattened the bracket to get it out of the line of flame line of sight and the resistance dropped to 500 ohms with no other work. Lockouts gone.

    Sometimes an intermittent can be repaired even when the appliance seems to be running normally.


    EdTheHeaterMan
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,823
    Good one, @MaxMercy . I've also seen CAD cell sockets with tenuous connections. Last one I had was on an old Beckett SR- I'd upgraded to a GeniSys on that one so could see the ohm readings on the "contractor tool"- even with a fresh cell. It got a new socket and a new cell, and we haven't been back.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    MaxMercy
  • rick in Alaska
    rick in Alaska Member Posts: 1,457
    I would always take the cad cell and use my wire strippers to put just a little crimp on the prongs, which made it stay in the socket tighter and not loosen up with the vibrations.
    I am going to make an educated guess and say if the cad cell readings are in range, that the fuel solenoid on the fuel pump is going bad. I have had quite a few of them give that intermittent problem like you are having. They are cheap enough to replace.
    Rick
    MaxMercySuperTech
  • gassyman
    gassyman Member Posts: 5
    MaxMercy said:
    Once everything cooled down the transformer would operate just fine.
    I had an opposite in my old house, once the transformer warmed up it would operate. Crawlspace lowboy oil furnace would occasionally fail out during the cold night. I'd get down there, test a few things, then it would be fine like magic. After a few repeats of that, I called in a tech. Same thing (magically worked while they were on site). They replaced the primary. Days later, same deal. Now they're saying entire burner (or new furnace, my choice lol). I tried the next affordable electrical 'thing', a used transformer. Never had a problem again with that furnace, go figure. I suspect it would get cold in that semi-unheated crawlspace and produce an open circuit inside the windings or terminals. The act of opening the crawl hatch, working over the unit breathing on it, and putting hand on it, warmed it up enough to mysteriously work.
    Intermittents are a problem in any repair scenario. Replacing the whole system is the ultimate "parts cannon" solution. My mom's house had an intermittent lockout, and it drove me nuts. I wasn't sure if it was a no-start or a flame out. Combustion was right on so I swapped in a new transformer, coupler, CAD, sharpened and reset the electrodes and it would still lock out whenever it wanted - once every 5 minutes or once every few days. The last day I worked on it it would shut down every two minutes with me watching it running nice and smooth with a perfect flame. On a hunch, I measured the CAD cell resistance while it was running. To do that, I had to pull the CAD wiring out of the junction box and disconnect the CAD cell to measure after the flame established. Even with a good bright flame and combustion numbers, the resistance was floating about 1500 ohms - dangerously close to lockout threshold. I made sure the CAD cell bracket was not bent and tried another CAD cell and was getting the same high resistance. The flame was fine but the CAD cell didn't seem to be seeing it that way. Turns out the small bracket that held down the electrodes to the gun assy was sagging from the hold down screw being too tight after many servicings. The sagging bracket was dipping into the line of sight between the CAD cell and the flame hole in the nozzle flange. I flattened the bracket to get it out of the line of flame line of sight and the resistance dropped to 500 ohms with no other work. Lockouts gone. Sometimes an intermittent can be repaired even when the appliance seems to be running normally.
    One other fix that has worked for me when the cad cell ohm reading is borderline when installed in the burner, but well within specs out in the room responding to the ceiling light, is to clean up the inside of the air tube and paint it with something reflective: white, silver... If light is present, you have an ignition source, so you are not compromising safety; but the reflective surface increases the amount of light that reaches the cell, allowing it to drop ohms away from the cutoff point.
    EdTheHeaterMan
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,506
    edited April 2023
    gassyman said:

    ...
    One other fix...is to clean up the inside of the air tube and paint it with something reflective: white, silver...

    Sure sign of a hack. I would never do that. You ARE compromising safety. Now the burner could stay running when it should shut off on safety, and you risk a sooty mess, or worse.

    Know how to fix it. If that was a great idea, the burner companies would make the air tubes reflective.

    steve
    SuperTechyellowdog