Why Do Furnaces Break On the Coldest Holiday Night of the Year?

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[Note the cross post. Follow-ups set to alt.home.repair]
Ah, what luck. My furnace quit working last night. This is a long rant and a "poor me" post, not a request for help. So if you're not to inclined to point and laugh at the clueless, you might not want to read on.
I thought the trouble was the thermostat. The Lux 500 had given me trouble many times before; it showed the low battery warning even with fresh batteries literally if I touched it wrong when adjusting the temperature.
A few days ago I noticed that it sometimes the Lux thermostat let the temperature fall five degrees below the set point before the furnace (Ruud Silhouette II) ran. I'd have to turn it to off and then back on, then it would run ok for a few days. I was concerned about the Lux crapping out entirely, so I picked up a Honeywell RTH110B at Lowes. I didn't get around to installing it.
Last night (New Years Day) at around 10 PM the temperature was in the upper teens, the coldest night we'd seen this year in Louisville. My furnace stopped running. I assumed it was the thermostat.
The symptoms were: if I turned the thermostat to "off" then back to "heat" the furnace would begin to start. I'd hear the whine of the power vent. The the igniter (it's a pilot-less furnace) would glow, and then the natural gas would start. The gas ignited fine, all burners looked perfect, but it ran for about five seconds then chopped off abruptly. This cycle repeated two or three times then nothing until I turned the thermostat off and then on again.
It was getting cold in the house, so I decided that now was a great time to replace the thermostat. :-) I turned off the breaker to the furnace, and swapped the Honeywell for the Lux.
It was the first time I swapped a thermostat. I was disappointed at the flimsiness of the connections of the Honeywell. The screws were too damn tiny, and the plastic back flexed so bad I feared it would break as I tightened the terminal screws. But nothing broke, and I completed the swap with apparent success.
Hoping I hadn't bought a dud thermostat, I turned the power back on and then turned the Honeywell to heat. The power vent started and I figured I had a winner. Good thing, as it took an hour to swap the thermostat and the house was even colder.
Guess what, the furnace did the same thing it did with the old Lux. Start, light three times, each time quitting after five or ten seconds.
At this point I was really frustrated not to mention worried. I had no means of alternate heat. No kerosene heater, no electric radiator. Stupid of me, but I'd been in the house since May and it was just one more thing I had meant to do. With visions of frozen pipes in my head, I wondered if the 24 hour Wal-Mart was open at 11:30 PM on New Year's night.
And I had to be at work on Wednesday, so I was looking at missing work to let in a repairman. And would I be lucky enough to get a repairman before the pipes burst?
Before I left to find out if the Wal-Mart was open, I decided to try my luck with a Google search of the furnace symptoms. Fifteen minutes later, I knew that it probably the flame sensor. I even found photos of what it looked like. Plus some model specific information that my furnace has eyes, that like the flame sensor, need periodic cleaning.
Another hour and a half later, the sensor was lightly sanded with fine paper, and the eyes were gently wiped with a paper towel. I also wiped the sandpaper grit off the flame sensor. It is now three hours since the furnace failed. My house is now in the mid 50's and if it weren't for the stress and the exercise I'd be cold.
Power back on, thermostat on. The furnace starts, lights ... and stays lit and produces most welcome warmth.
The Internet. Secret lover. Fixer of furnaces at all hours and on holidays too. Is there anything it cannot do?
--
Tony Sivori


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On Wed, 02 Jan 2008 12:45:22 -0500, Tony Sivori wrote:

Did you invoice yourself for the emergency service call?
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Meat Plow wrote:

I will now. What is a midnight holiday service run? $250 minimum?
--
Tony Sivori


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A friend of mine called me on x-mas because a furnace was out at one of her rentals. I told her I had family obligations and couldn't look at it. She called a "medium" size local heating contractor. The issue? Badly clogged Spaceguard filter. Cost? $225, without changing the filter, just removing it. Replacing it would have been $50 more.
JK
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lessons to be learned, have a alternative heat source always on site for emergencies, have furnace serviced yearly as a preventive maintence check.
newer furnaces require much more service
on thermostats i have a second thermostat in parrell with the one upstairs, its normally set on 50 so if my fancy thermostat breaks things wouldnt freeze.
also convenient for days like today working in shop
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Yeah I'm off to Google to find a good kerosene heater.

At least now I have a spare thermostat. Too bad the bases are not standardized and interchangeable.
--
Tony Sivori


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On Wed, 2 Jan 2008 11:45:58 -0800 (PST), Big_Jake

So what you are telling us is that YOU are not much of a friend? Send your "friend" a check for $225 and an apology. That should get you back in good standings. Bubba
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Any other x-mas, I would have been able to look at it. The OP asked what a service call on a holiday costs from a pro, and I gave him the information.
We're not on alt.hvac, are we? :-)
JK
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Big_Jake wrote:

On Christmas day, I think that is a reasonable charge. I just hope the tech got to keep the bulk of it.
--
Tony Sivori


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On Wed, 02 Jan 2008 13:27:20 -0500, Tony Sivori wrote:

Sounds about right.
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Tony Sivori wrote:

So why are you telling us / or me this Tony? You just needed to bang out some letters to the world?
--
Zyp



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Zyp wrote:

Not very much! ;)

I'd call it educational, for others who might have that problem one day. bj
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Tony Sivori wrote:

I remember my furnace crapping out and tracking it down to an inline electrical thermal protection device in the motor that thoughtfully protected itself by not opening, but by burning itself up on both ends.
Figuring I could just buy one of these the next day, as I even had the part number, but the part wasn't sold separately. I called the part manufacturer, found they had sold the division to another company, called them, and gave a good story. They fabricated five of them and sent them to me free. It took three weeks for them to make the samples, but this is in California, and I wasn't freezing.
It's still going about 20 years later. It's now a rental unit, and I thought about a new furnace, but it still seems to work fine.
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SMS wrote:

Samples? What did you do, tell them you were thinking of ordering a jillion of them?
--
Tony Sivori


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Learn Milligan some manners?
--

Christopher A. Young
.
.

"Tony Sivori" < snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com> wrote in message
  Click to see the full signature.
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Just about everything is more likely to break down when it's used more or put to more stress. Duh.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Is that what it is? I woulda never guessed.
--
Zyp



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Zyp posted for all of us...

--
Tekkie Don\'t bother to thank me, I do this as a public service.

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wrote:

So what exactly is your time worth? Especially 3 hrs. And after all that, Yes, you got heat but all you did was clean a flame sensor. What will stop it from working next time? Do yourself a favor. Call a reputable hvac company NOW and have the furnace serviced properly. It will be inexpensive compared to what another non working furnace can cause. Bubba
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Bubba wrote:

About $20 per hour. More on weekends and holidays.

No doubt, a good idea.
--
Tony Sivori


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