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Thread: Furnace will not start or stop running reliably

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member PhillyRunninMan's Avatar
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    Default Furnace will not start or stop running reliably

    Hi all,

    I've got a 60 year old steam furnace with a newer gas burner unit (~12 years old) that will not reliably start up and, when started, will continue to heat long after the target temperature has been met. I have replaced the 60-year old wiring & the 12-year old thermostat and still have the problem.

    Any thoughts? We had the local gas company's service people out--that was kind of worthless--they said it was the thermostat or the wire, but they didn't work on them, and then they sent us a bill for their 'diagnosis'.

    Thans in advance,

    Cheers,
    PhillyRunninMan

  2. #2
    DIY Senior Member Runs with bison's Avatar
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    I don't know that this fits the particulars of your problem, but the problems I've had with furnces/AC not shutting off or not starting in response to set point have often fallen into the following categories:
    1. Old battery in the digital thermostat. (I've seen this on several units in different home...they get squirrely when the battery is low.)
    2. Air infiltration in the wall the thermostat was mounted on--had this happen last year. In this case there was an open channel up the wall to the attic. This was creating an offset in both summer and winter, most noticeable in winter when the displayed temp seemed to lag other measurements in the home...and the furnace would continue running well after the home was warm--to the point of becoming hot. I noticed the wall near the thermostat was very cold during a ~0 F night. The next day I checked the attic and found a gap in the insulation. After stuffing the cavity the unit has behaved predictably.
    3. Stuck or defective contactors on outside units. Sometimes a sharp rap on the box will get them functioning (at least temporarily.) Other times I've had to replace them.

  3. #3
    Senior Robin Hood Guy Ian Gills's Avatar
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    Does it have a vent damper and is that playing up?

    On my old furnace the vent damper acted like a switch. On those days it refused to open, the furnace would not start up.

    Just an idea.

  4. #4
    Homeowner Thatguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhillyRunninMan View Post
    I have replaced the 60-year old wiring & the 12-year old thermostat and still have the problem.
    Post a schematic of the furnace.
    Closed contactor points at rated current that are good should read 30 mV or less across them, with bad being over 100 mV.
    This can't be too hard to find the problem.
    Last edited by Thatguy; 10-19-2009 at 01:55 PM.

  5. #5
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    Check the pig tail that runs to the pressuretrol for 3 years worth of mud and crap

    Yours probably does not have the nice clear cover like the one in the picture. Teh pigtail is that squirrly pipe it's attached to
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  6. #6
    DIY Junior Member PhillyRunninMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Runs with bison View Post
    I don't know that this fits the particulars of your problem, but the problems I've had with furnces/AC not shutting off or not starting in response to set point have often fallen into the following categories:
    1. Old battery in the digital thermostat. (I've seen this on several units in different home...they get squirrely when the battery is low.)
    2. Air infiltration in the wall the thermostat was mounted on--had this happen last year. In this case there was an open channel up the wall to the attic. This was creating an offset in both summer and winter, most noticeable in winter when the displayed temp seemed to lag other measurements in the home...and the furnace would continue running well after the home was warm--to the point of becoming hot. I noticed the wall near the thermostat was very cold during a ~0 F night. The next day I checked the attic and found a gap in the insulation. After stuffing the cavity the unit has behaved predictably.
    3. Stuck or defective contactors on outside units. Sometimes a sharp rap on the box will get them functioning (at least temporarily.) Other times I've had to replace them.
    Thanks for the response (& sorry for my delay). The digital thermostat (& batteries) is new & the wall is well insulated--no drafts.

    I'm thinking it has to be the relays. Interesting (with the new thermostat & batteries) the Furnace turns on on cue, but still fails to shut off. The electronics of the burner are well beyond my ability--Im going to find someone (other than the gas company) that can work on steam systems.

    Thanks!

  7. #7
    DIY Junior Member PhillyRunninMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Gills View Post
    Does it have a vent damper and is that playing up?

    On my old furnace the vent damper acted like a switch. On those days it refused to open, the furnace would not start up.

    Just an idea.
    I was hoping that it was that !!! but no, the damper is balanced & moving smoothly

    Thanks!

  8. #8
    DIY Junior Member PhillyRunninMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thatguy View Post
    Post a schematic of the furnace.
    Closed contactor points at rated current that are good should read 30 mV or less across them, with bad being over 100 mV.
    This can't be too hard to find the problem.
    I'll try to dig up the schematics--that was a hectic time (my son was in the hospital when we closed on the house--he's fine now) & I'm afraid that I didn't get them when the system was converted from oil.

    I'll have a look and see what I can find.

    Thanks!

  9. #9
    DIY Junior Member PhillyRunninMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Griffin View Post
    Check the pig tail that runs to the pressuretrol for 3 years worth of mud and crap

    Yours probably does not have the nice clear cover like the one in the picture. Teh pigtail is that squirrly pipe it's attached to
    I don't believe my system has a pressure controller like that (with the pig tail). The valve to bleed off the sludge from the furnace works fine--I bleed it off every other month in the heating season.

    I'll have a look an see if there is another portion (pig tail-like) of the pressure controller inside the old cover (the heat exchanger & burner are in the original 1930's case which has been modified a couple of times).

    Thanks,
    Bret

  10. #10
    Homeowner Thatguy's Avatar
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    Wait for the symptom and measure the relay/contactor coil voltage.
    If the voltage drops to zero but the unit continues to run it has to be the contacts.

  11. #11
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    FWIW, one spring a few years ago I realized my a/c unit wouldn't turn on. After investigating, discovered that a mouse had electrocuted itself across the main power contactor (240vac). It happend the end of the season and over the winter the thing was mummified, but in its death throws, the fluids gummed up the contactor. A lot of contact cleaner got it free again, and it works. All sorts of things can get into contacts - ants, termites, mice, and give you all sorts of weird symptoms.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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