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No Heat Again

January 1, 2017

The other day, I woke up at 5:30 am.  I was feeling chilly.  I tried to convince myself that it was only an illusion, but that didn’t work.  When I got up and checked the temperature in the house, it was 18.  No wonder I was chilly.  It was supposed to be 23.  I told myself: It looks like I’ll be staying up.

Even though I was still sleepy, I knew what to do.  I’d been through this before.  I went downstairs and looked at the furnace.  It was sitting there doing nothing.  Usually, there’s a red light on the front.  Usually the red light flashes a code if there’s something wrong.  This time, even the red light was out.  I tried a few things.  I flicked the circuit breaker off and on.  I did the same thing with the power switch that was just in front of the furnace.  I removed the two front panels from the furnace.  Nothing was obviously damaged.  I pressed the interlock switch at the edge of the opening.  None of this worked.

This time it was mild outside, just below zero.  I put the oven on low, with the door open.  I set up an electric heater in the basement.  Within a few minutes, the house was warming up.

At that point, I decided to call the furnace service.  It was the same company I’d called last year, when the igniter had failed.  I spoke to an operator at a paging service.  After I gave her the information, she wished me to have a nice day.  I chuckled at that.  So did she.  Within a few minutes, the service technician returned my call.  He said he would be there in about an hour, but asked me if I could wait until after 8 am.  I’d save a few dollars that way.  I told him I was quite willing to wait, and that I’d make the trouble call again after 8.

That gave me time to do a few things.  I washed my hair and had my breakfast.  I drank tea and coffee.  Finally, I was fully awake.  The house was warm.  I still had lots of time before 8.  I read the service manual for the furnace.  There were only three possible causes for that red light being out.  One was the controller board.  One was the interlock switch.  One was the house wiring.  I was betting on the controller board.

I started with the easiest thing, the house wiring.  The best place to measure the line voltage was right at the power switch, in front of the furnace.  I removed the cover.  I measured 120 Volts on the incoming side.  I measured zero on the outgoing side.  The switch was ON.  It was the switch!  With the circuit breaker open, and wearing gloves, I removed the switch.  It was an old one, with a white ceramic body, from the 1950s.  Should I just join the wires together?  That would be a quick test.  No, I might as well replace it with a new switch.  I’d have to do that anyway.  I had two in my box of spare parts.  When I’d replaced it, I flipped the circuit breaker closed.  Is that the furnace fan I hear?  The red light came on.  The gas came on.  The flames came on.  Everything’s back to normal with the furnace.  That was a relief.

At 30 seconds after 8, I called again to cancel my service call.  The furnace was still running.  We had heat again, glorious heat.  I shut off the oven.  I shut off the electric heater.  I put away my tools.  It was done.  Still, I was running on adrenaline for the rest of the day.  Nobody commented, but I must have been talking more than I usually do, and talking faster than I usually do too.  It was the next day before I returned to normal.    It took me a couple of days after that before I could stop listening for the furnace every few minutes.  Finally, everything is back to normal again.


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