Service Tips

Written on: September 12, 2012 by Wayne Lawrence

For this month, I thought I’d write about something that has always bothered me, and again happened to find its way to me on this extremely hot August 2nd. I walked in on a soot call from a unit with a retention head burner. Now, some may say, “So what? It happens!” But I’ll counter with the fact that this is the third soot mess—on the same account—in nine months, and the last one was a damage claim payout due to a puff back!
There are several things that bother me here. The first is I hate getting dirty! It’s 90 degrees out, soot and sweat make me miserable! Second, the time spent “re-cleaning the cleaning” cuts into my daily productivity. Third, I have to protect the company, the previous technician, and do what I can to prevent an insurance payout. And the fourth, “Fixing the Customer!” is most important, because right at first contact, opening the door for me, she’s telling me her neighbor switched to gas and she is now thinking she should as well, ’cause it looks like we can’t fix it! So I’ve already got an earful from the customer, and now I’m staring at a scene that looks like a black pepper factory has exploded in her basement.
I look at the service history, and see several plugged boiler entries, the prior two were soot on arrival, and the very one before  this: “Unit shut down by fire department!” I won’t mention equipment type or manufacturer because in this case, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the previous service techs just cleared the heat exchanger, base, performed the standard nozzle, filter, strainer change and left.
UnsootableWhat they failed to do is find out what happened. It’s a retention head burner! In a cast iron wet base boiler! With a basement tank and gravity feed oil supply! I’ll share with you what I was taught to do many years back, by someone whom I hold in very high regard you know who you are, by the way, and I thank you! I simply clear the heat exchanger, make sure the chimney base is clear, has draft and, without touching the burner yet, fire it up.
I want to see what occurred and what caused this account from showing a business profit for the year, contributing to lost revenue and a possible lost customer—not only to our company, but to our industry! With the exchanger, smoke pipe and base cleaned, I fired up the burner and had a full orange flame about six inches past the inspection port. I shut down the unit again, and upon relight, the flame looked normal. Without even putting a gauge on the fuel unit, one of the problems immediately showed up. I had a sticking pressure regulator in the fuel unit. Upon installing the pressure gauge, I found it even failed the cutoff check. O.K. New fuel unit time. I also found a very dirty fan, the blades full of lint and an air gate restricted by lint as well.
Looking around the utility room, it was clear this was a confined space and there was no provision for make-up air. This boiler was in a shared laundry room, so when the clothes dryer and the boiler were running together, the problem became even worse. With the fuel unit replaced, pressure checked, fan cleaned, nozzle replaced, firing assembly cleaned, adjusted to spec and with the unit now set up, it ran like a retention head burner should. I explained to the customer that for now,the basement window needs to be left open some, and showed her where a make-up air grille needs to be installed in the near future. I had also checked for an attic fan or whole house fan, but on this home none were present. So why do I write all this, since this was a really easy fix? I’m sure most readers guessed what it was right away.
I wrote this because I truly hope this shared experience will again illustrate the importance of what we need to do on every call these days. Take the extra time to find the problem, and not only repair the fault, but make an attempt to prevent a reoccurrence! Explain what was done while on their property. Explain energy saving ideas and the new energy controls being offered. I truly hope I saved this oilheat customer, that she will give us a chance to recoup our investment and stay an oil customer. Things like this happen every day. We are fighting daily with oil prices; we shouldn’t give these loyal, long term  customers any more reasons to switch their fuel source!