Lighting A Pilot Light
As temperatures drop it will soon be time to literally dust off the old furnace and get it ready for the winter. A few preventative steps will make for a safe, comfortable and more energy efficient home heating season. One of the first steps in preparing the furnace is to relight the pilot.
The pilot may go out because of a sudden gust of wind or because the gas was temporarily shut off. A thermocouple near the pilot flame senses when the pilot is off and shuts off the gas supply before an explosive condition develops. The pilot can usually be easily relit.
Although most modern gas furnaces have an electronic ignition, older models depend on a gas pilot light for firing. Furthermore, when the furnace burners fail to fire it is usually because the pilot light has gone out or is in need of adjustment.
Not all pilot lights are the same. Procedures for relighting a pilot differ somewhat. Therefore, it is best to follow the steps listed on the instruction plate which is typically attached to the furnace cover or pilot assembly.
Most gas furnaces have a control valve which is referred to as a “gas cock”. The cock has three settings – off, pilot and on. To relight the pilot turn the cock to “off”, wait a few minutes to allow any residual gas to clear, then switch to the “pilot” position. Next, hold a match to the pilot, depress the cock or a reset button, and hold it down for the amount of time specified on the instruction panel. If the pilot stays lit, turn the cock to “on” and the burners will fire. If the pilot goes out again after the reset button is released, the entire process should be repeated, holding the reset down a bit longer. If the smell of gas persists at any time turn the gas supply off and call a serviceman.
When operating properly, the pilot should consist of a steady blue flame with a brilliant yellow tip. Condensation-induced rust can build up around the pilot and disrupt the quality of the flame. A cleaning with a small wire brush and vacuum is likely all that is needed.
One the pilot has been lit for a few minutes, turn up the thermostat to cause the burners to fire. As with the pilot, the burners should consist of a bright blue flame with some yellow at the tip. Anything else could mean that the burners are dirty or in need of adjustment. Rust and dirt buildup should be removed with a wire brush and vacuum. If cleaning and adjustment done produce the desired flame it is best to call a serviceman.
Lighting the pilot and adjusting the burners are only a couple of several steps which should be taken in tuning up the furnace for the home heating season. Dirty furnace filters should be cleaned or replaced. One effective method for cleaning reusable filters is with a solution consisting of laundry detergent, household ammonia and hot water. Especially dirty filters can be soaked in the bathtub and rinsed with fresh water. Allow the filter to thoroughly dry before reinstalling it.
When replacing a disposable filter it is very important to get an exact match. Since there are hundreds of sizes and configurations it is often best to bring the old filter with you to the hardware store or home center when seeking a replacement.
Most disposable filters have an arrow on the side of the frame which indicates the direction of the air flow. For best results be sure that the arrow is installed in the proper direction.
While changing the filter, it’s a great opportunity to clean the blower compartment. This area is prone to fill with dust and lint which can reek havoc, especially for allergy sufferers. A vacuum cleaner with an upholstery brush attachment makes quick work of this task.
Now would also be an excellent time to inspect the blower motor and belt. A screeching noise which occurs whenever the furnace kicks on is a sure sign that the belt needs attention. The belt should be firm and securely in position. Belt tension can be simply adjusted using a wrench and screwdriver. Worn or frayed belts should be replaced.
A touch of lubrication will usually quiet a noisy motor. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific recommendations on motor lubrication.
People with time limitations or who don’t feel comfortable performing these tasks should consider investing in an annual service contract with a local heating professional. The contract should include at least two visits per year one at the beginning of the heating season and a second at the end. If air conditioning is a component of the system, quarterly visits should be made.