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My oil burning furnace isn't starting correctly. What is wrong?

I have a 16 year old oil furnace in my house. I've figured out the rudimentary operation of it; it's wired to a switch on the wall that controls overall power. (yes, it's on)

Additionally there is a red reset button inside the front panel. When I first got the house and had the oil tank filled, I pressed this and it ignited after a few seconds. Initially, if I looked through the flip-up metal door that allows one to see into the 'combustion chamber,' I could see some dim sparking type light that I presume was the ignitor, and that would be followed in a few seconds by the flame of the oil burning.

The furnace still has power, and I still see the dim sparking type light, but the oil will not ignite. No big deal when temperatures are nice like they are currently, but we did have some frost a few weeks ago. I'm wondering if I'm missing something or if the oil pump is not working, furnace is dirty, etc...should I put in a trouble call? Would this be covered under a home warranty?

First of all, you say that you would see/hear the spark and then it would flame "after a few seconds". This is a problem; the flame should start instantly. Most likely, after you solve the immediate problem, you will need to tune up the furnace. Here is how to do that.

You are describing a "no fuel" condition. It is possible that this is due to a clogged nozzle. In this case, buy a new nozzle. They cost about three bucks and you should replace them every year or two anyway to keep the furnace at peak efficiency.

The other very common cause of this problem is that the pump has lost its prime. This will happen if the system ran out of fuel. You need, in this case, to prime the pump. Depending on the model, and the way your oil lines run, there could be a fitting on the bottom of the pump that you can loosen and the oil will run into the pump. You would tighten the fitting when oil started running out of it and the pump would be primed.

Often, the way the oil lines run give you a vapor lock in a line and it won't self prime. In this case, you need to remove a fitting and suck air out of the pump to draw the fuel in. When I am prepared and encounter one of these, I have a fuel siphon bulb that I attach via a neoprene line and then I pump the bulb until the oil is in the pump. A few days ago, I encountered one of these unexpectedly - I didn't have my siphon bulb with me - and I primed the pump by applying the lips to the fitting and using the lungs as the bellows, with the tongue as the baffle to keep the oil from lubricating the throat. Trust me on this; the flavor is really quite nasty. When I was done, I washed my mouth out with soap (it tasted better that way), then I drank a quart of unsweetened 100% grapefruit juice to get rid of the remaining taste.

If these aren't the problem, then you should change the oil filter at the tank. If this doesn't fix it, take loose the oil line at the pump and see if oil flows freely out of it. If so, repair/replace the pump. If not, search for the obstruction in the oil line.

Have fun.

About the Author: Jim Locker is a technical guy who has done a lot of real estate investing and landlording. The experiences he writes about and advice he gives are either first hand, or in answer to specific questions posed by others. He is commonly known as jiml8 around the internet.


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