Temperatures in MN recently have hovered below freezing for over a week. Highs have been in the mid 20s Farenheit with lows in the single digits. In short, winter is here.
To combat the escalating cost of natural gas, we keep our thermostat set at 68°F during the day and 64°F at night. When I get up in the morning I turn up the heat so that the house is warm by the time the kids wake up. On the days FrankenKristin works we leave the temperature down in order to save a little money. After all the dog has a thick coat so she can handle to cooler temps for a few hours.
However, when I woke up Monday morning I was surprised to see the temperature in our house was 62°F. I turned the thermostat up to 68°F but by the time I left for work an hour later the temp had not gone up at all. In fact it had gone down to 60°F. This made me nervous.
So before I left I went down stairs to take a look at the furnace. Given my ignorance of most things mechanical I stared at it for a while, turned it on and off a few times and then gave it a good WHACK! For whatever reason, the furnace kicked in, so I asked FrankenKristin to keep an eye on the temp and let me know if it gets any colder.
It didn’t last too long because by the time I got home from work the inside temp was down to 58°F. Luckily we were having a short warm streak so the outside temp had actually risen to 30°F. Nonetheless it was still pretty cold.
The last time this happened the problem was due to a bad igniter, so in a rush I headed off to the hardware store. When I returned I installed the igniter, said a prayer to St. Lawrence and switched on the furnace. The igniter glowed nicely but the gas never kicked in. I ran through the morning ritual again but to no avail. Even the WHACK didn't help. Meanwhile the temp inside (and outside) continued to get colder.
The guy who installed the furnace is a good friend of my parents, and we have recently been talking with him about upgrading anyway, so I gave him a call to see if he had any ideas. Of course he wasn’t home so I left a message and hoped he might return my call in the morning. At bedtime we dressed the kids in long pajamas and piled them up with blankets. FrankenKristin and I did our best to warm up our bed too but that only lasts so long.
When I woke up the next day the inside temp had dropped to 53°F. As left for work I called my brother-in-law. One of his high school friends is an HVAC guy and coincidentally, used to work the guy I had left a message for the night before. He said he couldn't look at it because he was in South Dakota and wouldn’t be home until Friday. He did agree to make a few calls and see if he could find someone who might be able to help. Two hours later he left a message saying that none of his guys had gotten back to him so he was going to have his dad take a look at the furnace. He said his dad is a plumber but he assured me that he knows some things about heating as well.
Since both FrankenKristin and I were at work I had my dad go over to the house to let this guy in. When he called a few hours later he said that he’d poked around a bit and determined that there was probably some corrosion in the gas valve. How did he know this, you ask? Apparently he tapped on the valve, near where the piston is located, and that triggered the heat to come on. He said that the their is a small piston inside and it has probably gotten stuck due to a build-up of gunk. He made it clear that this was a temporary fix and that he couldn’t guarantee how long it would continue to work.
We discussed the cost of replacing the gas valve as well as the sensor inside the furnace that regulates the temp and decided that, since the furnace is nearly 20 years old, it would probably be in our best interest to look at getting a new furnace sooner rather than later.
Guess what I'm getting for Christmas?