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Old 04-14-2013, 02:43 AM   #1
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


I recently have taken over ownership of two apartment buildings from my father and am quickly trying to learn about HVAC as I have a problem already. I am very mechanically inclined but just have never had to deal with anything HVAC related before. I've done lots of research and believe I know what my problem is but want some verification before spending thousands of dollars on a new furnace.

A week ago I got a call that heat was out in one apartment. This is a 100,000 BTU 1985 RUUD forced air furnace. I found the pilot out and this was an exceptionally windy night so I thought perhaps it blew out. I relit it and all seemed well for a day or two. Another call, no heat again. I go and look and sure enough no pilot. I pull the thermocoupler and find a good layer of sulfur? deposits on it and decide to replace rather then clean as its a cheap part. I also found and cleaned a good bit of white deposits on the pilot hood that splits the pilot into a V shape. Fire it up and all seems well again. Another days goes by and heat is out yet again!? I go and relight and adjust the placement of the thermocoupler so its slightly more in the flame. I believe it is incorrectly placed as the edge of the flame just wraps around the tip now but it has run fine for a few days since.

My real issue is I have discovered a delayed ignition on my 4th (far right) main burner. The thermocoupler I replaced sits in the left side of the pilot V so I don't think that is effecting things. It has an occasional 2-3 second delay in the far right burner igniting which shoots a nice flame when it lights. Much reading led me to believe the crossover tube is likely crudded up with the white deposits and needs a good cleaning. I am not comfortable with pulling the assembly for cleaning as I don't have equipment to test for leaks when reinstalling and with gas I don't know if I trust the soap bubble method. So I call the tech my dad has used for years but that I have been leery of. My father calls and explains the delayed ignition problem and he responds the heat exchanger is shot and we need a new furnace. Seems pretty presumptuous for over the phone but hey he's the expert right? So we have him come out and look at it.

We walk over to the furnace and he says the heat exchanger is shot again without even looking at it. I ask if it is cracked, rusted, split etc? and he looks at me strange and gets upset and just repeats the heat exchanger is bad. We need a whole new furnace. I ask nicely again if he could explain to me what exactly was wrong with it and he gets more upset and tells me since it is an older system without an exhaust fan it is not getting enough air. Ok, I ask what could have changed to make it get less air, perhaps a birds nest needs to be cleared out? i didn't understand what changed to make it not get enough air now and what could have happened in the flue to clog it up? He gets quite upset again and tells me if I know more then him that I should fix it myself. I explain he knows more and that is why I called him but I was curious as to what exactly went wrong and why I would need to spend a few thousand on a new furnace. I inquired about the fact that it had not been cleaned in at least 15 years and that I found deposits on the thermocoupler and pilot hood and suspected there was some on the crossover tube preventing the flame from crossing over. He told me there was nothing to clean in there and that you do not have to clean furnaces. By now I was sure he was at least lying to me on some level. I told him I would seek a second opinion and thanked him for his time.

After he left I took an old toothbrush to the front of the crossover tube and with light pressure scrubbed it a bit and got a few small clouds of the white stuff. I didn't have my inspection mirror so just winged it a bit and cleaned it up best I could. Upon restarting the problem still existed but it was happening much less often, and not as bad when it did happen. Now it did it twice out of 30 or so ignition cycles. Before it was close to a 50/50 shot on if it would do it. I'm currently seeking another tech in the chicagoland area to hopefully pull it apart and properly clean the crossover tube and main burners. These are the old ribbon style burners but appear to be in good shape with only minor rusting in a few small spots on the rails. The walls of the heat exchanger appear to be in perfect shape from what I can tell. Also the flame appears to burn well, and does not change when the main fan turns on. The flames do not roll out, and they go up nicely and the flame appears to lean inward a bit towards the front from the air being drawn in from what I can tell

Am I out of line in suspecting I may just need a cleaning? Could this be a plugged flue on the heat exchanger? I know its a good idea to replace the furnace due to age, but if it is operating properly after a simple cleaning I don't know if I can justify it at this time. I have the money to replace it if needed but I do not want to throw money away unnecessarily.

I appreciate any and all advice. Thanks!


I have video of my problem for review.



Label in burner area.


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Old 04-14-2013, 02:43 AM   #2
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


Also if I do need a new furnace I have a Q about sizing. This is a 1,566 Sq Ft 3rd floor apartment in a brick building in Chicago. The calculators I find are putting me in the 45-55K BTU range. I don't know if I want to spend the extra money on a high efficiency unit, but I DO want to buy a quality unit and will spend more for a quality unit that will last. It seems American Standard and Trane are a couple brands putting out quality products currently. Would something in the 70-80K BTU range with a ~85-90% efficiency serve me well?

I asked the tech that came out about sizing and when I told him the old furnace was 100,000 BTU he said he would need to replace it with the same. I asked about the new higher efficiency of newer units as the old one is approaching 30 years old and if a smaller one would be appropriate he again got really upset with me. Everything I read said a newer unit that is more efficient could be sized smaller, and that years ago many used dramatically oversized furnaces approaching double what was needed in many cases and that this was actually even less efficient due to cycling on and off more.

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Old 04-14-2013, 03:26 AM   #3
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


It sounds like your having bad luck with your tech's.
The tech you bring over to cleanout your crossover can check for a cracked exchanger. If he claims it is, it's reasonable to ask him to show you how he knows.
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Old 04-14-2013, 08:21 AM   #4
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


Agreed. I'll add that it's pretty rare to not find cracks or rust holes in a 26 year old furnace.
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Old 04-14-2013, 09:04 PM   #5
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


A simple cleaning would be an understatement of what should be done and checked on a gas fired piece of equipment, it's chimney and all associated items that hadn't been serviced in 15 years. If all you are willing to pay for is a "make it work for now" fee when you call a heating company then that's the only kind of companies that you are going to get to service your equipment. A good company, one that has your interests in mind also, will always make sure everything is safe and functioning properly each time they step foot on your property. Not saying that's how you approach things, but it's something to keep in mind as you gain your experience managing the rentals.

Can anyone over the phone or having just walked into basement tell you that you for sure need a new furnace? No. Well with the exception maybe of the furnace laying in parts all over the basement floor from an explosion or rust when they walk in.

As for if you should change the furnace out or not.... I'd say you've more than gotten your moneys worth out of that unit for starters. The other thing you might not be aware of is that until just recently all furnace replacements happening from May 1, 2013 on would have to be 90% high efficient units minimum in all northern tier states. This was being mandated by the government. As of the last thing I read that "law" is still on the books, but at this point in time (due to a lawsuit and agreement) the law will not be enforced at this time. So....... you have a limited amount of time to decide if you're going to save your money on replacing an old troublesome furnace with a less expensive mid efficiency unit now or risk having to upgrade the installation to a high efficient unit maybe as early as this time next year. How much time you'll have in making this decision will depend on the government, the court and the lawyers.

I would suggest that you find yourself a good HVAC company that you can trust and have them help you make informed decisions by giving you all the information and options. Besides, having a licensed and insured HVAC company do all the repairs, service and the such on rental equipment greatly reduces your exposure to legal trouble.
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Old 04-14-2013, 09:55 PM   #6
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


well beacuse of the age of this furnace and because its rental property...imo I would change it out..but as stated clean crossover 1 st and try it....but more important have heat exchanger checked..if memory serves me they had problems with those exchangers after 20-22 yrs ...ben sr
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Old 04-15-2013, 06:46 AM   #7
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


I would recommend finding a new Heating Contractor by asking other people and finding out who in your area is reliable. I would then call the Company for a complete cleaning checkout and any recommendations they have for me. If I felt comfortable with the Contractor and depending what he recommends I would consider replacement before next Winter in the off season. The worse thing is having to replace anything in an emergency.
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Old 04-15-2013, 11:26 PM   #8
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Was this tech just trying to sell me a new furnace when a simple cleaning is needed?


Have you considered it will be cheaper to replace furnace than a burned down building or death from gases? Not a pro just an average guy like you.

Too much risk here for you and if something happens, you may not own those apts anymore!

Just saying!

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