Burning Out

The day before our New Year’s party, we woke up and the house was frigid, more so than usual. So I turned up the thermostat, thinking maybe the furnace was having a hard time keeping up with the extremely cold weather we were having.

Midway through the day, the house was still freezing. In fact, there wasn’t any air coming out of the vents, even though the thermostat was set to 72, and the inside temperature was 63.

So I ran out to the garage, flipped the switch on the furnace off, and back on, and pow, fired right up.

Two days later, we awoke and the house was again freezing. This time, I was beginning to wonder what the problem was, but still hoped it would work itself out.

But of course, it didn’t. After two days of a 62 degree house, I finally took the panel off of the front to see what was going on. Two blinks on the control board: “lock-out, failure to ignite”.

So the ignitor must be bad – fine, no problem.

Flip the switch off, back on, solid light on the control board: “replace control”.


I turned it off for a few hours, and back on, and it fired right up. Maybe a fluke?

Nope, as soon as it raised the temperature to 68 and the thermostat shut the furnace off, we went back into the pattern of two blinks, followed by a solid light.

So I called a repair guy. They came to the house, let me know that not only did the ignitor need replacing, and the control board, but the fan was also starting to go out.

Repair costs? Between $1,350 and 2,200 depending on the quote.

Spending that much on a 19 year-old furnace just seemed stupid. What else is going to go wrong in the next few years?

So replacement it is. And while we’re at it, we’re going to also add central A/C – something we’ve wanted since we moved in.

But if you’ve ever replaced a furnace or air conditioner, you know it’s a very expensive task (goodbye kitchen remodel).

So, being the cheapskate that I am, I got 5 quotes – 3 Trane quotes and 2 Carrier quotes. And as we huddle around space heaters, I’m bargaining with the Trane guys to match the lowest Carrier quote.

Why not just go with Carrier if they’re the lowest? Well, the secondary heat exchangers in their furnaces aren’t made of stainless steel (which the Trane is). Instead, it’s lined with some proprietary junk. In repair world, simple = better, and proprietary = costly. The Trane is also a higher efficiency furnace. For some reason, when the Carrier is in a down-draft position, which ours is, the furnace is no longer tax credit eligible because the AFUE is below 95%. Lame.

So in addition to begging bargaining, I also asked if I could do the electrical for the A/C unit myself to save some money. Sure, I’m told, and it will knock $400 off of the install.

So my good old Dad came up for the weekend, and we started making some changes: Change the current 20 amp breaker for the furnace to a 15 amp, add a GFCI outlet outside, within 25 feet of the A/C, and add a 30 amp 220 breaker and fused disconnect where the A/C will be installed.

I started with the easy stuff. Switching out the 20 amp for the 15. I cut the main, loosened one screw, and out with the old and in with the new.

Then, I disconnect the hot tub wiring from a 50 amp 220 breaker we had in the box for the old hot tub, and prepare to swap that out for the 30 amp 220.

So I pulled the wiring, and just as I was disconnecting the junction box on the outside of the house that connected to the conduit, my wrench slipped and I nicked the hot lead wires (the one on the right… if the black oxidation isn’t enough to give it away). GEEZ.

Being an idiot, I basically thought that once the main breaker was off, there wasn’t any live power inside of the box, so while I was being careful, not careful enough.

Thankfully, I was using rubber handled pliers, so when the electricity arced across the panel, the only damage to me was a good jolt of fear. Oh, and temporary blindness, deafness, and empty-headedness from the sparks/boom/pants pissing.

Note the charring/melting at the tip of the wrench. After recovering (that’s a lie, I never really did, mostly made Dad do the wiring for the rest of the night), we took the junction box out, and filled the hole with a plug.

Once that was done, we decided we’d tackle the GFCI outlet, and call it a night. We already have a GFCI in the utility bathroom I remodeled earlier, which is in the perfect location – the A/C will be just outside the bathroom.

So we flipped the breaker for the bathroom, took the plate cover off the front of the outlet, loosened one of the two outlets, and pulled it out. We then cut a hole outside, just about a foot below the interior box, and fed the wire from the inside box, through the insulation, and out the hole on the exterior of the house.

I fed the wire through an “old construction” or remodel box, screwed it into the hole in the siding, wired the GFCI using the instructions on the box, and installed the very cool, expandable weatherproof cover (it’s flat when not in use, but expands 3” when something is plugged in). A little crooked, but not too bad considering it was dark out.

With the outside done, we connected the wires to the outlet in the bathroom, pushed everything back into the wall, and replaced the outlet cover. With the breaker on, I tested the power and the operation of the interrupter switches, and we were good to go.

The worst of the project, running wire for the 30 amp disconnect box, would have to wait…


  1. Mommy said:

    What a hoot!! It was so funny to drive up to a completely dark house and see a tiny beam of light from your flashlight after your ‘near death’ experience. Glad you didn’t get hurt though! And I bet you were shaking in your boots while Dad finished. heehee.

    January 10, 2011
  2. wife said:

    moral of the story .. wait til dad is here.

    January 10, 2011

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