A Broken Furnace, and a Few Trips to Ace Hardware

On arriving at the house today, Liz and I encountered a small problem – when we upped the thermostat, the furnace wasn’t kicking on.

Knowing as little as I do about furnaces and furnace repair, I employed the one skill I bust out whenever my car isn’t behaving properly: I open things up, and I stare. I’ve seen several episodes of Sherlock, so I was convinced that through the sheer power of observation, I could fix the thing.

And so I grabbed a screwdriver and opened up the top panel. And something happened that cemented this impulse for all future mechanical issues: the furnace clicked on!

Or rather, it clicked on and off fairly rapidly. There’s a small series of red/yellow/green LED indicators on the furnace’s circuit board, and they were popping on momentarily before popping right off. It seemed that, briefly, when I had the top panel halfway unscrewed… the furnace would click on.

Eventually though, we were greeted with silence regardless of what we did with the top panel. And though we hated to bother him, we ended up giving Bob a call (he and Julie have been hard hit with the flu and other nastiness the past few days, and have been recuperating).

Turns out, some furnaces have triggers on their top and bottom panels. If both are removed, some furnaces will automatically shut off to prevent a scenario where the air being pulled in (bottom) could inadvertently draw the flame (top) downward, damaging the furnace’s components (wires and such).

Bob suggested we push a little on the lower panel, which was still closed. Lo and behold, when we applied a bit of pressure… the furnace started right up! I don’t think we ever would have thought to try this, and it’s Bob’s long years of experience that helped us out yet again.

With the heat up and running again, Liz began working on stripping more paint in the dining room. She’s been hard at work on this the past week (she’s on vacation, but has been spending all of it at the house).

Me, I focused on trying to get our condensate pump working again. We threw out some old, clear vinyl piping when we cleaned out the basement and relocated the furnace. So I needed to test the unit, to makes sure it was working… and to also buy a replacement tube.

For those who may not know, heating/AC units create a bit of condensation as part of their normal operation. A condensate pump collects all of that condensation, and then pumps it away when the level reaches at certain height.

In the device itself, there are several large-ish circular holes. There are two hoses that come from the furnace, which go into the holes. And somewhere in my brain, I believed that a third hose would simply go in the remaining hole for the water to get pumped out of.

Never mind that this is pretty much impossible due to physics, but in my head I thought “well, this is where the water must get pumped out.” I filled up the device and placed it in the basement sink, to test if it would still work… and when I did, water shot out of that small spigot on the right (the one in between the two holes).

It was like baby, peeing straight-up in the air. I had this moment of “Oh, so THAT’s how this thing works.”

Luckily for us, we have an Ace Hardware near our new place. I was able to walk over and buy a new length of hose to put over the spigot. On testing out the device once more, I realized that I had purchased hose that was sized to fit over the nut in the spigot, and not tight to the spigot itself.

Luckily for us, we have an Ace Hardware near our new place. I was able to walk over (again) and buy a new length of hose to put over the spigot (again). The folks there were very nice and patient with me, and even allowed me to return my previous purchase. I’m pretty certain I’ll get on a first name basis with folks there, soon. If not out of necessity, than perhaps out of my own miscalculations.

Measure twice, cut once, and then go back to the store for more lumber.

Finally, FINALLY after getting the condensate pump working I was able to help Liz in the dining room. She’s been practicing with the infrared heater we purchased (a device which we’ve nicknamed Mr. Burns), and has developed a pretty good system/workflow.

Currently, she leaves the heater over an area for around 1:15 – 1:20. This is a good amount of time that lets the paint heat and bubble up, without actually getting burnt. Then, very quickly, she pulls at the paint with her scraper targeting the thin grooves in the trim at the center, left and right.

These are pretty tricky spots to get at, even with the traditional paint stripper solvents… so attacking these areas is essential, according to Liz. Hitting these areas first is paramount, as if you can get them off then it’s just that much less to do on the second pass with the actual paint stripper.

Additionally, when returning to the wood with Mr. Burns, Liz found that an overlay of about 2 inches from the bottom helps. If you don’t overlap, you’ll wind up leaving these small 1-inch strips of untouched paint that you’ll have to remove later with solvent.

The trick with the gun is that, once you go over an area… there’s not a way to go back, as you’d be re-heating up exposed wood. At least, that’s our concern. So we want to do as much as we can with the one shot we have.

I was given a test section to work on (the shelving area next to the fireplace). It’s slow work, and I’m still gouging the wood more often than I’d like… but I’m slowly, slowly getting the hang of things.

I have to say though – this heat gun thing is well worth the money. It’s still not a fast process, but oh boy is it faster than the way we were doing things previously. I’d say compared to the traditional paint stripper + denatured alcohol manual approach, this gun is letting us work about 5 or 6 times faster. And speaking as someone who’s still figuring things out, that’s quite an impressive gain in efficiency.

Fun day today, even if it did take me 2 hours to fix something that should have taken 20 minutes. But let’s ignore the fact that I was late to the party, and just celebrate the fact that I showed up at all.

The Heat is On!
Stripping Wood at the New House

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