Intermittent delayed ignition on oil fired boiler

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Old 12-07-15, 09:02 PM
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Intermittent delayed ignition on oil fired boiler

Let me start by saying that I don't know if what I am about to describe is a problem or not, but here goes.

(I have a Beckett burner, pre-fuel solenoid and all of that other fun stuff. I don't know the exact model, because the sticker on the side has faded to the point of being unreadable, but it seems to be one of their standard residential burners.)

Now that it has been getting cold around here and the furnace is running more I have noticed that every so often it takes longer than usual to start. Most times, I hear everything happen pretty much all at once -- the motor kicks on and within 1/4 of a second or less I have a good steady flame. Sometimes, however, I hear the motor kick on, but it takes maybe 1 to 2 seconds to achieve flame and if it is closer to the 2 second mark I smell a bit of fuel in the air if I am in the basement with the burner (I think I am getting some slight puff back in that case.)

I can't tell for sure, but it seems to happen most often when the system is heating the house and everything is fully up to temperature. In this case, the furnace has to run every 5 - 7 minutes for about 5 minutes at a time in order to keep up. When the initial call for heat arrives from the thermostat in the hallway, it takes the furance a solid 30 minutes to get everything up to temperature (doubt that matters, but figured it was worth mention.)

Anyway, I have been servicing the furnace myself annually and each year I have replaced the nozzle, replaced the fuel filterer, cleaned out the heat exchanger and firebox, and checked the settings on the electrodes with the beckett tool for doing so. I also have a fuel pressure gauge and I put that against the pump and it seems to be pumping a steady ~110 PSI or so.

I replaced the transformer about four or five months ago because I was getting puff back on almost every start up and the guy at the local plumbing supply store let me borrow his transformer tester and it tested as not being so great. Since it seems like I have good fuel and the transformer should be healthy -- does that mean I should replace the electrodes next? I have inspected them and there are no obvious cracks, but I don't know if that really means anything.

Anyway, I have seen that there are some real furnace wizards on this forum from doing some research in the past and I am hoping to tap into some of that ancient wisdom ... .

Maybe this is just normal operation for a furnace of this vintage? I really don't know...
 

Last edited by jreedwine; 12-07-15 at 09:27 PM. Reason: Add clarification to title
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Old 12-07-15, 09:18 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

Just to confirm...... oil fired hot air furnace.

I'm not a pro in the oil department. That would be Grady.

I had an oil burner/boiler at my old store and I despised it as coming from an all natural gas environment. From what you are describing it does sound like delayed ignition. It may be that the electrodes are not correctly located in the atomized fuel spray.

Others will stop by and offer their opinions.
 
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Old 12-07-15, 09:25 PM
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Ah, yes, it is an oil burner and it heats our hot water and the closed heating loop that feeds the baseboard heaters we have throughout the house.
 
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Old 12-07-15, 09:46 PM
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Ok.... thanks for clarifying that. You have an oil fired boiler... not a furnace.
You'll find your thread in the boiler section now. You should be redirected automatically to the new location.
 
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Old 12-08-15, 04:47 AM
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My bad PJ, thanks for moving this post to where it belongs! Around here, most people seem to use the term furnace to describe what I have, but I am always a fan of using the correct terminology so I'll try to remember to call it a boiler from here on out. I looked up both terms last night on Google and you are correct that I have a boiler, but I'm been hearing it called a furnace since I was a kid so it's a hard habit to kick .
 
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Old 12-09-15, 09:20 AM
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It could be that the "puffback" you experienced earlier is related to the delayed ignition you are describing now. See: Puffbacks: Cause, Cure, Prevention of Oil Burner Puffbacks on Boilers, Furnaces, Water Heaters

The fact that you do some regular maintenance on the burner is good. Regarding same, have you ever checked the draft? A restricted stack pipe or chimney could cause light-off issues.

What about the oil pump filter screen, have you ever cleaned/replaced that?
 
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Old 12-09-15, 10:35 AM
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Hi Rockledge, thanks for the response!

I'm afraid I don't have a draft gauge and consequently I have not checked the draft. I do keep the chimney clean-out vacuumed out and this past summer I was re-shingling my roof and happened to shine a light down the chimney and aside from some deterioration of the liner I did not see anything of interest. I have a cap on my chimney with wire mesh sides so it is someone unlikely that a critter got in there and built a nest, or something. I can hop up on the roof and take another look if you think that would be worthwhile though. I have toyed with the idea of buying a draft gauge before, but since the boiler was running ok and the flame looked good I decided not to worry about it -- perhaps now is the time. I was kind of looking for an excuse, the previous owner of the house put some sort of heat exchanger on the vent stack that has a fan in it that runs off an internal thermostat -- I assume it is a way to try heat up the basement a bit, but it always made me nervous. I also reasoned that if I removed it I would have to adjust the draft via the damper which would require buying the draft gauge and everything was running well so I left it alone.

In terms of the pump filter screen, I replaced that earlier this summer when I was having delayed ignition due to a problem with the transformer being weak and honestly, the one I took out was in great shape -- I was just covering my bases to make sure it wasn't a fuel issue. I'm not opposed to replacing it again, but it seems unlikely it got dirty that quickly as I am also very careful to treat my fuel when I get a new delivery.

That article you linked to was quite interesting and seems to indicate that the most likely issue is fuel related -- possibly my pump's check valve not working correctly -- as I see no obvious signs of leak in the lines themselves. However, I'll go through all the connections again after work tonight and make double sure there are no signs of a leak. I do know that when I am servicing it, the end of the gun is normally wet with fuel, but I always figured that was normal since after the burner shuts off there is still fuel in the gun line and my burner doesn't have a fuel solenoid and all that fancy pre/post purge magic that the more modern burners seem to all have .

The main trouble is, I'd say only 1 out of every 10 ignitions have the symptom, and sometimes it isn't even delayed enough that I get puff back so it will be difficult to know if any fix I make has actually solved the problem. I am afraid that if I just start throwing parts at it, that I will just by throwing darts at a board, so I came here to see if I could narrow my search a bit -- I appreciate the input!
 
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Old 12-09-15, 05:17 PM
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I looked around for leaks in the lines tonight after work and I really didn't see anything of interest. I did have another delayed ignition today that I noticed. In the afternoon the thermostat issued a call for heat and the burner started fine and ran for roughly 40 minutes straight at which point the call for heat was still happening, but the boiler had reached the cut-off temperature. About 5 minutes late the temperature in the boiler had dropped to the cut-in temperature and I heard the motor start up and then maybe 2 seconds or so later I heard a bit of a "whoosh" and then the normal sound of it operating. I went down to the boiler and I could smell some fuel in the air, but there was no visible smoke or soot.

It seems to me that it could either be the electrodes or the fuel pump, however I don't know how to isolate the problem effectively. I could just replace the electrodes and retrofit an oil-delay-solenoid at the same time, but I don't know if that is really the solution or not. I first noticed this issue roughly one week ago and I don't really want to allow it to continue much longer.

What do you think my best bet for solving the issue is?
 
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Old 12-09-15, 05:59 PM
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Funny how the problem showed it's head after a nice long burn. Based on what you describe, it doesn't sound like a draft issue.

If you've changed the pump screen recently then you are surely good there, too.

Since you've also seemingly ruled out a "bad spark" problem, I'm thinking along the lines of what you are thinking, that the fuel pump could somehow be allowing oil to trickle out even after the power to the pump is cut off.

....retrofit an oil-delay-solenoid at the same time....
I'm a little confused...what did you mean in your initial post when you said your burner has a "pre-fuel solenoid and all of that other fun stuff"?
 
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Old 12-09-15, 06:20 PM
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jreedwine-

the previous owner of the house put some sort of heat exchanger on the vent stack that has a fan in it that runs off an internal thermostat -- I assume it is a way to try heat up the basement a bit, but it always made me nervous.
I’m no expert to say the least but I wonder if that is some kind of vent control. I believe sometimes those are used for efficiency. If that is a vent control I wonder if it may not be working exactly as expected and may be intermittently causing a draft problem as Rockledge alluded to.

Or maybe if it isn't a vent control (in the vent, I think that's where they reside) then maybe it still interferes with the draft intermittently.

Just a thought.
 
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Old 12-09-15, 06:26 PM
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Ooops, I realize now that what I said is not as clear as I thought. I meant that my burner DOES NOT have any of those fancy features . It is an older unit. It doesn't seem like I can edit my original post anymore, or I would go back and fix that to make it obvious that my burner DOES NOT have any of those modern features. As I said in the original post, I just know that is a beckett, the model number sticker is worn away and not legible anymore or I'd post the exact model.

Thanks for being a good sport and questioning me on that, I was _attempting_ to be as clear as possible... . I included a few pictures of my setup for clarification!

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Old 12-09-15, 06:36 PM
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Im no expert to say the least but I wonder if that is some kind of vent control. I believe sometimes those are used for efficiency. If that is a vent control I wonder if it may not be working exactly as expected and may be intermittently causing a draft problem as Rockledge alluded to.

Or maybe if it isn't a vent control (in the vent, I think that's where they reside) then maybe it still interferes with the draft intermittently.

Just a thought.
Well, perhaps, but when I moved in to this place 3 years ago it was unplugged (it just plugs into a standard wall outlet) and the burner was seemingly functioning correctly at that time . I have also seen pictures of more modern units designed to do the same thing this does but for free standing wood stoves, the idea being that if the venting ran through your living space you could splice one of these in and it would reclaim some of the heat normally lost in the chimney. Also, there is a piece of chimney piping that I found in the attic a year ago which is suspiciously the correct size to fill the space that unit takes up. Since I can see the fan if I look inside those heat exchanger tubes that you see on the front the fan would not be actively assisting the draft, it would only have a passive effect on the natural draft, at which point, I would think the damper should be enough to take care of that.

I could still be wrong, as I've only read about draft assist systems a little bit, so I appreciate the feedback in any case.
 
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Old 12-09-15, 06:39 PM
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Funny how the problem showed it's head after a nice long burn. Based on what you describe, it doesn't sound like a draft issue.

If you've changed the pump screen recently then you are surely good there, too.

Since you've also seemingly ruled out a "bad spark" problem, I'm thinking along the lines of what you are thinking, that the fuel pump could somehow be allowing oil to trickle out even after the power to the pump is cut off.
I do think fuel leaking into the burn chamber is a possibility, I just don't understand why that would create a delayed ignition -- I would think that would just lead to puffback by itself. In terms of a "bad spark" problem, it could potentially be the electrodes as they are at least three years old (I've only owned the house three years, so they could be even older.) I've adjusted them as needed, and there are no obvious cracks, but I don't know if electrodes always show visible signs before they act up. I could pull the gun and take a few pics if you think that would be helpful.
 
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Old 12-09-15, 07:48 PM
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ignition

Hi, have you checked the distance between the electrodes and the end cone on the burner air tube? I think it's called the "Z" dimension. Also make sure there's no carbon build-up on the end cone. Steve
 
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Old 12-09-15, 09:36 PM
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Your heat reclaim unit should be ok. Did you check the burner coupling for splits and remove the end caps looking for widened grooves?
 
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Old 12-10-15, 06:20 AM
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Hi, have you checked the distance between the electrodes and the end cone on the burner air tube? I think it's called the "Z" dimension. Also make sure there's no carbon build-up on the end cone. Steve
I thought this was a good idea, so I woke up early this morning and pulled the burner from the boiler so I could have a look. I have the beckett calibration tool (IE: the piece of metal with markings on it) and WOW -- it was out of spec by probably 3/16" or more (it is not close enough to the end of the head.) I have included some pictures. Note the carbon build up on the top of the nozzle, is this normal? It makes me wonder if that is happening because some of the fuel is actually not making it to the inside of the first box since the gun is too far back!

Your heat reclaim unit should be ok. Did you check the burner coupling for splits and remove the end caps looking for widened grooves?
I'm not entirely sure what the "burner coupling" is. Do you mean the coupling that connects the motor to the pump? If so, I decided to pull the pump off this morning and inspect the coupler. The coupler has a slight amount of play on both the motor shaft and pump shaft, but it doesn't seem like it is enough that slippage would occur. What I DID find, was that the back side of the pump is covered in greasey oil -- I assume this means the seal on the back of the pump has failed -- does this mean I should be thinking about getting a replacement pump?

Here are all the pictures from my work taking everything apart this morning. Just to cover my bases I pulled that weird heat exchanger thing off the vent stack so I could look inside of it -- it looks really clean in there -- so I don't think it is causing any issues. I also opened the damper all the way and looked inside with a flash light -- I saw a pile of gray ash at the end of the tube, where it enters into the masonary chimney, but it was such a small pile I doubt it was impacting draft. Just the same, I cleaned it out.

Thanks everyone for the help so far, I look forward to your thoughts based on my pictures and what I found this morning. The most "promising" thing seems to be the the Z distance was set 3/16" off and that perhaps the pump seals are starting to go, which is probably not so great as well ... .

A couple notes on the picture, there is a shadow in the picture where I'm holding the beckett tool against the burner head, so it makes it hard to see just how out of position the gun is from the end of the heat.

Also, I included a humorous picture of the screw that holds the Z adjustment in place, I promise, I was not the one who striped the screw, but I intend to replace it since I'll be adjusting things. Finally, I included a few pictures of the gun on my work bench just in case anything of interest is happening there.

Thanks for all the responses so far, I have really been beating my head against the wall on this one and I appreciate all the feedback!

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Old 12-10-15, 07:11 AM
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That screw is made like that. Only way to loosen it is with vice grips on the inside. Check end caps on the coupling while you have it out. A adj. wrench on the coupling snug and a good pull will pop them off if stuck. I would clean up assembly with cleaner and steel wool. Pop a new nozzle in and tighten up the electrols together a bit and see what happens. Could be oil related too.(pump,etc.) Good luck.
 
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Old 12-10-15, 08:34 AM
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jreedwine-

I don’t know whether this indicates a problem, maybe the other guys would know, but I wonder if those insulators in your pic should look blackened like that. Here is a picture I took of the electrodes I replaced when I decided to start to do my own maintenance years ago. At that time I thought there was something wrong because there were no tips left. But the people on the forum here said that isn’t necessarily a problem if the gap is correct.

But I just looked at this picture again and noticed the insulators were not discolored at all, and I assume they must have been in my burner for a fairly long time since the electrode tips were burned down flat. So I was just comparing that picture to your picture of the electrodes and was wondering if the blackened insulators indicate a problem with the burning process. Maybe not.



p.s. here is a pic of the new electrodes I put in after a year. I took the pic so I could remember what new electrodes looked like after a year of use.

 
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Old 12-10-15, 09:55 AM
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That screw is made like that. Only way to loosen it is with vice grips on the inside.
Ah, ok, thanks for that. I'll be careful not to bugger up the threads when I loosen it with the vice grips to make my adjustment

Check end caps on the coupling while you have it out. A adj. wrench on the coupling snug and a good pull will pop them off if stuck. I would clean up assembly with cleaner and steel wool. Pop a new nozzle in and tighten up the electrols together a bit and see what happens. Could be oil related too.(pump,etc.) Good luck.
Ok, I'll clean everything up, check the ends on the coupling, adjust the Z dimension with the Beckett tool, and put everything together. Since I have to go to the plumbing supply store to get a new burner gasket I'll pick up a new nozzle as well. I may pick up electrodes if they aren't too expensive. I realize that the ones I have are likely fine, but I doubt it can hurt at this point.

But I just looked at this picture again and noticed the insulators were not discolored at all, and I assume they must have been in my burner for a fairly long time since the electrode tips were burned down flat. So I was just comparing that picture to your picture of the electrodes and was wondering if the blackened insulators indicate a problem with the burning process. Maybe not.
Yes, I am thinking it is because the gun is not close enough to the end of the head. If you look at the picture where I am holding the beckett tool up against the end of the heat -- the gun nozzle is not touching the calibration tool and it should be! I am thinking that some of the fuel is getting burned on or too close to the electrodes and gun, and is not burning fully which would create the carbon buildup you see in my pictures.

Anyway, I'm just on my lunch break now and I need to run to the supply store as the close before I get off work. I'll update again tonight or tomorrow with whatever progress I make. I am going back and forth as to whether I should replace the pump. All the buildup you see in the picture on the backside of the pump makes me think the shaft seal is worn and leaking oil by -- makes me wonder what else may be worn out inside the pump. Maybe that build up is normal, but it seems unlikely...
 
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Old 12-10-15, 04:31 PM
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I did not know you could check the Z dimension with the T501 gauge (learn something new all the time, lol). I found this which obviously you already know but maybe it can be helpful to others reading the thread.

(figure 7 page 7) http://www1.lennox.com/pdfs/installa...O183UF_IOM.pdf
 
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Old 12-10-15, 07:20 PM
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So, I cleaned up the gun assembly and reset the Z dimension to the proper distance with the T501 gauge. In the end, I think I moved it a little more than 1/8" toward the head (I marked where it was so I could see.) As guyold suggested I also pulled the ends off the pump coupler and that all looked good inside -- no signs of obvious wear.

I noticed that inside the combustion tube there was a layer of greasy oil and (this ended up being a mistake) I removed the head so I could get in there to clean it. Unfortunately, the threads on the screws that hold the head in were quite brittle and one of them got partially stripped. The threads in the hole still look ok, so I think I just need to get a new screw. I was able to put it together enough for testing purposes, but I can't leave it like it is or I won't sleep at night.

I also noticed that my electrodes are probably too worn to calibrate 100% properly so I am going to get a new set. They are close enough for now though (maybe 1/32" out of spec?)

I did get to fire it up tonight and it seemed to run same as normal, but my problem was also intermittent so that doesn't mean anything just yet.

During shutdown I noticed that while the motor was slowing down that the burner continued to burn at a lesser rate for perhaps 2 seconds -- can anyone confirm whether this is normal behavior or not? I can't say I've ever watched it shutdown before and want to make sure I don't need to do something with the pump while I am in here tuning things up.
 
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Old 12-11-15, 03:56 PM
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jreedwine

I dont know the answer to your question but I was nosing around and found this. It seems to me you and the folks on this thread who suspect the pump would be in agreement with this. Seems like it could fit your symptoms I think, lol.

In standard installations the fuel oil pumping unit sends high pressure heating oil through its outlet tube to an inlet fitting on the oil burner that in turn sends that high pressure oil to the oil burner nozzle where it is sprayed and ignited in the combustion chamber. When the oil burner tops, we want to quickly stop the flow of oil to the nozzle.

If we don't stop the oil flow quickly, heating oil at lower pressure continues to squirt, then dribble, out of the end of the nozzle where it will not benefit from complete combustion.

The result is an accumulation of un-burned heating oil in the combustion chamber - the cause of a "bang" or worse an oil burner puffback at the start of a subsequent oil burner "on" cycle.

Oil burner fuel units (oil pumps) already contain an internal check valve intended to quickly stop the flow of oil to the burner when the oil burner motor stops. But with age, or more likely with the passage of dirt and sludge from the oil tank, through the oil lines, through the oil filter, and finally sneaking past the internal filter screen found inside the fuel unit, that crud, or some of it, lands on the internal check valve seat where it can cause the valve to fail to seal quickly or completely.
Oil Delay Solenoid Valves, Quick-Stop Valves, Oil Safety Valves
 
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Old 12-13-15, 07:01 PM
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Well, on Friday night I got some new self tapping screws to replace the rusted out ones that got buggered up when I removed the head to clean the tube it connects to -- I think in the future I'll just clean as best as I can be reaching my hand in from the other end after I remove the gun -- don't want to risk messing the screws up again.

I also got a new set of electrodes and installed them and calibrated them using my T501 gauge exactly to the Beckett specifications. Below you'll find some pictures of the cleaned up gun with new electrodes as well as the head (which I cleaned up a little bit with the wire wheel on the grinder and as with some 320 grit sandpaper.) The only reason I bothered cleaning the face of it was so I would be able to tell if it was getting dirty again.

So far the every firing has been spot on (I must have heard it fire 20 or so times because I've been keeping an eye on it all weekend, though it was really warm around here, so it didn't run as much as it might have otherwise.) So, perhaps the combination of the Z dimension being off and the gun assembly being so gunked up with fuel varnish and carbon was causing an intermittent ignition problem -- seems plausible.

In terms of my concerns over the fuel pump, I did some more research and found out that air in gun can cause extended shut off times (would make sense that air was in there since I changed out the nozzle), because now it seems to stop burning within a second of the call for heat ending, which seems more reasonable.

I'm going to continue to keep my eye on it and see what happens. I'll post back in a week or so whether or not I believe my efforts yielded a solution. I may also have the local HVAC guys check the draft for me and do a combustion analysis just to be sure, but I want to make sure it is operating more or less correctly first.

Thanks all for the help so far!

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Old 12-14-15, 08:22 AM
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That sounds like a good plan. Hope things keep running well and you post back with good results.
 
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Old 12-22-15, 04:38 AM
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Well, it has been over a week now and the oil burner has been firing correctly every time. I know this because I have been keeping an ear open and because I no longer walk down the basement steps to the smell of oil in the air .

I think this one is solved, thanks everyone for the help, I really appreciate it!
 
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