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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    10

    Dirty flame sensor in a year old furnace?

    We had a Carrier Performance 93 furnace (Model 58M__) installed with new AC in May of 2008. Furnace worked fine last winter. This year, the furnace would occasionally not kick on when temperature was below thermostat setting. I then reset the thermostat a degree or two and it would work. Never called for service.

    After a 3 day Christmas trip, we returned to a house at 43*. Resetting the thermostat did not result in a working furnace. I could hear what sounded like a fan moving inside the furnace (not the blower). but the burner never ignited. When I turned the breaker off and then on, the burner fired. Called for service after that.

    First service tech was (incorrectly) told by his dispatch that the breaker was tripping. He replaced pinched wires between the gas valve and burner enclosure. I came in the house as he was finishing and explained the actual problem. He said to call back when the problem reappeared.

    Which happened today - 5 days later. The second service tech diagnosed a dirty flame sensor. He polished it and put it back in. The furnace seems to be working fine. The tech said that flame sensors get dirty and prevent firing, and that sometimes the sensors need polished as often as once or even twice a year. He said the same furnace can operate for years in one home without trouble, but in another the sensor can get dirty enough to block ignition on a yearly basis. He said that cleaning the sensor is part of a yearly maintenance routine sold by his company.

    Could he possibly be right? Is Carrier actually marketing a product that will not last a year between service calls? The furnace has a five year warranty, but what good is that warranty to me if it doesn't apply when the furnace quits working? This seems to be more of a design defect than a maintenance issue. Or, could installation have been faulty, somehow allowing a dirty burn?

    I live in central Ohio in a 25 year old development. All my neighbors and I get the same Columbia natural gas. 2 others on my block have the same Carrier furnace, and have not had this problem. Last winter was mild.

    The tech charged me triple figures for his time, which I'll take up with the company. I know I did not pay for a service contract, but I did pay thousands for this system 19 months ago, and I don't think its unreasonable to expect it to work for more than one season before it needs repair. (Is polishing a dirty flame sensor "maintenance" or repair?)

    Are high efficiency furnaces really this unreliable? Am I stuck with a lemon that will need service calls every year?

    Ed

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Buffalo NY
    Posts
    3,084

    Cool

    Sorry to tell you Ed but the tech was right. You need to have that unit serviced once a year to avoid problems just like this. Its like changing the oil and air filter in your car, routine maintenance.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Illinois
    Posts
    6,959
    Sometimes it's not the unit but the environment that it's in.
    Units in a laundry room for example will suffer the consequences of fumes from laundry detergent, fabric softener etc...

    In the garage, fumes from car exhaust, paint from hobbies, etc...

    Routine maintenance should be performed on your system twice a year minimum, again , depending on environment more visits could be necessary.

    With the price of a service call included a triple digit fee is not unusual even for a minimal repair. But always giving the customer more value than the cost of the actual repair is good business, with my techs even a simple short repair requires several checks be made to the system, rarely are they on the scene less than 45 -60 minutes checking everything. Left to right, top to bottom and front to back...it's checked.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Posts
    4,703
    Quote Originally Posted by elodublin View Post
    (Is polishing a dirty flame sensor "maintenance" or repair?)

    it is maintenance. repair

    Are high efficiency furnaces really this unreliable? Am I stuck with a lemon that will need service calls every year?

    read your manual or call the mfr, they will suggest yearly maintenance on it.

    Ed
    why are people so surprised that they have to maintain a furnace? it is just like an automobile, it runs 1/2 to 3/4 of the day burning fuel, has moving parts and yet expected to never fail.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2000
    Location
    Indianapolis, IN, USA
    Posts
    34,109
    Is there a combustion air PVC run to outside?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Lancaster PA
    Posts
    67,935
    Quote Originally Posted by BaldLoonie View Post
    Is there a combustion air PVC run to outside?
    Units that use inside air are prong to the flame sensor needing cleaned more often.
    Its not the product. its the environment the product is working in that causes problems.


    A dirty flame sensor generally does not prevent ignition. The burners still ignite. The dirty flame sensor just causes the burner to shut off a few seconds later.
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  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Posts
    523
    I'd be curious if the problem doesnt re appear. I dont think I ever ran into a furnace that would sometimes work for 5 days or so then not work at all due to a dirty flame sensor. Not saying its not the problem but it wouldnt surprise me if it happens again.

    And yes, the furnace is recommended to have yearly maintenance done. Not saying you cant go a few years without it, the manufacture recommends it. It could be like an appliance, like the Microwave, it breaks and you replace the entire thing but no one ever does maintenance to them. However I dont think people would like replacing their furnaces that often...

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    southeastern wisconsin
    Posts
    33
    If your furance stops again and you need to call a tech out, ask him if he check & cleaned the condensate trap & lines those also need cleaning yearly.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    10
    Thanks for your replies. I think I understand your industry better - but I don't like what I'm learning.

    The furnace is in an enclosed basement area of about 400 sq. ft. with a concrete floor. It has a fresh air pvc supply line to outside air running with the exhaust pipe. No laundry or other mechanical activity in the area. We paid extra for the 8 inch Carrier filter assembly - which we changed this summer. Our house is clean - me and the wife, kids gone. Seems like ideal conditions for furnace life.

    I own 4 cars, each over 200,000 miles. I know the value of preventative maintenance. I expect that all things mechanical need maintenance, HVAC included. But this rather costly furnace is only in its second year, and in my own personal calculation of what's "right,' that is just too soon to need repair. In 40 years of home ownership I've had a furnace refuse to work exactly twice. Maybe I've just been lucky, or maybe today's furnaces are poorly designed and unreliable - maybe both.

    But, that's why I posted my question. I want to understand if my contractor, or Carrier, was the source of my problem, or if this failure is deemed acceptable to you all in the business. Given your responses, it seems clear that my expectations do not match today's HVAC systems.

    What good is a 98% efficient furnace to the consumer if maintenance costs exceed fuel savings? My monthly gas bill is $65, for stove, hot water, dryer, and furnace operation. That $6.50 per month I'm saving in gas consumption doesn't come close to the cost of a maintenance contract or even one service call.

    I am just a consumer. I know next to nothing about HVAC, But, if as a routine matter, you all don't see failure of 19 month old furnaces as unacceptable, then in this consumer's opinion, there is something very wrong with your industry. I'm sure maintenance contracts provide valuable revenue and predictable and evenly spaced work, but to me those contracts must be masking poorly designed and unreliable products. Give me back 80% efficiency. That additional 18% is just not worth the extra expense and unreliability.

    Or, maybe this problem will never happen again....(?)

    Ed

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    N. E. Missouri
    Posts
    9,750
    Your efficiency will be (eventually if not now) directly related to maintaining the equipment in good working order. This is very clearly outlined in warranty paperwork--maintenance is NOT covered under warranty and must be done to prolong the life and efficiency of the equipment.

    Do you take vitamins? Brush your teeth? Ever get a flu shot? Why? To maintain before failure and to prevent such.

    It's not a scam.
    Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Linn Creek, Mo
    Posts
    399
    If the problem is just the flame sensor was dirty and there ends up not being any other problems, then I would be looking at what is stored around the outside intake to the furnace. 80% furnace can have the same flame sensor problem. It all depends on what is stored around the intake of the furnace. I am guessing that you live around Columbus since you have Columbia Gas, 3 figure sevice call are not out of the norm for that area.

    There are a few good HVAC companies, and a few bad HVAC companies in your area. There is one that I would stay away from. I don't think I can tell you who on this site, not sure if it is against the rules.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    N. E. Missouri
    Posts
    9,750
    I didn't catch that he posted a location? And of course there isn't one in the profile.

    jid1877, you get plenty of snow your area?
    Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    10
    The fresh air and exhaust pvc pipes exit the north wall of the house and vent about 4 feet above ground level. The AC unit is directly in front of the pipes, about 18 inches from the wall. no vegetation or other stuff near the pipes. No foot traffic close by. Not a dusty area. Grass yard and mulch bed near the house. This time of year, everything is frozen to the ground.

    I like my contractor. They've been in business for 50 years, and don't do a lot of advertising. They are one of the bigger outfits in the area., but not the biggest. The owners are the sons of the founders, and they are actively involved in the business. The installation crew was clean and professional, and seemed very competent. At one point I had five guys actively involved in the install. They've done a lot of work in my neighborhood. I've recommended them to neighbors.

    That's what is so troubling. I trust my contractor - and yet my 19 month old furnace doesn't work. Maybe its just bad luck - though most of the replies here seem to view this failure as acceptable.

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