St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Squirrely Furnace

Since last winter we have been having furnace problems.  The Olsen oil furnace has run OK, heated OK, but since last December been smelling of fuel oil   A new nozzle and cleaning did nothing and talking on the phone to the repairman he suggested maybe we needed to go with a power-vent chimney instead of the regular one that may not draw well enough. 

That got me thinking.  The furnace has been in for 15 years or more and most of that time worked fine and if it didn't a cleaning and nozzle fixed it (other than when the controller type stuff went out).  Could the chimney be plugged?   No, looked fine with the stainless steel liner in the old brick chimney looking just like new after 30 years.  

Wondering if the smell was in the basement, I turned up the thermostat, left the basement door open and went down to watch things in hopes of having a light-bulb moment.  The furnace started, heated up and on came the fan.  No smell at all.  While down there I decided to bring in the water hose stuck through a small opening in the window frame.  A rush of cold air from the outside came through as I removed the hose.  "Must be windy out there," I thought.  

No oil smell upstairs either and no wind.  Got me to thinking. The furnace takes air through a floor opening with grill from the main floor to circulate it back to the basement.  What if it was not getting enough air?   So as an experiment, I propped the basement door open a little to let air return that way too.  

So two days later and no oil smells, I think I have figured out the problem -- not enough return air from upstairs to basement furnace.  Why after years would this have started up last winter?   

Thinking more over my morning cup of coffee, I remembered my squirrel fight of last December.   A red squirrel rattled through the living room wall and settled in each evening and again in the morning-- actually going inside the walls.  I spent a lot of time stalking the beast, and finally managed a clean shot with my old single shot 22.  Then I decided to close up the holes around the basement where the tracks showed the squirrel had made a big hole around an old basement window frame.  I poked and sprayed insulation wherever I felt a cold breeze.  I even plugged the hole under the dryer that Dad used to divert the dryer hot air output to the basement in the winter after a red squirrel came up and ran about the bathroom 

Well, the furnace was depending on the leaks to get enough air to function.  Without the air, and not enough from the cold air return, it was sucking some of the smoke back down the chimney and mixing it in the air sent through the pipes to heat the house.  

With the basement door open, no smell other than the mustiness of a basement without a dehumidifier.  The old cold air return was big enough for the old wood furnace, but the oil furnace with a much bigger fan needed the squirrel holes to function efficiently.  

Sadly, I have "cleaned out"  (euphemism)  all of the red squirrels in the yard, so have to solve this problem myself.  A hole in the floor? Maybe a hole in the basement door with a screen put on it would work.  I don't want to bring in outside air as that is too cold unless I go with an expensive heat exchanger.   Maybe the easiest solution is to go under the bed and drill a hundred holes 1/2 inch diameter (too small for the mice) and vacuum regularly so the dust bunnies don't clog them.   Need a few more cups of coffee to explore the alternatives, in the meantime the basement door is propped slightly open. 

After some more coffee, I think I will buy an antique floor register about 18x18 inches, cut a hole in the floor and install this in the living room (where the hole from the old temporary toilet was cut back when Grandma used it for her bedroom at age 100).   A trip to the recycle store seems in order if Frieberg's Gone Green doesn't have anything there.