Friday, December 30, 2011

The Care and Feeding of Blue Flame Heaters

I think I mentioned coming home to a cold house the other day because my heater had failed to keep running. Frankly, it was due to my extreme laziness and perpetual avoidance of preparedness. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, dammit. Well, that's just foolish if you rely on a thing for a very important service, like, for instance, keeping YOUR WHOLE HOUSE WARM WHEN IT'S BELOW FREEZING OUTSIDE. Just a thought.

Ventless blue flame heaters are a very cost effective and fairly economical way to keep a room warm. However, it should be noted that they are not vented and in some locales, installation in a house without some sort of venting capacity is illegal. Don't rely on my advice whether to get one or not if it's illegal for you to use one. Just sayin'. Plus, I'm not taking any responsibilities for any actions any of you might take after reading this article. Remember, this is an explosive gas we're working with, and if something breaks or fails, it ain't my fault.

At any rate, they work great when everything is up to snuff, not so great if something is out of whack. Since purchasing this unit, I've had several HVAC types tell me the radiant heat varieties are better because they aren't so picky or service oriented. I really don't know, and further more, I'm gonna run this one until it craps out and buy something new. Parts are available, but not locally, so if it quits, I'm gonna want something in it's place tout suite. I might consider a radiant heater at that time.

What makes the blue flame so picky is that there has to be air introduced into the propane stream in both the burner and the pilot in order for it to function properly. End of story. Ok, Jeffro, you say, what does that mean?

If you've hooked your unit up with a standard yellow gas flex hose, there probably is enough slack to turn the thing over and look underneath (keep in mind that the line has only so many flexes in it's life). Otherwise, you'll have to crawl under it and look up. You'll see the pilot assembly roughly in the center, and it will look something like this picture above. My pilot air inlet is round and considerably smaller, and there is a wire mesh in the very end of the pilot assembly, where the flame runs. If you are like me and have a cat, plus are an indifferent housekeeper, all this is going to have cat hair and cobwebs interfering with the air flow into the assembly. This will shut off the unit and the pilot light. If you come home and your pilot light is out, you can get it relit, and after a while get the burner to going, and then seconds later - click - the whole thing shuts down, well, a dirty pilot assembly is probably the culprit. If the air is obstructed in any way, the pilot light doesn't burn at the proper temperature, nor is it as long as normal. It looks weak.

All you have to do is use a can of compressed or "computer" air, and be sure to get the straw for extending the nozzle. Spray around the end and in the air inlet for sure. I even took the gas line off and blew in from that end to make sure the mesh end gets cleaned out.

When this happened, I did not have any full cans of air. All I had was some carb cleaner. While that is an excellent solvent, it does nothing to cat hairs or cobwebs, and may even make things worse by matting them to block the air. Just use air, and if you have an air compressor with a long hose, so much the better, just be aware that oily air isn't going to help, and lots of air pressure could damage delicate parts. Air from a can is at about the right pressure, and it takes very little.

Okay, next up is the burner chamber - the blue flames dance over the slits in the tube. If your flames start getting longer and have yellow tips, you'll also probably notice that your stove is cranking out some soot. Not good. You may even hear a "guttering" noise, look over and see yellow flames with the inlet on fire with a yellow flame. This is a very big clue that it needs cleaning as well. To get it to stop, I just shut the gas down, and wait for the flame on the intake to go out, then fire it up again. Temp fix only, though.

Part number eight is the tube burner. You may notice the one end is wide open, except for a smaller inner flange - sort of like a lid with a hole in it. The mounting brackets space the nozzle (part 17) away from the burner, being locked into place by a mounting nut (part 28). The gas line (part 14) feeds the nozzle.

In order to get the clean burn, the propane must be premixed with atmospheric air, so that is why there is a spacing between the nozzle and the burner, and why the burner has a flange, etc. This area is also extremely vulnerable to cobwebs and cat hair, and the nozzle can get coated with carbon from that stuff burning onto it. At any rate, using the canned air cleans that crap out of there fairly well with the straw bent in a manner to reach some of the hidden areas. The tendency of the 'puter air can to blow wet actually helps here - it's enough of a solvent to help clean off the carbon.

I'm sure at some point, I'm gonna have to pull the burner unit out and really go to town on it to clean it up. I have done that before, taking it out to my air compressor. There is a carbon buildup around the gas slits, and it sure seemed that the inside would load up. That is a project more suited to warmer times, as your stove won't be running while you go after the carbon with some more serious solvents. It's gonna have to dry completely before reinstallation and burning gas with the remains of solvents still within.

So, pay attention to what your stove is telling you and you'll be fine. If none of these things work, then your stove has problems beyond what I know, and you will either be replacing the stove or certain parts that I do not posses the knowledge to diagnose the particulars. This advice is offered with the understanding that I'm not responsible for any of your actions, because I'm not there to control the outcome. I accept no liability for any actions any of you might take. If you have doubts, call a service person.


Edward said...

Thanks for this post! It helped troubleshoot my Blue Flame heater. Unfortunately mine is even cheaper built, in that part 8 and 21 are tack welded together so there is no way to clean the interior of the burner chamber.

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