By Tom Secondino, Technical Sales Support Specialist for U.S. Boiler Company
Good morning, this is Tom. How can I help you?
“Yeah, I got one of your Burnham boilers here we would like some help with.”
Sure, what model are you working on?
“It’s an old P205.”
Thanks. And the serial number?
What’s going on?
“Well, we replaced the pilot, control board, gas valve etc.. and the boiler still won’t fire.”
Has anyone checked the incoming gas pressure?
Que the long awkward silence/crickets…
Today more than ever our trade requires technicians to have at least a practical, and preferably proficient level of competence regarding diagnostic processes and tools.
The modern technician must be able to determine the failure mode of a boiler, and then isolate the cause of the failure rather than the symptom. For the hydronic segment of our industry, this involves an intimate understanding of combustion, electrical, plumbing, and some old fashioned common sense among other things.
As professionals we strive to avoid unnecessarily replacing parts. The polar opposite of this situation is when a contractor arrives on the job and calls the tech line having not even removed the door from the boiler. (Yes, this happens on occasion. And we are usually polite and professional regardless!)
The goal of this tech tip is not to cast aspersions on tech line callers but to help our readers appreciate the benefit of technical training.
Electrical testing confusion
The example for this tech tip involves electrical testing and specifically an interesting dynamic that can cause confusion among many technicians. A technician responds to a call for no heat on a gas boiler. The power is on, and the boiler display indicates a lockout for “no ignition”. The tech, being ambitious and well-seasoned after years of emergency calls pulls out his tool kit and immediately checks incoming gas pressure and reads 6.4” of natural gas. Give the tech 1 star. He then cycles power and runs the boiler through a start-up sequence with his manometer still on the inlet test port to check for pressure drop during ignition. Nice! Saves time from switching to the outlet port to check if the valve is opening. The pressure never drops throughout the start sequence. He also holds his hand on the gas valve solenoid to try and feel the solenoid energize. Two more stars!
He then switches gears and pulls the harness connector from the gas valve to check for proper voltage. Strike one! He runs the boiler through another cycle and during ignition reads 26.2 volts. Strike two! Comfortable in his many years of experience and exhaustive knowledge of all things hydronic, he concludes the following; No gas pressure drop, no tactile sense of the gas valve opening, and good voltage to the valve (he thinks). If there is an apprentice training with him, the apprentice looks to his mentor admiringly and says “That took under ten minutes! You must be the best tech in the world!” The technician gazes off into the distance, and responds softly,“ It’s quite elementary, my dear Watson. The gas valve is clearly the culprit of this inconvenient event.” Strike three!
One hour later the dynamic duo return. The apprentice installs the gas valve and tries to fire the boiler, which still does not fire. All tests are repeated with the same result. The apprentice is bewildered and asks “Could it be something else?” The tech responds “Impossible! Must be another bad gas valve. Take it off and we’ll go get another one.” They do this (while berating the wholesaler for selling “cheap junk” and then return, and after installing have the same result. It is now late, the wholesaler is closed, the homeowner has no heat, the lead tech is frantic, and the apprentice has lost faith in humanity.
The lead tech took all the right steps but missed one critical element. When testing voltage he pulled the plug from the gas valve and his meter indicated proper voltage. If he had left the plug connected to the gas valve and checked the circuit with the electrical load of the gas valve intact he would have seen a sharp drop in voltage. A limit string device (safety) can have compromised contacts which allow enough of a path for voltage to flow with no load connected, but not with a load, which is the coil of the solenoid in this case. We get calls of this nature often, usually resulting in frustrated contractors, homeowners, wholesalers and generally a lot of negative energy the universe could do without.
How can you avoid this situation?
Training is the answer. Where? Under normal circumstances, we would invite you to take part in one of our in-person training and plant tour sessions in our Lancaster, PA manufacturing facility or perhaps at our live-fire satellite training facility in Waterbury, CT. Unfortunately, our times are far from normal at the moment. Due to the restrictions surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have temporarily suspended in-person group training at both facilities.
Since training is paramount to success in our industry, we are developing a new program offering online interactive training sessions. “Well”, you say, “I don’t have the time to sit with my crew just to watch another ‘dog and pony’ sales presentation” We agree wholeheartedly. Our intent is to make these training sessions streamlined, focused, and custom fit to your needs. YOU can determine exactly what you would like us to cover; setup and installation of specific products, common service issues, or anything in between. If you would like to talk to us about joining us online for one of these sessions, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our overall training curriculum has been developed by the internationally acclaimed man of mystery, Ron Beck. Ron has had over 40 years in the industry and has tailored our training program’s content specifically to the industry’s needs. Once things return to normal, we encourage you to attend one of the in-person sessions I referred to earlier. These sessions allow us to go into great depth and detail on a wide variety of topics. We even have a highly interactive segment that allows us to simulate what a tech experiences on a service call.
In addition to these training options, U.S. Boiler also has a series of videos available online which show some of the more common questions we have been fielding recently.
>> If you would like to browse this collection of videos, simply click here.
Good training whether in-person, or online, is invaluable. Spring is almost here, and many contractors are in a shoulder season lull right now. This is a perfect time to take advantage of some of these training options. Best of all, good training provides attendees with knowledge that typically translates across wide areas of our industry. As the average age of our industry hovers around 57, it’s critical to help you and your staff keep pace with an ever-changing industry. Sometimes you can teach old dogs, and apprentices, new tricks!