Let's Stop Going Out
December 18, 2010 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I can fix it! Maybe. The pilot on our Williams P321638 wall heater keeps going out. Sometimes as often as every minute. Can someone help me confirm the logic to my proposed approach?

Ok. Thanks for reading on.

My landlord is not a swell guy, so I'd prefer to just fix this myself, even if it costs me some dough. I've been reading stuff on the internet all morning, but I am not particularly handy.

Here's what I know:
1) It's a Williams P321638 wall heater.
2) I had PG&E come and check it out; the nice guy said it was clean, he adjusted the pilot even though he said it was fine. He said it had an "auto shut-off" in case the venting wasn't working right.
3) The pilot goes out sometimes when the heater is not on, and sometimes while it's on and the thermostat turns it off.
4) The heater looks in good shape, clean, not ancient.

I think this means that it's not the thermocoupler, and more likely a problem with the venting. I just went up on the roof and the vent has a cap more or less like this.

4) I live in San Francisco, and it's been blustery lately.

So I was thinking I'd go down to the hardware store, and buy two things:

A carbon monoxide tester button, just to be safe
and one of those vent caps that spins in the wind.

Any one have any words of encouragement/discouragement for me?

Any other ideas?

Or am I being a dope and should I just call a repair-person (or make the landlord do it...).
posted by xz to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Best answer: The thermocouple can be marginal- work sometimes but not others. I would try replacing it just for grins.
posted by gjc at 12:53 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: yeah. just watched a few videos on replacing them. seems like it's worth $10 to try that first.
posted by xz at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2010

Don't try to service a gas appliance yourself. Get a second opinion.
posted by tel3path at 1:47 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I second the thermocouple approach. Had a similar issue with my water heater -- pilot light kept going out, replaced the thermocouple and haven't had any problems since.

The CO tester probably won't hurt.

Good luck! I've found doing this home maintenance stuff rewarding, even as a renter with a decent landlord.
posted by herrtodd at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2010

Don't try to service a gas appliance yourself. Get a second opinion.

I guess that's good advice for some people, but replacing the thermocouple doesn't open the gas pipes. The appliance WILL NOT WORK without one.

And really, gas isn't all that dangerous. If you can't smell it, you probably did it right.
posted by gjc at 2:39 PM on December 18, 2010

Don't try to service a gas appliance yourself. Get a second opinion.

No, don't try to service the plumbing of a gas appliance yourself. The nice thing about gas appliances is that the electrical bits required for it to operate are pretty simple. Did you check for continuity?
posted by desuetude at 3:51 PM on December 18, 2010

Oh! RepairClinic does not fail, even if they don't have a section for wall heaters. Here.
posted by desuetude at 3:52 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks desuetude! That's a bit technical for me. I think it's not a continuity issue, as sometimes it all just works fine for hours (goes off and on as per the thermostat).

The thermocouple on this heater isn't all copper. It is copper up by the pilot like the others i've seen, then turns to two wires. I might have to order a replacement one as it seems a bit specialized.
posted by xz at 4:36 PM on December 18, 2010

xz, testing with multimeter (power off, of course) is the secret magic trick of diagnosis, and is less technical than it sounds. Lemme know if you'd like help figuring out how to do some of the checking mentioned in that forum post.

/just repaired a gas dryer by herself and is giddy with newbie-DIY-enthusiasm
posted by desuetude at 5:32 PM on December 18, 2010

Are you in an area affected by the gas pipeline explosion?

That was only 3+ months ago, and I would imagine PG&E might be erring on the side of keeping its system pressure low right now, even if it does result in a few people having trouble keeping their pilots lit.
posted by jamjam at 5:41 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: as luck would have it, I had a friend over last night who's a lot more experienced in home repair than I am. he thought it was a good idea to try a new thermo couple, so i'm off to find one. for ten bucks, it can't really hurt to try.

i'm not so close to the site of pipeline explosion, jamjam, and it doesn't seem to be a pressure issue -- the heater will just shut off when it's in full go mode. every minute or so, actually, last night.

i'll let you all know what happens when i get the new thermo couple in, hopefully today if i can find the right replacement part.

thanks everyone for the help.
posted by xz at 11:40 AM on December 19, 2010

Response by poster: and... just called Cole Hardware; turns out the reason i've been a little confused is that my heater doesn't use a thermocouple, it uses a pilot generator. also easy to replace. $30.
posted by xz at 11:47 AM on December 19, 2010

Response by poster: Replaced the pilot generator. A remarkably simple procedure. Turn off gas. Open cover, pull out old pilot generator with pliers carefully (it was sort of stuck in). Disconnect leads. Buy 36" Millivolt Generator from Ace for $29. Pop it in. Replace leads. Spray soapy water on any gas connections that may have been disturbed. Turn gas back on. Check for bubbles. No bubbles; light pilot.


For the record, the old pilot generator didn't look in bad shape or anything.

I would say paying a repairman to do this for you is waste of money. The only nervous bit was getting out the old one while being careful not to disturb any of the gas works.

Thanks again everyone.
posted by xz at 4:21 PM on December 19, 2010

« Older Banking was conceived in iniquity and born in sin...   |   Best book light? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.