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skitten mentioned a couple of days ago that our heater died. Exactly when, I don't know -- we tend to keep the thermostat set very low (60F or so) and there are enough loads in the house that it doesn't get cold enough to turn on the heater often. But it's been getting colder, and the temperature finally started to fall below the thermostat temperature.

That's when I noticed that the water circulation pumps and the boiler exhaust fan were running, but the pipes were not hot and the burners weren't lit (or sounded like they had gas flowing, either).

This isn't the first time this has happened. It usually happens on a cold day (or that's when we notice it, of course), and the last two times the heater died it was due to the electric igniter element failing.

Our boiler burns gas, but apparently good old-fashioned pilot lights are not code anymore so it has an electric igniter. The electric igniter consists of a resistance element made of some ceramic-like material, coated with what I presume is a catalyst, with a pair of wires coming off of it. It's mounted inside the boiler near where the gas burners are located. The ignition sequence is: send power to the igniter, which gets white-hot; turn on gas; if gas doesn't ignite within 5 seconds, shut down and start over. Otherwise, once gas ignites, turn off igniter.

If the igniter is cracked, or the catalyst has burned off, or if it otherwise fails to heat up, no gas flows and so there is no danger. And that's what we are seeing: no igniter heating up, no gas flowing, no danger, no heat. So what I most likely need is a new igniter.

Today was payday, so I was finally able to head down to the heating supply shop to get a new igniter -- at $25, plus tax. They aren't cheap, and they are consumable, which is an annoyance. On the otherhand, $25 every two years isn't much, even if it is annoying when it happens.

As I was was trying to put the new igniter into its holder so I could put it into the boiler.....I dropped it. Did I mention it was made of a ceramic-like material? Did I mention it was prone to cracking? Tomorrow I'm off to spend another $25.....

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that "ceramic-like material" is something resembling firebrick, which is extremely heat-resistant, but very fragile (i've managed to break firebrick with my fingers). place a folded-up large towel under where you're working, Just In Case you drop the new one. (and if there aren't any instructions with the unit, ask the guys at the heating supply place how to hook it up; there may be a right way and a wrong way.)

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