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This is a gas furnace, but the pilot SHOULD already be lit. I have asked her to try to see whether it is on. There is no central air, so there is no cooling involved, only heating.
Especially since I am roughly 10,000 miles away and she has never tried anything like that, I am very hesitant to have her do that. I was hoping there might be some even simpler things to try, but if not I'm just going to have to "bite the bullet" and have a service technician actually go out to the house. I realize it's probably impossible for you to do more without more information.
I was just a bit surprised that the thermostat has no "fan on/off auto" switch. I assume this indicates an older model?
Yes, I understand the difficulty on your part. (And think about me, I'm 10,000 miles away.) I did have her look for a sticker indicating when the furnace was installed. It was 1990, with repair work in 2003. So definitely an older furnace! She cannot tell whether the pilot is lit (and I'm hesitant to have her remove a cover that she may not be able to put back). I should probably just have her call the number listed on the furnace for "who to call for service".
If I were there to guide her, I think it would be a perfect time for her to start (something I should already have done, before heading for Malaysia). Thankfully, it's early enough in the heating season not to be a crisis. I will just figure you have done all you can will the limited information, and call (or have her call) a technician. It probably would be good to have the furnace checked out anyway. (Might even be time to start thinking about replacement ... though I'd rather not, if possible.) Thanks for your efforts.
As far as I know, the pilot does not have to be lit each season but burns continuous even when the furnace is not in use. The furnace worked the last two winters, without any lighting (or re-lighting) of the pilot. So unless the pilot light has gone out, it should be burning. Trouble is, she cannot see whether it is, and does not want to remove a panel she's unsure about putting back.
I have decided it makes sense to have someone come in anyway. I don't know how long it's been since the furnace was serviced. (I bought the place in February of 2012, so not since then.) But I appreciate your efforts to solve the problem, and figure you deserve the money. If you do not object, I will give you a rating of "good". I certainly feel you did as much as possible given the limited info, but I also don't feel comfortable with "excellent" when the problem cannot be solved -- though, again, I realize that is not your fault. I will wait for your response before I rate, in case a rating other than "excellent" will be a problem for you.