What does ignition lockout mean on a boiler?
By Tristan Hoag
Posted in: Home Repair
As the temperature in your home starts to drop, it’s a good time to ask a technician ‘What does ignition lockout mean on a boiler?’
While there's no doubt that modern radiant heating systems are far more convenient than burning wood in a fireplace, anyone who has experienced a winter power outage knows how vulnerable they can leave you. When you have a problem with your hydronic heating system that isn’t tied to a recognizable event like a loss of power, though, you're about to feel the chill – literally and figuratively.
When your boiler is presenting a code indicating an ignition lockout, you might be starting to sweat as well, anticipating the technician’s bill in your near future. But sometimes alerts can be deceiving, and you get lucky – and this is one of those instances. So, what does ignition lockout mean on a boiler?
Restarting a locked boiler ignition
An ignition lockout is a safety mechanism built into the heater that prevents it from starting if it detects a problem. It can typically be resolved by simply resetting the furnace. This is a good time to check the system to see what may have gone wrong.
But what if the reset doesn’t work?
In one of the most popular pages in the HVAC category this February, with over 3,400 visits, the customer is snowed in with children, and is trying to resolve a persistent boiler ignition lockout. During the session HVAC expert Rick Ridley, helps the customer to sort out the deeper cause of the problem:
“What has happened is your condensate pipe has frozen, and all the time it is frozen you need to keep the cap off to drain the condensate, and you need to get your installer back to stop this happening again.
Also, if you can remove the pipe from the bottom of the boiler, and drain from there, it is better than draining from the cap.”
In this instance, the clogged drain was backing up the system and causing the failure. When stuck in an extreme weather situation, the poorly installed drain pipe was compromised – just when you need that heat the most.
Following the numbers
This is why HVAC is predictably one of the most weather-dependent categories on JustAnswer. As the weather shifts towards extremes, home systems are started up and problems are discovered. When this happens, we see corresponding spikes in traffic. When we look at the traffic patterns for the entire category over an entire year, it's easy to see how changing weather drives visits:
On individual pages, these traffic spikes dovetail nicely with weather patterns. In the case of our ignition lockout question, we see a flat and steady pattern of visits with a sudden spike at the tail end of the month. This is enough of a spike to send this question to the top of our charts for traffic for the month:
When we compare this trend with the prevailing weather patterns at the time, we find the following:
The weather channel predicts a cold spring beginning in March, a stark contrast from the relatively warm end of February:
"Our March forecast is now colder across most areas east of the Rockies and warmer in the western U.S.," said Dr. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist with The Weather Company.
This is essentially the opposite of what's expected for the second half of February: above-average temperatures in parts of the southern and eastern states and colder-than-average conditions in the northwestern states.
The culprit for the March pattern change is already taking shape in the form of a polar vortex split, with one piece over western Canada and another over Europe.
This will likely yield significant high-latitude blocking in March, along with the emergence of the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Crawford added."
And predictably, as the polar vortex moves into position, visits to the session jump.
Resolving other boiler issues
Of course, it isn’t just ignition lockouts that spike with the weather. In another popular February question, the customer was receiving multiple alerts and error codes on a Valiant gas boiler's display. The Expert in this case, Ardent Engineering, got back in half an hour with the following advice:
“1.) The 3.0 Bar that is being displayed is indicating that the water pressure in the system is excessively high - this needs to be remedied first and foremost because damage to the boiler can occur.
2.) The flashing radiator symbol simply indicates that the boiler has acknowledged a heating demand and is addressing it, though;
a.) It is usually solid when the burner is working, and
b.) It flashes when the pump is circulating to dissipate residual heat, usually when the boiler has reached the temperature set point...
So, from this it sounds as though a demand for heat is making it to the boiler, but the boiler cannot circulate this heat into the heating system. It is more likely a problem with the system or controls on it than the boiler itself.
On top of this, you need to address the excessively high pressure in the system and the cause of it. You may need to have the boiler serviced by someone experienced with Valiant EcoTEC. Ensure the expansion vessel is checked/recharged as necessary.
Also, just check that the filling-loop on the system hasn't been left open, as that would probably result in both the issues you have here, though no plumber worth his salt would miss it. The filling loop on 8 series (combi) EcoTEC boilers is on the underside, 6 series it is located remotely, but should be in a conspicuous place.”
Just as in our in our first example, the visits to this question remain reasonably steady through the majority of the month before making a steep climb as temperatures drop.
Maintaining your heating system
One of the best ways to avoid this kind of desperate situation is to be sure to follow a maintenance schedule for your heating system:
- Check your filters every month and change them every three months unless they're dirty and need to be changed sooner.
- Consider upgrading the filters you're using.
- Make sure that the two feet of space around any of the components are clear.
- Clear any debris from the AC units and heat pumps.
- Pour a cup of bleach and water through the condensate drain once a year to prevent buildup.
- Make sure all registers are clear.
- Make sure your carbon monoxide detector has fresh batteries each year.
Keeping up with these tasks will help you get the best performance from your heating unit, making sure it works when you really need it.
Troubleshooting a heating system
Of course, even the best maintained heating unit will run into problems eventually. When this happens, there are some things that you can quickly check to help isolate the problem. You may find it helpful to consult your owner’s manualfor help identifying and locating the various components of your heating system.
- Not producing heat: This could be caused by a loss of power, a low water level, problems with the fuel feed, loss of the pilot light, or a problem in the ignition or the thermostat.
- Poor heating: This could be caused by an improper water level, a problem with the expansion tank, or buildup of mineral deposits in the system.
- Expansion tank trouble: If the tank doesn’t have enough air, the water in the tank can boil and introduce too much pressure to the system.
- Leaking water: This could be the result of a circulator pump issue, a pressure relief draining or failing, or just a leak in one of the pipes.
- Partial heating in the house: Common causes for this issue include air trapped in the radiator lines, or a problem with the circulator pump or the zone valve.
- Noisy pipes: This is an indication that there is a problem with the circulator pump, or that you have water trapped in the return pipes.
With this knowledge, you can start to isolate the actual problem. A knowledgeable technician can help you to figure out the details of the actual problem.
Don’t be left out in the cold when the weather takes a sudden turn. When you need the answers to HVAC questions like "What does ignition lockout mean on a boiler," the qualified Experts on JustAnswer are the perfect resource for knowledgeable information. The advice they offer can mean the difference between a simple repair and an expensive technician’s visit.