You don’t want one of these in your house. It’s supposedly the best, most modern, most efficient oil-fired boiler you can get and, in defiance of all sound reasoning, the previous owners of our house opted to invest in it just a couple of years ago.

Energy Kinetics boiler

The heat hasn’t worked reliably since we moved in. Over more than six service visits in the last two months, the root cause has been variously diagnosed as: out of fuel, bad fuel, fuel line improperly run, clogged fuel filters, dirty combustion chamber, unstable chimney draft due to blockage, improperly sized burner nozzle, bad CdS photocell, bad pressure switch, and improper fuel/air mixture.

They changed or adjusted everything. It’s possible that everything was indeed broken. Doing my own diagnosis, I even found stripped gears in the motorized zone valve controlling the flow of hot water into the radiators, which was causing all kinds of additional problems (like the house heating to 90 degrees when you take a shower on a warm day, and the boiler controller “timing out” on startup on cold days).

Interim solution: a Raspberry Pi (purchased 30 minutes before closing at the local Micro Center) that I wired to the boiler controller. Now, when the boiler shuts down prematurely, my phone receives a notification within seconds. And I have a detailed, timestamped log of odd behavior for the service guy.

Raspberry Pi boiler monitor

Finally, a breakthrough last night: a buildup of “scale” inside the combustion chamber was blocking the pressure switch port, causing unstable pressure readings. You should see the amount of solid pollutants that accumulate inside this thing. Why does anyone in the city still heat with oil?