Healthy Heating System
Winter is hard upon us and snow blowing and shoveling have me thinking about
being inside a warm home and having adequate heat.
People are generally cautious about things with visible fire because they
can see the flame and associate the danger with it. Unfortunately,
the heat that we experience upstairs from the boiler or furnace in a home
is not very intense; it does not make us think about the actual flame
that may be burning somewhere to provide that hot air or water. Out
of sight and out of mind, a boiler or furnace chugs on, but can deteriorate
to quite a hazardous condition if ignored long enough.
Combustion equipment, just like a car, should be checked annually by a
qualified technician. Neglect produces the most common safety hazards
associated with combustion equipment. For example, and this is most
common in older homes, chimney flues are often deteriorated at the interior,
containing crumbling bricks or liner tiles. These can create piles of
masonry debris at the bottom of the chimney flue.
In addition to masonry blockages, I have also seen raccoons, squirrels, birds,
and even a football and a tennis ball blocking a flue. Expect the worst.
Should a flue become completely blocked, all the combustion gases
will vent into the interior of the house, creating potentially lethal condition
monoxide be present in the combustion gases.
Oil burning equipment is in need of regular maintenance, far more so than
gas burning equipment. Oil burners flames tend to be dirtier than gas burners,
and combustion chambers in oil-fired equipment can rapidly build up so
much debris (from rusting of iron and deposition of flame-soot) that draft
can be significantly reduced, resulting in a spillage of combustion products
into the home.
Note that oil-burning boilers are supposed to be cleaned every year at the
interior, but only rarely is this done. Most boiler service technicians
appear only to change the burner nozzle regularly. Allowing debris to build
up on the interior of the boiler can result in a loss of up to 10% of fuel
Gas-fired boilers and furnaces are also subject to problems as a result
of the accumulation of rust collecting on burners. The gas burners in a
gas-fired boiler should be checked regularly and brushed clean as necessary
by a gas technician, to prevent build-up of rusts on gas ports.
In nearly all homes with combustion equipment in the basement for heat, there
is a metal vent pipe between the boiler or water heater and the chimney.
The metal pipe conducts the combustion gases from the boiler to the chimney
flue. It is not uncommon to find the vent pipe poorly supported, disconnected,
or rusted through in many locations. Be sure to have your vent pipe checked
regularly; a fallen or blocked vent pipe can result in either a fire or
combustion gas poisoning.
One rather dangerous defect that I have observed in several new homes has
to do with the improper venting of furnaces and water heaters. Some furnaces
today have powerful fans to suck the combustion gases out of the furnace.
These fans blow the noxious gases into the vent pipe and into the chimney
flue, creating pressure in the vent pipe. Should there be an opening in
that pipe for a vent from an ordinary (gas-fired) water heater, there is
the possibility of combustion gases from the furnace or water heater blowing
out through the water heater draft hood.
If you are buying a home, you should be aware of a new requirement in Massachusetts
as of January, 1995: all new gas installations must be vented into lined
chimney flues. This means that if you are planning to replace the boiler
in a Victorian home, you should probably add about another $l500 to the
cost of the boiler for installation of a metal chimney flue liner.
Maintain your combustion equipment and you will sleep well.
From "JUST PROPERTY"
By J. May