It seemed like Combustion Safety was the hot topic this week, especially as it concerned Hot Water Heaters. One in particular caught my eye and it went along the lines of… I am new at Home Performance and I am looking for some advice. I did a test in… and the water heater did not pass spillage during worst case. When I do the repairs what do I do first and how? (Spillage Test = testing with a mirror or smoke to make sure that combustion gasses are not escaping from the draft hood into the room & air is actually being pulled in to aid in venting)
I left the “when I do the repairs” alone & simply replied “As a best practice the water heater needs to be replaced – a natural draft one has no business being in today’s houses & should be replaced with a sealed combustion unit.” The reply to that was a little shocking in my book, even though I guess it shouldn’t have been – “Okay I get that but that is not what I have to deal with. I will tell the client, but what steps do I take to find if it is clogged or just not enough air or…?”
The Knowledge Issue:
Let me preface this by saying this individual is steps above many other similar ones because they at least asked other professionals, instead of just trying to wing it. With that said, unfortunately they are also showing a major issue many have with these certification programs that teach almost anyone & say; go forward, you are learned, you can do it all, and will do nothing but good.
The Draft Hood Issue:
David Richardson actually had a great post on this subject entitled – Carbon Monoxide and Stack Effect. In it he got to the meat of the issue with this statement “A draft hood is there to allow the appliance to operate even if it means that it will dump all the byproducts of combustion into the building. You didn’t misread that, there are no safeties involved with a draft hood. The appliance keeps pumping flue gases out regardless of how the flue is performing.” (Or the combustion process)
A Generalist or a Specialist:
As I replied, an auditor at most is just like a family doctor. Once a known or possible issue is spotted that goes beyond what they are trained /knowledgeable &/or licensed for, they automatically refer you to a specialist. Sure your family doctor may know what the issue is & maybe even know how to fix it, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to propose that they do open heart surgery, brain surgery, etc…
Amazingly BPI & doctors have almost the same mantra – First do no harm. Unfortunately unlike doctors whom have an entire oath to consider which requires one to look at the whole issue and push to help prevent future problems, it appears that many auditors have a ways to go. While many talk about the “house as a system,” they apparently fail to realize all that is involved or that they still have a lot more to learn. Oh you passed the test; you’re good, now let’s talk about them windows… So buyer beware
Instead of windows, in our next article we are going to dig more into the issue with these types of appliances & common misconceptions. In the meantime if you do happen to have one in your house, please make sure your Carbon Monoxide detector / monitor batteries are charged & any flammable materials are not in the same room (which also includes dryer sheets).