DEAR BARRY: When I bought my house, the home inspector found nothing wrong with the furnace, but his report says, "The furnace may need maintenance or repair soon." This did not seem urgent at the time, so we bought the house, assuming that the furnace was operative. But yesterday, the man from the gas company said the furnace has code violations and is not safe to use. I don’t understand how my home inspector missed these problems. What should I do? –Heather
DEAR HEATHER: It would help to know exactly what kinds of code violations are involved. Not all code violations are difficult or expensive to repair. Specifics matter a lot.
For example, a disconnected flue pipe is a code violation and is very dangerous. But repairing a disconnected flue can be a quick and easy job for a qualified contractor. On the other hand, a furnace that is installed in a prohibited location, such as a bedroom closet, violates code, is potentially hazardous, and could require costly relocation to another part of the home.
Another issue is the unclear disclosure in the home inspection report. If your inspector believed the furnace might need maintenance or repair soon, he should have stated the conditions that prompted that conclusion. Instead of advising you in such a vague way, he should have recommended professional servicing of the system before the close of escrow. Then the defects could have been revealed before you took possession of the property.
You should find out exactly what is wrong with the furnace. Then you should contact your home inspector and ask for a reinspection. If the defects are visible and accessible, the home inspector should take responsibility for the lack of disclosure. Hopefully, the repairs will not be costly ones.
DEAR BARRY: I have a manufactured, wood-burning fireplace, installed 15 years ago, when the home was built. It draws well when burning. But when the fire goes out, the draw of the chimney gradually reverses, and I wake up with cold air blowing smoke into my living room. The brick fireplaces I’ve had in the past never did this. Is this a typical problem with manufactured fireplaces, and what can I do about it? –Gene
DEAR GENE: What you describe can happen with fireplaces that are manufactured or constructed of masonry. When the logs are burning, indoor air is drawn into the fire and hot combustion gases rise up the chimney. When the fire dies down, the process sometimes reverses, causing cold air to fall back down the chimney and into the house. It is unclear why this happens with some fireplaces and not with others.
Adjusting the damper to a nearly shut position as the fire goes out will reduce this potential for downdrafts. However, a restricted damper opening can also elevate the carbon monoxide discharge, so adjustments should be done under professional advisement. For a comprehensive evaluation of your fireplace, have the fixture and chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep.