Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lesson learned: get the furnace inspection!

If you saw my tweet today, you won't be surprised that I am now a huge believer in HVAC inspections.

Before we moved in, we had a home inspection.  Our inspector examined the air conditioning and the heating, although he informed us that, especially since it was summer, he wouldn't really be giving us a thorough check of the furnace.  He found that it worked adequately: provided sufficient air flow and temperature of the forced air, and that the furnace properly exhausted to the outside.

Before end of the summer, I installed a programmable thermostat. (One of those projects I've been meaning to post here.  Grrr....)  I've installed programmable thermostats at the last two places we rented, and we never had problems with them.  We love them, since they automatically set the temperature to your work schedule, the heat is never on when we're not here. This time, we chose a programmable thermostat with slightly more options, since it was going to go into our house. I had never installed this type (or brand) of thermostat, but it seemed to go okay.

By the time I installed the new thermostat, summer was giving way to fall, and we didn't really need the AC as much.  So, although the thermostat seemed to be working, we weren't really sure.

Fall came, and Renae was trying to hold out as long as she could before turning on the heat for the first time. She finally broke down on October 30th, since it was a Saturday, and we were going to be home all weekend. We figured we might as well be comfortable.

The furnace had worked all right, when it was on. But the main issue was that it did not turn on immediately after setting the thermostat higher. And more frustratingly, it would seem to take a lot longer than it should to reach the set temperature. The furnace would cycle on and off seemingly randomly, sometimes for very short durations. But, eventually, it would always reach the right temperature. We figured it was a combination of the new (unfamiliar) thermostat with the new-to-us furnace.

Finally, though, we couldn't take it any longer. I've been working from home sometimes since the Fall quarter ended, and Renae worked from home once last week. So, I called around and got a few quotes for furnace checkups and cleanings.

The serviceman showed up on time and took a look at the thermostat first. He saw that it was installed correctly (whew!) so we went downstairs to the furnace.

When I opened the door to the utility room for the first time in a few weeks, I immediately saw water on the floor coming from the furnace!   Whoops.  I had given up checking on the furnace, since every time I looked at it, I decided I didn't know what was going on with it. The only thing I know about the furnace is that it is a auto ignition furnace, meaning there is no pilot light that stays on forever.

It turns out that the water was condensation from within the furnace. It is a by-product of the high-efficiency design. The condensation is supposed to drain out via a hose, but there was a blockage preventing the water from draining. Further, the technician found that the hose runs about twenty feet (!) to the french drain in the workshop. He said he had never seen a drain system like that, but he believes that if it stays unblocked, it will work. (Although, he did admit that the probability of it clogging again is pretty high.  A pump will cost $500 to install.)

I'm really happy we got the furnace checked, cleaned and serviced.  It was cheap (less than $100, just like This Old House promised), and it may have saved our basement from water damage that I would have not caught for a long time.  We're probably going to get a service contract with the company that came out, so that we get a spring and fall check of the heating and cooling system on a regular basis.

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