It is true that even someone who is entrenched in Building Science and sustainability can be caught off guard when evaluating home situations.
We recently had to replace our hot water heater at home. Here was a combustion appliance right in front of my face a few times a week and I didn’t realize how badly it had been operating. I suspected that when the dryer was running it was back drafting the hot water heater adjacent to it. This is fairly common in basements because dryers are so powerful they can depressurize the space and pull the air back down the chimney. I wasn’t really concerned because it was in the basement which is not very air tight since it dates back to the 1880’s.
However, when installing the new hot water heater I discovered that it wasn’t drafting properly even when the adjacent clothes dryer was not running. The problem was much bigger than I thought. We had to move to a power vented water heater which includes a fan on top of the appliance so when the hot water heater fires up, rather than letting the buoyancy of the warm combustion gases rise up the chimney, they get sent through a fan and powered out the wall away from the house. I had become blind to the situation because it was something I saw almost every day.
Whenever I would go down the basement, I could smell the gases but I just got used to it. We weren’t experiencing any ill effects from it, thankfully. But it was a potential tragedy waiting to happen either from the fumes or possible explosion and fire.
The moral of the story is even if you have been in construction your whole life, it’s good to get a fresh perspective from time to time. Pay a professional to inspect your heating and cooling systems (including hot water heaters)once a year.
Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation