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Combustion Air Details for Heating Appliances
- COMBUSTION AIR for TIGHT BUILDINGS - CONTENTS: Combustion air: how to provide adequate combustion air for combustion appliances in newer tighter buildings and in older homes that have been made more airtight to save on energy costs. How to provide adequate combustion air without wasting building energy through air or heat leaks. Adequate combustion air is essential for building safety (avoiding potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning) and essential for proper operating of fuel-burning appliances
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This article discusses methods for providing adequate, safe combustion air for fuel-burning appliances in tight buildings - how to provide outside combustion air for heating appliances.
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Details for Providing Adequate Combustion Air Without Losing Building Heat
Sketch at page top and accompanying text are reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.
This article explains the need for adequate combustion air for fuel burning appliances in buildings, for both safety and for proper equipment operation. Figure 1 (page top and shown in more detail here) notes that by confining the gas furnace in a separate room, adequate air for draft and combustion can be supplied [from outdoors] without adding infiltration to [and cooling] the house. The author notes that
... standard formulas used to compute whether the indoor air supply was sufficient assumed a minimum rate of air infiltration of 0.5 air changes per hour.
In newer, tighter homes and in older retrofitted houses, air for combustion is not as readily accessible. If an appliance does not get enough air for complete combustion, its efficiency drops [increasing heating costs], soot can build up [potentially leading to fatal carbon monoxide poisoning in some cases], condensed water can collect in and corrode the flue [dangerous flue gas leaks].
Moreover, in a tight house, an exhaust fan - for example in the kitchen, greenhouse, or clothes dryer [or a whole house fan or bathroom exhaust fans] - may create a negative air pressure strong enough to draw toxic gases back into the house.
For both safety and energy reasons, then, more designers are deliberately supplying outside air to combustion appliances.
Simple Homeowner Tests for Adequate Combustion Air & Adequate Chimney Draft
An easy test of adequate draft in a gas appliance is to hold a just-blown-out match near the vent hood and see if the smoke is drawn up the flue. This chimney draft test should be performed under worst conditions: in warm weather (the chimney stack pressure will be lower in warm weather), with the house closed up (shut windows and doors, especially the windows and doors feeding the utility room where the appliance is located), and running all of the building's exhaust fans at once.
See BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT for a detailed description of the test procedure to check for adequate combustion air and adequate draft.
Two Methods for Supplying Combustion Air for Heating Appliances in Tight buildings
The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) [and other sources such as the Uniform Mechanical Code and the National Fuel Gas Code] suggest looking for carbon build-up around the burner and looking for flue corrosion. Two approaches are given for supplying outdoor combustion air to fuel-burning (oil, gas, wood, coal) heating equipment:
- The heating appliances are fully isolated from the living space with partitions. Figure 1 (page top and shown in more detail here) provides two vents to the outside, one within a foot of the ceiling and one within a foot of the floor. If vertical ducts are used to bring combustion air to the appliance each vent should be sized at one square inch of free vent area per 4000 BTUH of the appliance input rating.
The high and low vents allow heat to dissipate from the enclosure and they allow combusting gases to escape should there be any backdrafts. The double vent arrangement permit a freer flow of combustion air to the heating appliance such as a furnace or gas fired water heater.
In cold climates steps may be necessary to protect plumbing in the outside-air-cooled utility area from freezing, and the specific details of any combustion air system should be checked against local building codes and importantly, against the installation instructions from the equipment's manufacturer.
The figures given above are for gas fired appliances. At oil burner school we were taught that for oil burning appliances we wanted to see one square inch of free vent area per 1000 BTUH of oil fired appliance input rating. Remember this is "free area" so vents that are louvered and screens need to be larger to allow for the effects of that obstruction - DJF.
- Confining partitions are left open at the top [saving construction costs] (image at left). The open-topped partition has a duct delivering fresh air to the bottom of the enclosure. The logic is that the basin created by the partitions will trap [the incoming] cold air and minimize its mixing with the conditioned [heated] house air. NCAT provides a booklet with these details.
Direct-Vented Combustion Appliances
Some heating appliances, furnaces, boilers, and water heaters, are designed to isolate the combustion process from the living space entirely, avoiding the need for complex combustion air and venting schemes.
Direct-vented combustion appliances are designed and tested to burn fuel and draw combustion air properly even when high winds hinder draft. Typically such systems include two sets of piping or ducts between the appliance and outdoors, one bringing combustion air in directly to the appliance burner, and a second venting combustion air outside. The two vents might appear on some systems as a single larger diameter double-walled pipe containing actually two vents, the smaller located inside the larger.
Combustion Air for Air Tight Woodstoves
Typical airtight woodstoves require only 10-25 cfm of combustion air - much less than an open fireplace (50 to 150 cfm or more) or to older non-airtight woodstove. But in tighter homes it may be necessary to provide combustion air or a draft inducer fan even for these appliances.
Just as modern energy codes provide a vent to supply outside air to open fireplaces, outside combustion air can be supplied to an airtight woodstove through a floor vent or a wall register that is ducted in turn to outdoors - a method that adds to cold air infiltration into the building.
A more promising approach described in the original article Combustion Air Details for Tight Houses(page 3) [PDF] is to supply combustion air through fixed ducts right to the appliance air inlet.
See COMBUSTION AIR for additional details about the requirement for combustion air. See COMBUSTION GASES & PARTICLE HAZARDS for an explanation of the dangers of inadequate combustion air.
See COMBUSTION PRODUCTS & IAQ for the relationship between fuel burning appliances and building indoor air quality. More about carbon monoxide - CO - is at CARBON MONOXIDE - CO and at CARBON MONOXIDE WARNING.
Also see the safety warnings at BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT.
Here we include solar energy, solar heating, solar hot water, and related building energy efficiency improvement articles reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.
Original article in PDF form:
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Technical Reviewers & References
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- "Introducing Supplemental Combustion Air to Gas-Fired Home Appliances", National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), $4.00, from NCAT, PO Box 3838, Butte MT 59702.
- Solar Age Magazine was the official publication of the American Solar Energy Society. The contemporary solar energy magazine associated with the Society is Solar Today. "Established in 1954, the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is the nation's leading association of solar professionals & advocates. Our mission is to inspire an era of energy innovation and speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy. We advance education, research and policy. Leading for more than 50 years.
ASES leads national efforts to increase the use of solar energy, energy efficiency and other sustainable technologies in the U.S. We publish the award-winning SOLAR TODAY magazine, organize and present the ASES National Solar Conference and lead the ASES National Solar Tour – the largest grassroots solar event in the world."
- Steve Bliss's Building Advisor at buildingadvisor.com helps homeowners & contractors plan & complete successful building & remodeling projects: buying land, site work, building design, cost estimating, materials & components, & project management through complete construction. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Bliss served as editorial director and co-publisher of The Journal of Light Construction for 16 years and previously as building technology editor for Progressive Builder and Solar Age magazines. He worked in the building trades as a carpenter and design/build contractor for more than ten years and holds a masters degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Excerpts from his recent book, Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, Wiley (November 18, 2005) ISBN-10: 0471648361, ISBN-13: 978-0471648369, appear throughout this website, with permission and courtesy of Wiley & Sons. Best Practices Guide is available from the publisher, J. Wiley & Sons, and also at Amazon.com
- Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com
- John Cranor is an ASHI member and a home inspector (The House Whisperer) is located in Glen Allen, VA 23060. He is also a contributor to InspectApedia.com in several technical areas such as plumbing and appliances (dryer vents). Contact Mr. Cranor at 804-747-7747 or by Email: email@example.com
- Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides:
- Commercial Building Inspection Courses - protocol ASTM Standard E 2018-08 for Property Condition Assessments
- Home Inspection Education Courses including home study & live classes at eleven colleges & universities.
- Home Inspection Education Home Study Courses - ASHI@Home Training 10-course program.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
- The Home Reference Book, a reference & inspection report product for building owners & inspectors.
Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
- The Home Reference eBook, an electronic version for PCs, the iPad, iPhone, & Android smart phones.
Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter inspectaehrb in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
- The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors.
Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
- The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones.
- Field Controls provides instructions for the installation of LP and Natural Gas spill sensor switches, for example for their Gas Spillage Sensing Kit Model GSK-3, GSK-4, GSK-250M switches. Contact your heating service technician directly, or contact Field controls at fieldcontrols.com for more information. These switch models include a manual reset switch. Field Controls, Kingston NC 28504 - Tel 252-522-3031.
- Tjernlund Products provides instructions for the installation and use of their controls, including the WHKE Millivolt Interlock Kit for use with their UC1 Universal Control, MAC1E or MAC4E auxiliary controls for gas fired equipment. This document also describes Tjernlund's recommended combustion air safety check which we recommended in this article. Contact Tjernlund Products at tjernlund.com or at 800-255-4208.
- Bachrach Corporation, www.bachrach-training.com provides education for HVAC technicians. We found their web pages hanging during loading -01/2009. Readers may want to contact the company directly at: bacharach-inc.com or at 800-736-4666.
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
- The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
- Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
- Carbon Monoxide Gas Toxicity, exposure limits, poisoning symptoms, and inspecting buildings for CO hazards
- DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY An Investigation of Indoor Dust Debris Blamed on a Heating/Cooling System Reveals Carpet Dust
- Goodman Furnace High Temperature Plastic Vent HTPV safety recall US CPSC notice
- Home Heating System Should Be Checked[for proper venting and for CO Carbon Monoxide Hazards - DJF]
- Inspection Procedures for Oil-Fired Heating Systems Detailed step by step approaches for inspecting complex systems]
- Lennox Pulse Furnace Safety Inspection/Warranty Program: Carbon Monoxide Warning
- Plastic Heating Vent Pipe & Other Heating Safety Recall Notices
- Weil McLain Model GV Gas Boiler/gas valve CPSC recall/repair
- Domestic and Commercial Oil Burners, Charles H. Burkhardt, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York 3rd Ed 1969.
- National Fuel Gas Code (Z223.1) $16.00 and National Fuel Gas Code Handbook (Z223.2) $47.00 American Gas Association (A.G.A.), 1515 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209 also available from National Fire Protection Association, Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02269. Fundamentals of Gas Appliance Venting and Ventilation, 1985, American Gas Association Laboratories, Engineering Services Department. American Gas Association, 1515 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209. Catalog #XHO585. Reprinted 1989.
- The Steam Book, 1984, Training and Education Department, Fluid Handling Division, ITT [probably out of print, possibly available from several home inspection supply companies] Fuel Oil and Oil Heat Magazine, October 1990, offers an update,
- Principles of Steam Heating, $13.25 includes postage. Fuel oil & Oil Heat Magazine, 389 Passaic Ave., Fairfield, NJ 07004.
- The Lost Art of Steam Heating, Dan Holohan, 516-579-3046 FAX
- Principles of Steam Heating, Dan Holohan, technical editor of Fuel Oil and Oil Heat magazine, 389 Passaic Ave., Fairfield, NJ 07004 ($12.+1.25 postage/handling).
- "Residential Steam Heating Systems", Instructional Technologies Institute, Inc., 145 "D" Grassy Plain St., Bethel, CT 06801 800/227-1663 [home inspection training material] 1987
- "Residential Hydronic (circulating hot water) Heating Systems", Instructional Technologies Institute, Inc., 145 "D" Grassy Plain St., Bethel, CT 06801 800/227-1663 [home inspection training material] 1987
- "Warm Air Heating Systems". Instructional Technologies Institute, Inc., 145 "D" Grassy Plain St., Bethel, CT 06801 800/227-1663 [home inspection training material] 1987
- Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning Volume I, Heating Fundamentals,
- Boilers, Boiler Conversions, James E. Brumbaugh, ISBN 0-672-23389-4 (v. 1) Volume II, Oil, Gas, and Coal Burners, Controls, Ducts, Piping, Valves, James E. Brumbaugh, ISBN 0-672-23390-7 (v. 2) Volume III, Radiant Heating, Water Heaters, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Heat Pumps, Air Cleaners, James E. Brumbaugh, ISBN 0-672-23383-5 (v. 3) or ISBN 0-672-23380-0 (set) Special Sales Director, Macmillan Publishing Co., 866 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022. Macmillan Publishing Co., NY
- Installation Guide for Residential Hydronic Heating Systems
- Installation Guide #200, The Hydronics Institute, 35 Russo Place, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
- The ABC's of Retention Head Oil Burners, National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers, TM 115, National Old Timers' Association of the Energy Industry, PO Box 168, Mineola, NY 11501. (Excellent tips on spotting problems on oil-fired heating equipment. Booklet.)