Furnace Problems

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Carolotta
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6 expert, 11 community
Q:

Home is over 160+ years old.  I have had a problem with the furnace from the begining.   I had put in I think 4-5 years I will have to find my papers on it for the date put in.   I have lived in the house 8 years in March.  When I had the furnace put in.  It was putting a puddle of  water in the bottom of the box and drained out all over the floor.   No problem with that it will dry up per (seller that put it in).  I told him to fix it.  It would rust the bottom out.  After a couple trips they did.   Then when the freezing weather started.  I was smelling gas & exhaust.   At the beginning of the fan I smell a gas & exhaust smell.  Three years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and still fighting but didn't get rid of the cancer.  So I am confined in the house 24 hrs 7days a week.   My doctor doesn't want me working, but I have a home base business and home business to make up the money as much as I can.

My retirement is I am an ex-insulator pipefitter for the Navy.  So on 1 Jan this year I changed the piping that originally was put in.   Both were piped outside the house at the same location just afew inches from each other.  I changed the inlet to the otherside of the house on  the Southwest side of the house and out near the air conditioner.  I left the outlet going out  from the side it has always been to the North West side of the house.  When I moved the inlet to the otherside of the house when I cut the piping the inlet just fell out of the furnace hole.  I am thinking what is with that?

I was able to get rid of the Gas odor, but not the exhaust odor.  I have had inspectors over from two companies with the furnace the original guys and a company the next city over same furnace makers.  They keep telling me if it wasn't working right it would shut down.  I had the hot water tank checked and cleaned no problem there.  That is the only other gas item in the house.  I had the old fire place checked for a possible problem that is still connected to the hot water tank. 

Since I changed the piping it is running longer than it was and getting the house warmer.  I just can't get rid of the exhaust smell.  My cats stay near the windows that I leave a crack open for air.   At night before I go to bed I air out the house then leave a window opened a crack for good air near my bed.  

I was waking up with headache's that has stopped since I changed the piping.   I am afraid there is a crack in the box or that the exhaust line is a problem.   My Navy experience is with ships not houses. 

I was told if I contact the gas company they would throw me out of my house and shut down the house.   I have no were else to go or the money to go there.  I have two cats and two dogs I have no were to take as well.  I expect it is a hard area to locate and that is why they don't want to fix it.  That is the problem I had when it leaked water.  Anything you recommend?  That I should check  being it seems up to me to correct. 

My being nervous is not good for my medical condition and I am a reck.  Please help me!  Before I found out I had cancer I check the house or radon and at that time 3 years ago it was I think 18 on the scale so 4X normal rate at least.

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The only thing going up that chimney is the hot water tank insert.  No fireplace as far as I know has ever been there. 

I will use the ash for my garden this spring. 

I ask about the hole the person that put in the insert left open.  That person putting in the insert said it can be left that way OPEN  (8" x 10" opening) because the line he put in is enclosed and doesn't exhaust in the chimney now.  

I can cover that hole but he said it was a good clean out area to leave it open.  So I could put a tin cover over it and screw in the cover to clean it out if need be.  I can brick in that hole it is no longer needed.  If it doesn't effect the hot water tank's insert line I will just leave it. 

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I have had a liner put into the chimney day before yesterday. 

The second ordor is now gone.  It has was been great not smelling that exhaust odor.  

Moving the furnace vent intake line took care of the gas exhaust so now both are gone and I am starting to physically feel better. 

My eyes are no longer burning and feeling so heavy.  Thank you for your advice. 

I don't think the locals here would have told me about the liner.  It took me some time to find someone that would put it in. 

I had the company that put the furnace in come over with a measuring device and said the levels were normal.  That it must be the radon I was smelling not the hot water tank or furnace.  I was charged $200 just to find out it was normal measurement.  He didn't tell me what normal was for upstairs.  That crew will not be back.  Ha!

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR LETTING ME KNOW ABOUT A ORPHAN HOT WATER TANK THAT HAS CORRECTED THE LAST OF THE FUMES. 

I know how to e-mail but not blogged, etc.  I don't know what they do or who sees that.  Sorry if that would have helped you get this message out.  I would have done that I just don't know how to do it.   

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I have had a liner put into the chimney day before yesterday. 

The second ordor is now gone.  It has was been great not smelling that exhaust odor.  

Moving the furnace vent intake line took care of the gas exhaust so now both are gone and I am starting to physically feel better. 

My eyes are no longer burning and feeling so heavy.  Thank you for your advice. 

I don't think the locals here would have told me about the liner.  It took me some time to find someone that would put it in. 

I had the company that put the furnace in come over with a measuring device and said the levels were normal.  That it must be the radon I was smelling not the hot water tank or furnace.  I was charged $200 just to find out it was normal measurement.  He didn't tell me what normal was for upstairs.  That crew will not be back.  Ha!

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR LETTING ME KNOW ABOUT A ORPHAN HOT WATER TANK THAT HAS CORRECTED THE LAST OF THE FUMES. 

I know how to e-mail but not blogged, etc.  I don't know what they do or who sees that.  Sorry if that would have helped you get this message out.  I would have done that I just don't know how to do it.   

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O.K. No vacuum.  The only chimney sweep around was the one I called.  I looked on the computer he was the only one in this area.  Registered.  I will call him back and have him do a better job. 

The last testing for the exhaust was $200 that they did Monday.  So I hope this gets better and done. 

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The ash pit that your talking about should have been cleaned by the chimney person from the get go.

It also should not be open. The draft should be pulled from the hot water heater pipe opening. While draft being pulled out of the bottom hole is ok, its not really correct.

What concerns me is the amount of material that is being pulled out.  Is there a fireplace attached to this somewhere? Are we sure that the hot water heater is not connected to the same flue as the fireplace? If so this needs to be corrected.

Also what concerns me is the color changes of the material being removed. If its getting lighter in color this may be a sign that the interior of the chimney is failing.  A good qualified chimney sweep should be consulted and have them look in with cameras and figure out once and for all what is going on.

the most important thing I can tell you is DO NOT use a shop vacuum to clean out ash.  You risk destroying the vacuum from the fine soot, and risk catching the vacuum on fire.  Combustion by products,  ASH when compressed and heated by the vacuums blower system can catch on fire.  Shovel this material out and dispose of it in metal cans. Or spread it around gardens as it tends to have a high acid content and is good for some types of plants. But what ever you do, do not use your vacuum. There are special soot vacuums designed just for this type of product.

Keep me updated.

Bob

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Well the guy from the original installer came over did a check for fumes with this gaget.  Found nothing. 

When I see him looking around he asked about the lower hole for the chimney was for and why that was there.   I told him it was the draft hole and it was to carry air up.  It was to carry the gas up the chimney from the above hole where the hot water tank vent carried the gas up.  He says Oh!  When he put the light in the lower draft hole I noticed cinder laying about 18 inches in that hole.  The chimney sweep should have cleaned that hole out.  He did not. 

After he left I went back down stairs and started troweling that hole out.  I now have a overflowing, cat box, dish pan and a 5 pound hamburger container full of cinder material.  Most is black the top or last removed from the above hole is lighter color materal.  Chimney or maybe grouted material is lighter.  The fumes are now less then they were.   I can now reach all the way back with my arm length plus trowel and also opened that hole above that was closed off with black cinder and knocked it down.   It looks like it was been closed for quite a while with all the material I pulled out of there.  That hole also still is not exiting very well, but better than it was.  I wondered if the shape in the back which I can't reach has another curve between the lower draft to the next chamber (hot water tank hole) I can't reach.  I do have a shop vac that will be my next attempt maybe I can get it up in back or down from the top and suck out any blockage.  Being I can't reach it.  It seems to be a narrower area in back going down to the draft hole. 

The fumes are better not as much.  So still investigating.  Ha!

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Carolotta,

I would steer away from an electrical hot water heater, unless you have no other option.  These units can be expensive to operate and unless your electrical service can handle this additional power it may be too costly to install.  However I am not sure of your power costs as there are areas in the country in which electrical power is less costly then gas or oil. So you would need to make this choice based on your budget.

As far as installing walls etc to handle mold, this is a issue that has perplexed me for a very long time.  You simply cannot block this stuff off. You need to address the issue and prevent it from occurring. While you cannot prevent moisture below the floor you can seal the floor off with plastic and cement to prevent the communication of it into the living area. Thus the odors.  A wall will do nothing to prevent it from getting around the house nor stop any radon.

As far as contacting me.  Use these boards.  I get a email response every time someone writes a response to this question. So I will know when you add anything else.  Keep us posted on how you make out. And good luck with your illness.  As a chairperson for the Susan G. Komen affiliate in my state I can understand what a drain on the body this can be. 

Bob

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Looks like getting an electric Hot water tank would be less expensive. 

The owner of the furnace installer just called.  He is coming over and putting emit control check and will be over in afew minutes.   

Then when I can affford it put the radon emit system in.  They would be covering the basement floor with the plastic because of the radon.  At the time putting in the rest of the cement floor as a package deal.  That way they can put in the underground piping needed and work on an escape vent location that would work.  I don't know but possible the dividing wall between living room and bedroom might go all the way to the attic.   Maybe that would also handle the mold. 

Now what to do with the stuff in the basement.  With Cancer I don't do much in the line of moving things. 

Thanks!  I will keep Money Pit up on my progress locally.  You want me to contact them?  So do you have any more ideas?  Or another way to contact you?  Best contact through Money Pit right? 

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You provided me with lots of good information.

Heat and AC system. The AC system you have in the house is a self contained unit. So is the heating system.  The only common part is the duct system.  When you shutter off the ducts and open others you are in effect changing from AC mode to Heating mode.  This has been done that way because many years ago the house did not have a furnace that would handle an AC system so they needed to bring a complete unit in. So instead of replacing the heating system at that time they simply installed a by pass duct system.  This has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Although its very inefficient and is something you need to consider if your cooling bills are high.

The air that you felt on your face by the top of the door is a bit of a concern,  What this is telling me is that your duct system that brings the air back to the furnace for heating is undersized. 

The air that is blowing out of the grills in the living area should be matched by the air going back to the furnace through the return air grills.  When air is being pulled down the stairs, which you felt when you checked the flow by opening the door slightly, tells me that your return air flow is lacking in the living area and its drawing air from the basement in order to deliver the air to the furnace that it needs to properly work.

Another concern I have is that the hot water heater is not drawing air up the chimney as it should.  When you place the smoke near the draft hood, which is that funnel shaped item where the flue pipe connects on top of the heater. It should be pulled into that area after about 60 seconds of running. This tells me that some of the combustion by products are not going up the chimney. This can result in some of the combustion odors that you believe you are smelling.  But this is not the entire story.  As the hot water heater does not run all the time and your furnace does turn on and off as it keeps the house warm.  The smell must be a more continuous source then just the water heater exhaust system.

What interests me is that you have a old basement with rock foundation, part cement and soil floor.   I believe a lot of the odors that your smelling are coming from the damp exposed soil and from around the foundation walls.

A lot of mold can develop as a result with this type of construction. With the addition of a new furnace with a much more powerful blower and the lack of  proper air flow back to the furnace for correct operation. You in effect are pulling air from the damp basement which will contain all sorts of odor sources that when heated can smell totally different then that of what you smell in the basement.  Add to that I am sure the return duct system is not doing its job as it should, being leaky and all. This is only aggravating the issue even more.

My suggestion is that the hot water heater must be evaluated by the gas company for proper drafting. Be prepared however to take on the responsibility to have a new chimney liner installed.  They will provide you or should provide you with a warning and give you a set amount of time to get this repaired or they will turn off the gas to that appliance but not the whole house. A new liner runs around $1,200 installed. Perhaps less or more depending on your area and size of your chimney.   A new power vent hot water heater venting out the side of the house without using the chimney at all is about twice that much.  Forget about on demand hot water heater. Its way to expensive to install if your on a budget and the type of water you have  will make it a maintenance nightmare.

You need to get the basement floors sealed. Vinyl liner systems can be installed over the floor to seal out any odors that are coming up from the soil below. Also you need to address the negative air pressure in the basement. Duct sealing on the return side of the furnace is strongly suggested. Doing so will allow more pull through the ducts from the living area of the home and not from the basement side.

I do not believe your home is suffering from fumes from  combustion process as you first thought.  I think overall its the conditions within the basement that are pulling odors out of the floor and walls. And I think your attention should be towards this area.  Your heating professionals I am sure even if you do not trust them are most likely correct in saying that your not getting this odor from a cracked heat exchanger. If they really felt this was the case I am sure they would have investigated it and repaired this issue if indeed it was the case.

Also if you have a septic system and it has not been checked in the past few years. I suggest that this be done as well.  A septic contractor or a plumber can use a pipe camera to check for any damage due to rotted pipes under the floor that could be releasing odors into the soil below the home. Older homes such as yours can suffer from cracked drainage pipes that can result in all sorts of odors. 

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Sorry didn't mean cement house.  Brick home with the old rock foundation.   Part cement floor and part dirt.   Some of the walls in the basement have been cemented.  The old cole shute storage area is cemented walls and some of the interwalls have cement.  On the most part the basement has that old rock foundation.  

I have been told this house may have been used for the underground railroad.   So may have a tunnel coming up to that back room.   I know it is at least 160 years old or older...

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