Soot from a Boiler: Get Help Fast
LESLIE: Michael in New Jersey finds The Money Pit on WABC. What’s going on at your money pit?
MICHAEL: The problem that I’m having is we have an oil burner that is used for water and baseboard heating. And what’s happening is I get soot. It’s in the basement. But in the living room and upstairs in one of the bedrooms is a lot of black. There’s a lot of soot. And I just – we don’t know what’s wrong; you know, why that’s happening. We had to paint it like maybe four months ago and they’re still a lot of blackness in certain areas of the house; you know, in the ceilings and on the walls.
TOM: You have a hot – you have a hot water heating system?
TOM: OK. And when you say there’s blackness on the upstairs, are you seeing this on the walls where you see sort of a striping effect?
MICHAEL: On the walls; on the television we can see it; and on the walls. It’s – and you know, the thing is we had our boiler checked out. We have an annual maintenance and everything checked out right.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Right.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) OK.
MICHAEL: But I just can’t figure out – my wife can’t figure out why all this black soot …
LESLIE: Is it a new boiler or have you had this for a while?
MICHAEL: No, it actually – it’s an old boiler. It’s an oil burner. It must be about 12 years old but they told me it’s in excellent condition.
TOM: Alright, well a couple of things. First of all, on the walls and the ceiling do you see sort of striping where these deposits are?
MICHAEL: I asked my wife that. No, no. No striping at all.
TOM: When you say you see deposits, I mean, can you put your hand over it and it comes off on your hand?
MICHAEL: Oh, yeah. My wife, she’ll just take a towel and …
TOM: Alright, well listen. You have a problem, obviously. And it sounds to me like there could be some backdrafting of this. You could be getting some sooting that’s getting back into there. You may have some air pressure changes in the house. If you’re upstairs [it’s depressurized] (ph). It could be pulling combustion gas up into the house. It could, frankly, be unsafe. So I think you’re going to have to have this boiler checked out again. And you want to make sure that they do a draft test on it. There’s a device that gets inserted. It’s called a draft gauge and it’s inserted into the side of the flue pipe on an oil flue and it makes sure that the draft is actually moving where you think it’s moving and you can actually measure the efficiency of the system by checking the draft on it. That’s most likely what’s happening here and it could be unsafe. All of these combustion deposits should not be wafting back into your house.
By the way, the reason I asked you if it was striping is because very often you’ll get these lines on walls and ceilings where it’s darker in the area directly under the ceiling joists or directly across from the wall stud because those areas are colder than the adjoining walls and you get this condensation effect where it sort of sticks in uneven areas. But if you’re getting this sort of general, around the house – and I’m assuming that you don’t like burn lots of candles, do any other type of activity that would cause carbon …
MICHAEL: I had it checked out not too long ago by a reputable chimney service. It has a clay lining.
MICHAEL: I believe he is licensed.
TOM: Well, don’t believe, OK? You’ve got to make sure.
TOM: Because a chimney contractor is not going to have any clue when it comes to the proper function of your oil-fired boiler. You need a heating, ventilation and air conditioning expert for that. Trust me. Those guys are not technicians in the functionality of your heating equipment.
TOM: They can check the chimney and make sure it’s clean but they’re not going to have any clue as to whether or not it’s burning efficiently; whether it’s backdrafting or not and so on. So you need to have a heating technician check the boiler; not a chimney guy check the chimney.
MICHAEL: Oh boy, am I glad I called. Whoa, yes. I took it for granted that they would know this.
TOM: Absolutely not, Michael. You’ve got to get the right technician there. And again, check that draft and do me a favor. Get a carbon monoxide detector, too. You ought to have one to protect yourself.
MICHAEL: OK. I certainly will. Oh, wow. Wow, am I glad I called.
TOM: Well, we’re glad you did, too. Michael, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.