Last week, I discussed the need to keep plumbing ventilation free from obstructions, and what can happen to vents that are blocked, disconnected or improperly installed. This week, I want to focus on proper ventilation for heating equipment. Boston has had an unusual amount of snow this winter, and that can increase the need to provide maintenance for your heating vents.

Home heating equipment is designed to work with ventilation of some type. Most heating fuels create toxic gases as a byproduct of combustion, and these noxious gases are vented safely out of the home through the chimney. Preventing accidental exhaust escape is key to keeping a home and its occupants safe.

High efficiency heating equipment must have both intake and exhaust ventilation ports. These ports must be kept free of debris and must not be obstructed by the buildup of snow, ice, or stored objects. Reducing the airflow into and away from the heating unit can cause operating problems, decreased efficiency, unexpected equipment shutdowns, and improper venting of exhaust gases back into the living space.

Keep all heating vents clear of obstructions at all times. Maintain a 3′ clear, unobstructed space around any heating vents that exit the sidewall of your home. During heavy snowfalls, make sure that the vents are open and unobstructed. This may involve clearing away snow and ice that could be accumulating around the vent pipes. If you find that you are often required to clear accumulating snow and ice away from your heating intake and exhaust ports, you may want to consider moving the ports to a more sheltered location, or venting your heating equipment through the roof of your home.

One special note about chimneys: chimneys are generally designed to reduce or eliminate the possibility of obstruction by organic materials and debris that might otherwise enter the opening at the top of the chimney. Chimneys can become blocked or obstructed over time by the build-up of ash, creosote and other physical by-products of combustion. They can also be obstructed by the deterioration of the chimney itself. If your heating equipment vents out of the chimney, have your chimney inspected periodically for signs of deterioration, and correct any problems you find.

If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove that you use for supplemental heat, pay special attention to your chimney(s). Creosote, which is a product of the incomplete combustion of wood or coal, can accumulate inside a chimney over time. The accumulation of creosote in the chimney reduces the chimney’s ability to draft air upward. This, in turn, reduces the overall amount of air available to the wood/fuel, which lowers the temperature of the fire and promotes the production of creosote. Over time, it creates the conditions that lead to chimney fires. Before each heating season, have your fireplace or wood-burning stove inspected. Check the flue for proper operation, and monitor the build up of creosote.

Replacing older, low-efficiency heating equipment with high-efficiency models can reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental heat, and can make your home safer during the winter heating season.

For more information about high-efficiency home heating equipment, rebates, special financing programs and tax credits that you may be able to take advantage of, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to assess your current heating equipment and show you how you can save money on your winter heating bills.

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