Q: Our furnace has an old humidifier. I don’t think it works any more, do we need to replace it?

A: Most old furnace humidifiers no longer function due to the hard water we put through them. Most have a float system that is on an arm. When the float is down it opens a water valve to fill the tray. When the water comes up sometimes the float gets stuck and water begins to overflow the tray. Most furnace plenums have rusty stains on them from just this problem. If you feel you need to humidify your home then you will need to learn to keep the humidifier clean and operable. In my opinion I don’t think very many homes need a humidifier in the first place. If the humidifier is not properly cared for it could cause all kinds of problems including mold growth.

Q: Our furnace is old. Are there certain parts of a furnace that tend to wear out a lot?

A: I know of one insurance company that says the motor and belt is the most likely parts to cause a fire within your furnace. This company will treat even an old furnace as new if the motor and belt are new. I am sure statistics will bear the fact that most fires are started with the motor and belt. Other parts that may wear out are the thermal couple and the glow plug igniter. Some other parts I always check include the filter and chimney. Finally if your older furnace has a humidifier it is most likely no longer working. I am not a big fan of humidifying your home in this way and well over half of the furnaces I check in this category have humidifier problems.

I have a high efficient furnace. There is a drain line from the furnace where clear water comes out into the drain. Is it true that this water is pure and good for drinking?

No! The clear water coming from the furnace is very acidic and not safe to drink or allow your animals to drink. In fact the acid level in this water is so high it eats through copper fittings in just a few years. The water is a byproduct of the combustion process that takes place in the flue. With new high efficient furnaces we have discovered we can extract more heat from the combustion process by giving the hot gases a longer passage to go through. As the gases cool down they reach a point where the moisture in the gas precipitates out in the form of the water you see. This condensate should be drained into the floor drain where it can be safely drained away. 

How can I tell if my boiler is running properly?

When I look at a boiler system I expect to see it running between 130 – 170 degrees F. If the temperature is in this range the pressure in the loops should be between 10-20 lbs. If either of these two things are not in this range I begin to wonder why not. I try to determine how the system is set up and where everything goes. I check which loops are currently active using the thermal camera and I check to see if they are producing heat. If the pressure is off it could be  leak or even an air bubble obstructing proper flow. Of course I am not a repair person but I try to narrow down the problem for my customer. Boiler systems can be quite complicated but I have yet to see one that operates outside of these parameters. If every zone is similar in temperature leaving the boiler and things are flowing quietly throughout you likely have a properly functioning system. If any of the above things are out of whack you may want to have the boiler checked. 

We live in the country where there is limited supply of natural gas. We have propane gas instead. Are there any concerns with using Propane?

Propane is a commonly used fuel but it does have a few short comings. The greatest obstacle you may need to overcome is that fact that our climate can become so cold that the propane can gel inside the tank and shut down your heating appliance. When the outside temperature gets to -45 degrees Celsius the propane gas can liquify in the tank and it will not travel through the lines in liquid form. The best solution is to place a heat lamp under the tank to keep the temperature above -45 degrees. Another limitation of propane is that it is a limited supply. In other words you need to call for delivery when the tank gets low. Most people rent their tank so that will cost you around $15/month. Remember that propane burns hotter than Natural gas so you need to change the orifice on most modern appliances. Propane needs a smaller orifice than natural gas. Lastly propane is about 3 times the cost of natural gas per BTU of energy produced.

I have a boiler that heats our home. Should I consider another source of heat as a backup, if so what do you suggest?

I have a boiler system and I have had some problems with it when it was -40 outside. It does not take long for the house to cool down in that kind of weather. I was a little panicked and wished I had a second source of heat. Since that time I have installed 6 electric heaters for backup heat in the rooms where the water lines are located. Of course electric backup is not very effective when the power if off. The safest backup heat is a wood stove but it is a lot more involved and costly to set up. Wood heat is also a lot dirtier and requires a lot of effort. I recommend some sort of backup just in case. The same can be said for a regular furnace but in my experience a boiler is more likely to go down then a furnace. 

We are building a new home and want to install in floor heat in the floor of the basement. Do you have any tips on how we should proceed?

I can only answer this based upon my own experience. I have installed in-floor heating lines only once but I did some research and here is how I did it. First of all I laid out a product called insul-tarp under the concrete which is said to have an R-Value of 10. Next I placed the heating lines at 9” intervals throughout the basement with the first line 6” from the outside wall and the second line at 9” from the first. This provides a little more heat in the area where it is needed more. Another tidbit I discovered in my research was that I should not run the heating lines too close to the toilet as the heat could melt the wax ring. I used 3/8” rebar at 18” squares and twist ties to attach the lines above the rebar. Finally I placed the lines about two inches into the four inch concrete

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: I live in an older home. Recently I had my pipes freeze under my kitchen sink. Why might this happen and how can I prevent it in the future?

In older homes the heat source in the kitchen was often placed on an inside wall because it was easier. Today we place the heat source primarily on the outside wall under or near the windows or doors. By not providing heat near the sink in some older homes you often ended up with problems. The original cabinets often had louvers in the doors under the sink to allow room air in. Over the years the cabinets were changed and the new cabinets had solid doors. Often the pipes froze while the family was  away and the house temperature was turned down, making the sink area that much colder. My advice is to add heat or allow room heat to get in under the sink another way. 

Parts of my home are cooler than others. I have vents in every room but they do not all preform equally well. How can I direct the heat to where I need it most while not overheating other rooms?

There is a science to the duct work in a furnace distribution system. For instance, if you vent a duct off the end of a plenum you will get more heat than taking the same vent off the side of the same plenum line. This is usually not something you have control over so here are some approaches you can use instead. First of all try to measure the air flow from the vents. If some vents are hotter and have more force it may be enough to partially close the grill in the floor or ceiling to hold back the heat. If the vent is weak you can buy inline fans to boost the air flow. If the air is cool you may be able to insulate the line somehow to keep the heat in. 

Why should you install to the manufacturers instructions?


A quick view of this radiant heater might not look like anything is amiss. In this case I noticed the missing heat shield. Knowing the critical importance of this shield to diflect the heat away from the ceiling I decided it would be a good idea to check with the Thermal camera. The thermal image shows the ceiling is over 100 degrees celcius. This is a fire waiting to happen.