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A Dangerous Gas Water Heater Vent

This post is about a dangerous gas water heater vent.

The photo to the right is my water heater.  It is a conventional gas water heater.  It costs me about $12/month to heat my water.

A standard water heater such as mine is essentially a thermos bottle sitting on top of a gas fireplace.  A thermostat is set to get the water to a certain temperature, and a gas burner turns on when that water needs to be heated.

The resulting combustion gases rise up and out through a metal chimney flue on top of the unit, and rise to exit through my roof.

This unit loses a lot of potential energy through that flue.  If we were to use all of the hot water in the tank, it would take about an hour to regenerate a new tankful.

A condensing gas water heater is dramatically more efficient.

Instead of venting the combustion gases produced, like the conventional tank does, a condensing unit captures and re-burns that exhaust to heat the water even more.

The circular "chimney" makes the water travel very far, and has a lot of surface area.

As such, more heat is transferred into the water in the tank.  It is very efficient.

It is exhausted through a PVC pipe on top of the unit!  Plastic does not respond well to heat, so using plastic as the flue means the exhaust has been dramatically cooled as 95%+ of the heat has been recaptured and used to heat water.  The resulting exhaust is so cool you could blow dry your hair with it.  Not that you would want to...

The recovery rate is very quick, said to be 70%+ of the tank size, and the condensing unit saves money. 

See the round, black motor on top of the unit above?  That is a powered blower and forces the resulting exhaust gases directly outdoors.

However, on the subject unit in the house I was inspecting the PVC exhaust tubing had become disconnected from the top of the blower motor!

That means that every time the unit heats water and expulses the exhaust gases, a portion of them is entering the house.

Almost certainly the homeowner does not know. 

Did the home inspector try to fit the black connector hose back onto the top of the unit?

NO.

It seems like every time this  home inspector tries to be a Good Samaritan, he gets bitten by Murphy on the behind.  Fitting that black connector back onto the top might crack the tubing elsewhere or cause other unforeseen damage.  So what he did instead was alert the homeowner immediately.

My recommendation:  home inspectors inspect things!  In this case I walked around and looked all over the water heater - front to back, and top to bottom.  I don't remember the last time I saw this disconnected condition, but I did this inspection!  And glad I did.  The homeowners, and my clients, are in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning here.  This is a serious condition that needs immediate attention!

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 19 commentsJay Markanich • February 23 2016 02:29AM

Comments

Good post and update on current water heater TR technology.

Posted by Peter Mohylsky, Your Bucket List Broker along 30a (BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS REAL ESTATE) over 2 years ago

Good morning Jay Markanich . Looks like we are both venting today. You about water heaters and I am venting on dryers. If folks only knew . . .

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 2 years ago

Jay,  I was unaware of this type of water heater and how it functions until I read your post. Great information to have. Thanks!

Posted by Scott Pope, You Can't Live Without Water™ (Nautical Properties) over 2 years ago

Peter - thanks!  Not sure what TR means - can you explain?

Michael - sometimes I see dryer vents that are problems, but not much different than what I have seen before.  I have had my share of dryer vent posts though!  This disconnection, I think, was a new one for me.

Scott - I am not sure how long these units have been out, for some time more than a decade, but they are very efficient, and if you buy an energy-upgraded house they would be used.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Oh good, I'm so glad you let the homeowner know, as they often don't see the report.  This is a dangerous situation for both buyer and seller.

Posted by Women of Westchester Working Together, Women helping Women get ahead (Women of Westchester Working Together) over 2 years ago

Debbie - here the sellers are required to get the report.  But when I see a dangerous condition I have the realtors communicate immediately.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

As always, a great thing that you were the inspector! I'm sure they called someone asap to fix it.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com) over 2 years ago

Good morning Jay! Sometimes it is better to not attempt to be a good samaritan! Just report the facts as you see them! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker (Wayne M Martin) over 2 years ago

I hope so, Kat.  For all I know they have had a winter of feeling like they had the flu.  (Not flue...)

Wayne - once I tried to move an antique spinning wheel so I could see something and it broke!   I have always wondered since if it was a booby trap.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Thanks for the water heater lesson, I have not seen one of these. That connector probably came off because the installer didn't tighten the clamp... that's the rumor anyway 

 

Oh, and you were a good samaritan by telling them it was loose!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 2 years ago

Fred - I noticed the vertical tube at an angle and investigated why.  Wasn't hard to figure out.  And a Scout is helpful and courteous.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Thank goodness you caught that.  I am sure the sellers are appreciate that you just saved their lives.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Bristow, VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA) over 2 years ago

Who know, Chris Ann.  I may be blamed for causing it!

Good to see you were able to wash off the paint ball stains from the meet up.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

That sounds like a very efficient water heater and would be better with the add of cold water once the system called for it.  Not a good vent, connection, however.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 2 years ago

It's very efficient Ed, probably the most efficient.  And can be fixed easily!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Excellent selling point for carbon monoxide sensors in every house with gas fired appliances Jay Markanich 

Posted by DEANNA EARLY - ( NMLS #268590 ), Virginia Mortgage Loan Originator (American National Bank and Trust) over 2 years ago

Deanna - I have a CO statement on every report where there is the possibility in a house.  And why not?  They are cheap and effective.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

I don't blame you a bit for not fixing the vent pipe.  If this house is anything like my mother in-laws house, every time I try to fix something, something else upstream breaks.   If I think something is going to take 15 minutes to fix, I have to plan on a couple of hours for other repairs and a parts run!

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) over 2 years ago

When I do the parts run I usually get the wrong thing, Stephen, even though I take it with me!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

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