What I'm Seeing Now


Be Sure To Check Behind The Furnace For Possible Danger

Be sure to check behind the furnace for possible danger.

It was an older home with an older HVAC unit.

The furnace was gas fueled, and needed attention.  When that is the case I always suspect the furnace flue and stack.

But in this case it was very difficult to access and see.

So I had to reach my camera around to do the seeing for me.

It took a few tries to get things centered, but this is what the bottom of the exhaust stack looked like.

Rusting, cracked, and visible holes was the verdict of the best photo.

This is a serious issue!

Often when I see an older, rusting flue system I tap on the bottom to hear it sound full of debris.  And it is!  That is debris that has fallen into the stack, either from rust or acidic condensation, and is clogging the bottom of the tube.

This flue needs attention right away, and given its location it won't be easy.

Years ago I was asked to do an inspection on an estate sale.  The family wanted to put the house on the market, asking for a head's up as to what they needed to do to get the house ready.

Looking behind the furnace as I am wont to do I discovered a badly rusted and deteriorated flue stack, falling apart with gaping holes.  It had been like that for some time!  Asking the young woman what had happened, she said her mother was living there alone, widowed for some time.  In the fall she became ill, and it did not get better.  Diagnosed with age-related, lingering flu, the colder the winter got the sicker she became.  Eventually, one night she perished.

When I heard the story I was pretty sure what had happened.  As it got cold the homeowner turned on the heat.  The colder it got the more the furnace worked.  Her bed was in the room AND IT WAS DIRECTLY ABOVE THE FURNACE.  Her bed was a mere 8' from the deteriorated vent stack.

I think she died from carbon monoxide poisoning.   When during the flu season someone goes to the hospital with symptoms of the flu doctors are not going to make a quick assessment that it might be carbon monoxide poisoning and do a blood test.  This woman had gotten worse and worse, until finally absorbing so much CO into her blood she asphyxiated, poisoned to death.  The family passed it on as the flu. 

When I showed the rusting, holey flue to the seller and explained what I thought had happened to her mother her face said it all.  My diagnosis was probably, tragically correct. 

And all for a rusty, deteriorated exhaust flue stack.

My recommendation:  if you have an older gas furnace, and an older exhaust flue stack, have it examined carefully!  It could be a danger, hidden or not, that can expose a household to carbon monoxide poisoning!  Have it corrected!  And if the old exhaust stack is "sealed" with duct tape have it corrected as well!  Wrong is wrong, and bad is bad. 

This photo was taken during an inspection with Chris Ann Cleland and it got sealed!   -------------------->



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

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


Comment balloon 7 commentsJay Markanich • May 21 2017 10:50AM


Good morning Jay. Great example of the necessity of preventive maintenance. Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) about 3 years ago

May as well call the fire department right now.  This home is close to buring down.

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) about 3 years ago

It pays to check regularly, Wayne.  It's important to do that for so many reasons.

William - about 25 years ago our CO detector in the house went off and my wife did not know what to do, so she called the fire department.  They sent a couple of trucks!  The investigator determined the source of the leak, and sealed it.  No chance of burning down, but the house was unsafe!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

Rusting out furnance pipes or poorly sealed ones are certainly an avoidable danger.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Bristow, VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA) about 3 years ago

They are, Chris Ann.  And can be fixed.  Obviously when they are rusted, or full of debris, it's probably best to replace the assembly, but they can be resealed, as was done in your case.  Of course the one in your inspection needs to be examined regularly for cracks or holes.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

That is a sad story. And it should be a lesson to us all!! I have been seeing a lot of rusted, cracked vent stacks, and some with a damaged cap. Once moisture gets into those systems and rusts the heat exchangers... all bets are off!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) about 3 years ago

I felt very badly when I saw that woman's face when she heard my analysis, Fred.  It seemed pretty logical that this is what got her mother, slowly and over time.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

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