Sunday, October 7, 2012

Check the Draft

With the arrival of Fall weather technicians will soon be taking Fall furnace checkup calls. One of the things we should be doing is checking the vent draft pressure to insure that the vent is working properly. While many technicians are careful to check for cracks in heat exchangers, they sometimes neglect the vent. I believe that improper venting occurs far more often than cracked heat exchangers. Further, a vent that is spilling into the house has the potential to release far more vent gasses into the house than a crack in the heat exchanger. Of course it is right to check for cracks in the heat exchanger, just don’t neglect the vent operation. For all Category I furnaces, the vent should be a negative pressure. That is, it should be at a lower pressure than the room the furnace is operating in. Typically we want at least -0.02” wc. In other words, the vent pressure should be 0.02”wc less than the room pressure. This is true even with fan assisted Category I furnaces, which nearly all 80% AFUE furnaces are today. The fan helps pull the combustion gasses through the heat exchanger, it is NOT designed to PUSH vent gasses through the vent. Typical Class B vent is not air tight. If it is pressurized, it will leak out combustion gas.Even with fan assisted furnaces, the vent is supposed to operate at a negative pressure and the vent gasses leave because of their buoyancy compared to the surrounding air.

What can cause a lack of draft in a vent? One of the main culprits is lack of combustion air. The operation of the burners and the vent system can remove air from the room faster than it is being supplied, causing a negative pressure in the room. In older, leakier homes we often relied on infiltration for combustion air. Today, you really should provide outside air to the appliances. I have seen the operation of a furnace pull smoke out of a burning fireplace. There was enough air for the fireplace, but not both the fireplace and the furnace. The room went so negative that the fireplace vent was not lower than the room pressure. If the vent gasses cool off too much in the vent pressure will increase because the gasses are heavier, decreasing the draft. This can be a particular problem when replacing an older furnace with a newer one. Often, the vent is too big for the new furnace, causing the flue gas to cool off too much as it travels through. Another possibility is a plugged vent or vent cap. The flue gasses back up in the vent and then start to spill out of the appliance. 

Although most Category I furnaces with draft inducer fans have draft pressure switches to shut off the burners if the draft pressure is not at the minimum setting for the switch, I have seen furnaces operating with a positive vent pressure continue to run. Draft switches are, after all, switches and can fail. So don’t assume that because the draft switch is closed, the vent pressure is OK – measure it so you know.


  1. Great post Carter! I have been trying to read more on HVAC and heaters for my job and you have really helped me out. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  2. Interesting and informative post you have shared with us, i also believe that improper venting occurs far more often than cracked heat exchangers. Nice to read this post, many thanks for sharing.

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