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back venting  Rating:  Rating
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 Posted: Tue Nov 29th, 2011 11:29 pm
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Barbara
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Today I had an energy audit of our house done. I was told that one of our water heaters (we have two) is "back venting". (I think that was the term. Possibly back drafting. I gather gases are going into our basement instead of outside) The man who told me that put it at vacation setting. Is there a way I can check to see that what he said is correct? If it is correct, then am I right to assume that a professional repair would not make sense for a heater that is a bit more than 11 years old?

I had no idea until visiting this site that one is supposed to take care of water heaters, so this one has certainly been neglected.

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 Posted: Wed Nov 30th, 2011 02:43 am
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elenano
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It's back drafting, and yes, there is a simple test. When the heater is firing, light a match next to the vent hood and see if the smoke is sucked up the vent or not.

Even if it is backdrafting, that doesn't mean you have to replace the water heater. There are a bunch of causes, including a sooty heater, blocked vent, or some other appliance, such as a range draft hood or dryer that is affecting the air balance in the house.

It's best to find out the cause, as it could also affect a new heater. As to maintenance, the answer is, "it all depends." Since it is that age, you can easily check the combustion chamber, and if you like, you can photograph it and post a picture here and we'll tell you what we think.

If the tank is still OK, maintaining it might be worth it because older heaters are less trouble than new ones. Believe me, I'm hanging onto my 30-year-old one, even though it only has one inch of insulation.

Randy Schuyler

Last edited on Wed Nov 30th, 2011 02:43 am by elenano

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 Posted: Wed Nov 30th, 2011 07:40 am
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eleent
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Hello:  Back-drafting can be caused by something that has nothing to do directly with the heater.  As Randy says, a big fan running someplace or even a high window being open or wind can do it.  But anything that depressurizes the house is suspect.  I've seen simply closing the door to the basement fix a back-drafting problem.   If you do replace the unit, consider a "direct vent" heater.  I think you need somebody who understands air balance and the concept of Combustion Appliance Zone (CAZ).  Here is a short introduction:   http://www.energyhomechek.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8:combustion-appliance-zone-testing&catid=4:residential-services&Itemid=3

Yours,  Larry

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 Posted: Wed Nov 30th, 2011 10:47 pm
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Barbara
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Thanks! Last night my husband cleaned out some obstructions and turned the heater up. The pilot flame was on and didn't get bigger, which we thought was odd, but we decided maybe the water was still hot. However, today the water is cool and turning the knob for heat control doesn't do a thing; the pilot stays on but that is it. Is it possible that the energy auditor did something to keep the controls from working? Or is it just a coincidence that they stopped working after his visit? If we can get the thing to heat, then we will check for backdrafting.

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 Posted: Thu Dec 1st, 2011 05:03 pm
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eleent
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Hello:  Look on top of the gas control.  It might have been turned to the pilot position from the on position.  I'd start there.  I suppose the auditor thought he could not leave the heater in an unsafe condition.

Yours,  Larry

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 Posted: Thu Dec 1st, 2011 06:06 pm
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Barbara
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Thanks once more. I did finally reach the auditor, who told me to look for a "pilot /on/off" knob at the "way top" of the heater. I didn't find it there, but did find it where you said, on the top of the gas control. The heater is working now. I did the match test for back drafting, and it looks good to me; I'll have my husband repeat it tonight and see if he agrees.
I have put maintenance for both our water heaters on my reasonably urgent "to-do" list. Things have been a bit hectic recently.
Thanks again for your help.

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