Tuesday, March 28, 2017

High inEfficiency Furnace

It’s great to see spring on the horizon.  While the winter wasn’t too severe as NY winters go, we experienced 2 instances of waking up to the delights of no heat / furnace not running.  The first time around, we spent about 4 days huddled around the gas space heater in our 4 season room.  Sometimes we were even able to get up to around 58 degrees; I guess that was preferred to the 10 degrees that we hit outside. Our installer, Family Danz, responded the first day but determined that we needed an electronic component (ignitor) which they could not obtain until the parts shop opened on the next business day and Family Danz promptly returned and completed the repair.  The cost for this go round was $1,000. During the installation the repair guy proudly related that it is a similar electronic component as is found in drones… well, we’re not interested in flying, we’d just like to heat our house, thank you.

A few weeks back, upstate NY was hit with a March blizzard.  Sure enough, we woke up to no heat. This time around it turned out to be that the safety mechanism of the system cut off the furnace due to snow blocking the vent. I recall experiencing this once before while in this home.  The good news is that there was no cost involved and the heat returned after the vent was clear. Needless to say, waking up in winter in NY with no heat is not something you wish to repeat so I did an internet search for solutions. I was surprised to find so much written in regards to this topic (search “furnace vent plugged by snow” or something like that). This problem seems even more prevalent due to the rollout of high efficiency furnaces that vent through the basement wall.  Most galling is that the most offered solution is to keep the vent clear of snow… well no kidding, but given that we are in the great northeast and do experience severe weather wouldn’t you think there would be a better solution? On this particular occasion our local area experienced near blizzard conditions… so the solution is to be patrolling along the side of my house throughout the night through the snow drifts?  This sounds completely ridiculous to me.  No, I definitely didn’t enjoy plunging through a snow drift at 6am to get to the vent.  I’d hate to think what anyone with a physical condition would do. Needless to say, I kept looking for a better solution.

In my quest for a solution, many cited that the install should consider the geographical location and the vent installed 12 inches above the expected level of snow accumulation.  I don’t know what this is for my area, but I’d guess that it might be around 12 inches of accumulation and then 12 inches for a total of 24 inches above the ground.  If this is the case, I’d put my existing vent in the grey area. I’ll further note that was raises my risk is that there shrubbery near the vent and I can see that this particular shrub acted a little like a shelf to compound the problem of snow accumulation.

It would follow that one potential solution would be to simply raise the height of the vent. Aside from not being that handy, I would be tempted to give this a try but in reading further I quickly learned that you need to be very careful with the running length of your venting for hi-efficiency furnaces and adding elbows is the equivalent of longer running lengths so not being an HVAC expert I don’t see this as a good choice. (Although, one could argue that the best choice would be to hire a HVAC specialist… hmm, that would be Family Danz they installed it this way to begin with, so do I want them back?)

The most practical solution that I found was one handy man who built a tent like structure to shelter the vent. I have some scrap pieces from a fence so my intention currently is to attempt to rig something using this approach and also trimming the shrub back from the vent.

I realize that about now some may be thinking that I’m making a fuss about nothing, but let me back up a bit further to our past summer where we went to basement and experienced water streaming out from the furnace area.  Yup, another call to Family Danz and after a second visit (the first thinking it was just a plugged drain), it was determined that we had a cracked air conditioning drip pan and due to the work involved with moving all of the piping from the hi-efficiency furnace, the repair estimate was around $1,000. Thus, far I have avoided going this route by patching the crack with Lexel (and I’ll add a plug for this product – great stuff, able to chalk even when wet which is what I needed).

After about $2,000 in estimated repairs just this past year my wife and I are wondering if it may be time for a new furnace.  The kicker is that this high efficiency was installed by Family Danz in September 2008 at a cost of over $12,000 by the former owners.  When we purchased our house, this was one of the selling points. It is a Bryant 355CAV042089 furnace and CNPVP4221ACAABAA air conditioner.  Although the warranty has expired, I did contact Bryant but received no satisfaction. As I relate on my blog site, I do suffer from Old Fart Syndrome and it certainly has manifested itself in regards to this high efficiency furnace.  I recall that it used to be very common for furnaces to last 20 or so years. High efficiency to me does not mean spending over $12,000 on a furnace and then spending another $2,000 only 8 years later (and there have been other repairs as well). While high efficiency might use natural gas more efficiently, my experience has been that any savings has been wiped out by repairs that are much costlier for a high efficiency system.  Not only have I failed to detect any savings, my experience has been that the reliability has been much worse than any experience I have had with a normal furnace.  Furthermore, any system that requires you to trudge through snowdrifts to keep your furnace going shouldn’t be called a high efficiency system.

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