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Don’t Forget! Clear Your Vents When Snow Falls!
One of the first things that most of us do after a snowstorm here in New England is shovel our walks and driveway so no one gets hurt. But there’s another part of your home that should be cleared when the white stuff falls – one that’s even more important to your family’s wellbeing: your exhaust vents and intake pipes.
To understand why these problems can happen, let’s take a look at some heating system basics:
A furnace needs three things to do its job – fuel, a spark, and oxygen; your furnace or boiler itself provides the first two.
In an older home, a furnace would often get enough oxygen from its basement surroundings to stay ignited – but in newer, more tightly constructed homes, that oxygen is harder to come by. To keep a furnace ignited, your heating system may need to draw in oxygen from outside the house; that’s what the air-intake pipe is for.
Once your furnace has enough oxygen, it will ignite and produce two things: heat and combustion gases. The heat, of course, is what you want; combustion gases, however, can be extremely dangerous if they accumulate in your home. Toxic and other harmful substances that can be found in combustion gases include:
Carbon monoxide (colorless, odorless and extremely toxic)
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
In a properly functioning heating system, combustion gases are harmlessly vented from the exhaust pipe. But if that pipe is blocked, they can build up inside your home, eventually posing dangerous or potentially even deadly threats to your family, including carbon monoxide poisoning.
If the air-intake pipe is blocked, the consequences are less dire, but still problematic: without oxygen, your heating system will stall or shut down as a safety measure. In some cases, you will need to call a professional to restart your system.
3 Steps To Clearing A Vent
The bottom line: Keeping your heating system air vents clear is critical to your family’s safety. The question is, how do you do it? Here are three steps:
Identify your exhaust pipes – To find your exhaust vents, go to your furnace. If your system vents through the chimney, you will see an aluminum pipe coming off the back of your equipment; if your system vents through an exterior wall, you will see two 3-inch diameter PVC pipes (intake and exhaust) coming off the top. Simply follow those pipes to see where they leave the building.
Mark them – Once you have found your vents, mark their location so they can easily be found under heavy snow.
Clear them – Shovel around your vents, but use a broom to clear the vent itself to prevent damage to your equipment.