The P. Gagnon & Son Blog

Why it is so important to keep my vent pipes clear?

snow roofWhen snow falls here the Southern Maine and Seacoast NH area, you probably spend a lot of time clearing the front walkway to keep someone in your family from hurting themselves. Good job! Just don’t forget to pay attention to the side of your home, where heavy snow can create problems that pose a far more dangerous – and potentially even deadly – threat.

That’s where you may find your heating system’s vent and air intake pipes – and keeping them clear is critical to your safety. To understand why. it’s important to know a few heating system basics.

  • Whether it uses heating oil or propane, your home heating system has an exhaust (or vent) pipe; if you have a newer home, it will also often have an air intake pipe.
  • In most older homes, your vent pipe is up a chimney, where it is far less likely to be blocked by snow or other debris. But in newer houses, a vent or intake pipe for your furnace will often feed directly through a side exterior wall, where it can easily be blocked by piled or drifting snow.
  • A furnace or boiler needs three things to do its job – fuel, a spark, and oxygen; your furnace itself provides the first two. In an older home, a boiler or 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, oxygen must be drawn in 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 carbon monoxide (CO). The heat, of course, is what you want; carbon monoxide, however, can be extremely dangerous. In a properly functioning heating system, carbon monoxide (CO) is harmlessly vented from the exhaust pipe. But if that pipe is blocked (by snow, for example), that CO can build up inside your home, eventually causing dangerous or potentially even deadly 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 many cases – especially if your equipment is powered by propane – you will need to call a professional to restart your system.

The bottom line: Keeping your air vents clear is critical to your family’s safety. The question is, how do you do it?

Clearing your intake and exhaust vents

  • Find them – To find your vents, go to your boiler or 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 it is a good idea to 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.

Stay safe this winter – contact us any time if you have any questions or concerns about heating system safety in your southern Maine or New Hampshire home!