I took extra precaution with the diagnosis of this well-worn hot water heater. I had to ensure that when it combusted, the noxious gases, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, would vent through the chimney to the outdoors and not spill into the basement. A "spillage test" -- when small puffs of smoke are placed near the draft hood on the top of the unit to simulate the rise of combustion fumes -- showed that this hot water heater vented poorly. A water supply line for the unit had leaked and caused a large gash near the first elbow, and the vent pipe lacked proper pitch, or the appropriate horizontal "rise over run" to the chimney.
Fortunately, the repairs to this hot water heater were simple and inexpensive. A new section of single-wall vent pipe cost the client under $100. The leak at the water supply line was corrected with a new shut-off ball valve. Both of the repairs were covered under the Keystone HELP energy improvement loan program.
Written by BPI-certified Building Analyst Chris Petersen