Combustion Appliance Testing Can Be Easy if You Understand What and Why You Are Testing

Lots of energy auditors, inspectors, HVAC folks, and air sealers are confused about how, when, and why it is important to test combustion appliances.  They often don't know what the test is supposed to tell them... and once they get an answer from their equipment, they don't necessarily know what to do with the answer.  They wonder "Is this a good number? Or a bad number?  Does it pass or fail?  Can I keep working or do I have to stop?  Do I have to undo something I just did or fix a new problem?"  It is scary out there once you start testing and understand the test results.  A large percentage of the homes we visit have gas leaks.  Many water heaters and heaters have inadequate draft pressure and they backdraft.  Many have high CO levels in the flue gasses.

 

I was confused.  But not anymore!  What a relief.  Now, it's easy for me to explain the whys, hows, whens, and whats to others so they can get it too.  Be patient with yourself as you learn - but be on the safe side and have another person test in and test out while you learn. 

 

The current issue of Home Energy Magazine includes an article I wrote about combustion testing.  Maybe it will help you.

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Tamasin, I totally agree with you on the importance of combustion testing. The variables in house conditions are vast. I always include simulating a woodstove or fireplace if it is used relatively regularly. I also like turning on attic fans because of the penetrations in the attic plane.
Undiluted CO testing is useful for determining the efficiency of the appliance, but if you aren't going to take that step and use a combustion analyzer, what is the information useful for? It is sometimes difficult with the wide variety of appliances to find the right spot for the test, so it would seem that the information may be more misleading than helpful.
Curiosity leads to knowledge - for those of us who want to do the right thing all the time. It helps to be a bit of a perfectionist.
I understand the importance of this type of testing, but what I don't agree with is the Energy Auditor doing it. I have done hundreds of energy audits and I can tell you combustion testing has no business in my practice. If one of my customers is concerned about CO and Gas leaks I tell them to contact a Qualified HVAC contractor that has the expertise to do this type of testing. I called my insurance company after I took my BPI in Aug. and explained to them what the standard wanted me to do, the liability I would have to pick up was way more than I wanted so I stay out of this testing and leave it up to the experts. There is no way I am going into one of my customers houses tell them there is nothing wrong and then the next week they Die of CO posing. Just my thoughts on this and I know I am not the only one who thinks this.

Regards
Jeremy Kays
www.xrayeyesonline.com
If you have been certified as a BPI Building Analyst to do combustion safety and gas leak testing and you don't do it during an energy assessment, you need to notify the occupant every time that they should have that testing done by a qualified technician. Whether they ask about it or not. I can't imagine that too many homeowners know to ask such questions. How can you do a blower door test on a house or recommend air sealing without analyzing the combustion safety ramifications? Being certified raises us to a higher level of expectations from our clients. I have seen too many houses that have had problems when only the air sealing/blower door analysis has been done and pursued. Utilities/HVAC contractors don't do comprehensive gas leak testing. Fixing gas leaks saves energy and can save lives.
Well I have yet to do a BPI Audit as no one around my area knows what that is or would spend the money on one. I always tell them if they make the fixes that I recommend they should have a HVAC contractor in to do the testing and the ones I recommend know how to do the testing. 99% of my customers don't care how much air is moving around there home they just want to know where it is so they can fix it and so that’s what I show them. 90% of those customers the only reason I am in their house is because they are fighting the contractor because they did not build the house right. 90% of the homes I am in are 7 years or newer. I can't tell you how many customers I deal with every winter because of frozen pipes in an interior wall. I don't use a blower door because I only do audits in the winter time and here in South Dakota with the temp so extreme I can see all of their air leakages. The only thing that the blower door does is just intensifies what I am already seeing. I am purchasing a blower door to help with big commercial building that I am getting into 10,000 to 60,000 SQ Feet. I will also be able to use the door on houses if need be. What someone would pay let’s say on the east coast for a BPI audit for $700 I do here in the Midwest for $200 Just think of how much money I just saved them just in the audit with the same results. I have been doing this for 6 years with no complaints and have saved my customers thousands of dollars. Here is one we just heard back from the customer this month. I have about 6 of these going on right now. http://www.xrayeyesonline.com/?p=195 Attached picture is showing cold air infiltraion in a interior you can see the typed drywall seem where the two pieces of drywall meet. No blower door was used.

Regards
Jeremy Kays
www.xrayeyesonline.com
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I'm with you, Jeremy, about not charging customers for tests they don't need or that you don't need to do if you already figured out their problem(s) and meet their goals. When it comes to safety, however, we always test the atmospheric draft appliances.
good thread.
I agree we need to charge people for what they need and not what we want to do or perform.
It is all about doing economic good and the good ole' "triple bottom line" style of business.
I cannot disagree more with your last statement. Gas leak testing and combustion analysis is the job of a professional Plumber/HVAC contractor. If you are truly concerned with the safety of your customers (with what seems to be a poor understanding of the plumbing & HVAC trade professional) any and all adjustments to a combustion appliance should only be carried out by a trained trade person. That trained person should also be extremely familiar through factory training of each brand they are servicing to have clear conscience the testing and adjustments have been carried out properly and safely.


Paul Raymer said:
If you have been certified as a BPI Building Analyst to do combustion safety and gas leak testing and you don't do it during an energy assessment, you need to notify the occupant every time that they should have that testing done by a qualified technician. Whether they ask about it or not. I can't imagine that too many homeowners know to ask such questions. How can you do a blower door test on a house or recommend air sealing without analyzing the combustion safety ramifications? Being certified raises us to a higher level of expectations from our clients. I have seen too many houses that have had problems when only the air sealing/blower door analysis has been done and pursued. Utilities/HVAC contractors don't do comprehensive gas leak testing. Fixing gas leaks saves energy and can save lives.
Thank you Eric you are spot on and if I had it my way BPI and RESNET would take this out of their standards or put in their standards that this needs to be done but needs to be done by a licensed HVAC contractor who know how to work on the many different systems on the market.

Regards
Jeremy Kays
Sticking up for Paul

"any and all adjustments to a combustion appliance should only be carried out by a trained trade person."

I don't think Paul said anything about making adjustments "do combustion safety and gas leak testing" & "analyzing the combustion safety ramifications"

I think if we make any comments about air sealing, we need to be aware of the effect on combustion appliances.

On oil fired equipment I like to use a smoke tester. I can show this to the customer and advise them that their heating contractor should be performing combustion testing, not just an eye ball test.

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