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The House Detective: Rusty furnace worries homeowner

By Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector Published: August 2, 2014

DEAR BARRY: Our forced-air furnace is about 20 years old. We maintain it regularly, and it works fine. But a heating contractor noticed rust flakes in the heat exchanger and said further deterioration could allow deadly carbon monoxide into our home.

He recommended replacing the furnace, but that’s a big expense, and we'd like to put off until next year, if possible. Do you think that waiting is too risky?

— Cathy

DEAR CATHY: Gambling your family’s safety against the expense of a new furnace is a risky business. Therefore, a definite determination of the condition of your furnace is vital. If the heat exchanger has any rust holes or cracks, the furnace could emit deadly carbon monoxide into your home.

For a more conclusive evaluation, have the heating contractor remove the furnace casing to enable a more complete inspection of the heat exchanger. Rust flakes inside the heat exchanger do not always indicate serious damage. A more thorough inspection could help to determine the actual condition of your furnace. You can also get a second opinion from another heating contractor before deciding what to do.

If the furnace turns out to be in bad condition, don’t take chances. Your family is more important than your family budget. And whatever you decide to do, be sure to maintain functional carbon monoxide alarms in your home.

DEAR BARRY: We purchased an old house nearly 10 years ago. It was recently discovered that there is major wood rot under the exterior siding. When we bought the property, we hired a home inspector. He never said anything about this, nor did the seller, who was also a home inspector. Who is liable for the repair costs?

— Karen

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