Winter Propane Safety: Keep Your Vent Pipe Clear
Your propane heating system works hard to keep your family safe from the elements through the long, cold Southwest Iowa winter. But those elements can still cause some problems in your home if your exhaust or vent pipe becomes blocked somehow like by a bird building a nest in it or from blizzarding snow during a storm.
To understand why a blocked vent pipe is a problem, let’s take a look at some heating system basics.
Home heating basics:
- Your home heating system has an exhaust (or vent) pipe; if you have a newer home, it may also often have an air intake pipe.
- In many older homes, the vent pipe is contained within the chimney, where it is unlikely to be blocked by snow or debris. But in newer houses, vent and intake pipes will often protrude through an exterior wall, where they can become blocked by snow.
- A propane furnace (any furnace, really) needs three things to do its job – fuel, an ignition source, and oxygen; your furnace itself provides the first two. In an older home, a furnace would often get enough oxygen from its surroundings to stay lit – but in newer, more airtight homes, with high efficiency furnaces, that oxygen is harder to come by. To keep a furnace ignited, oxygen in the air must be drawn 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 exhaust, including carbon monoxide (CO). The heat, of course, is what you want; carbon monoxide, however, can be dangerous it if is allowed to build inside an enclosed space. If your vent pipe is blocked for a prolonged period, it could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide, which can be dangerous.
- If the air-intake pipe is blocked, your heating system could 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 heating professional in southwest IA 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?
To clear your exhaust vent:
- Find them – To find your 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 white 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.