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Polar Vortex: 1, Fancy Furnace: 0

Walking to the back door in the 14 degree chill the other night, I was thinking about how thankful I am to have heat this winter. But climbing the stairs to the bedroom, I noticed that the temperature was dropping with each step. “Strange,” I thought, since the upstairs is usually warmer than the downstairs. The thermostat read 64, though it was set for 68. It’s a good thing we don’t have a “For Sale” sign in the house because I might have nailed it to the door, packed my bags, and hopped the next flight to Las Cabos.

Even without investigating, I had a hunch what the problem might be. High efficiency furnaces wring extra BTUs out of their exhaust air in a secondary heat exchanger. This cools the exhaust to the point that moisture condenses out of it. As a result, our furnace drips condensate year-round. Problem is, if the condensate line freezes, which it’s apt to do when it’s *9* outside, the furnace shuts itself off – at the exact moment you need it most.

condensate ice

The condensate line for the upstairs furnace runs down the side of the house in a fake downspout. Picture this: me, outside in the dark Arctic chill, on my back in a pool of ice, aiming Weezie’s hair dryer at the bottom of the hopelessly plugged condensate line. I promise I’m not as dumb as I look.

frozen condensate

It was an exercise in futility. We slept the coldest night of the year without heat for the second year running. It wasn’t too bad since the warm air from downstairs found its way up to us, keeping the temperature from dipping below the upper 50s.

Fortunately, the fickle North Carolina weather saved us by thawing out the condensate line enough for the furnace to spring back to life the next evening.

The weather man tells me it’s going to be 70 this weekend. And that, folks, is why I live in North Carolina.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anonymous #

    Try dropping a line of electrical tracing down the condensate line and turning it on when it gets below 20ish. Bruce via Cyndee

    January 10, 2014
    • jrh #

      I think that’s the ultimate solution. The trick will be figuring out how to fish the tracing through the downspout which is also stuffed with an HVAC line set and a gas line. This is the first we’ve had the problem, so it may not be an issue unless we start to get regular single-digit temps.

      January 11, 2014

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