Backdrafting is the reverse flow of gas in the flues of fuel-fired appliances that results in the intrusion of combustion byproducts into the living space. Many fuel-fired water heaters and boilers use household air and lack an induced draft, which makes them especially vulnerable to backdrafting when indoor air pressure becomes unusually low.
Fuel-fired water heaters, boilers, wall heaters, and furnaces are designed to exhaust the byproducts of combustion to the outdoors through a flue. These hot gases rise through the flue and exit the home because they are not as dense as indoor air. The pressure differential that allows for the release of combustion gases can be overcome by unusually low indoor air pressure caused by a high rate of expulsion of air into the outdoors through exhaust fans, fireplaces and dryers. When this happens, combustion gases can be sucked back into the house and may potentially harm or kill building occupants. Improperly configured flues or flue blockages can also cause backdrafting.
While performing the above-noted tests, your Certified Professional Inspector may ask you to turn on all devices that vent air into the outdoors in order to simulate worst-case conditions. Such devices may be dryers, or bathroom and kitchen fans.
Most backdrafting is the result of the characteristics of this type of water heater. Combustion gases rise through the ventilation duct solely by the force of convection, which might not be strong enough to counter the pull from dips in indoor air pressure.
This system incorporates a fan that creates a controlled draft. The potential for backdrafting is reduced because the induced draft is usually strong enough to overcome any competing pull from an indoor air-pressure drop.
The combustion and venting systems are completely sealed off from household air. Combustion air is drawn in from the outdoors through a pipe that is designed for that purpose. The potential for backdrafting is nearly eliminated because the rate of ventilation is not influenced by indoor air pressure, and the vented gas has no pathway into the home.
The installation of fuel-fired water heaters in particular household locations can increase the chances of personal harm caused by backdrafting. The 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) states the following concerning improper location:
Fuel-fired water heaters shall not be installed in a room used as a storage closet. Water heaters located in a bedroom or bathroom shall be installed in a sealed enclosure so that combustion air will not be taken from the living space.
If you are concerned about the possibility of backdrafting in your home, feel free to contact us today!