5 On Your Side

Promised code change will improve performance of 'green' heating units

Posted May 13, 2015
Updated May 14, 2015

— Complaints about condensation and high-efficiency heating units are not contained to a single Chapel Hill development. After 5 On Your Side reported that residents of Chatham County's Briar Chapel neighborhood saw their heaters freeze up in February's cold, dozens more homeowners said they experienced the same thing. The complaints extend to communities from Pittsboro to Durham and across Raleigh to Wake Forest and down to Clayton and could total thousands of homes.

In all, 12 builders installed heaters that could not keep up with North Carolina's cold. The units, some called "green" or "90 percent plus," create more condensation. In winter, that dripping water can freeze, especially when the drain pipe is in an exterior wall. When it freezes, the units shut down, locking up the heaters in the dead of winter.

Builders said the heaters were installed according to existing standards. Dan Tingen, chairman of the North Carolina Building Code Council, said it is a case of the code not keeping up with new technology, and he promised a change.

Instead of integrating the condensation runoff with the homes' sanitary pipes – like those used for a bath or laundry room the new heaters had their own smaller, more exposed pipes that were more likely to freeze.

"It's painful for the folks that had the problem last winter, but I think by the time we get to the next season, they'll be better prepared to deal with it," Tingen said. "The code will certainly acknowledge a potential problem. Municipalities will, in some cases, allow condensate to be disposed of, which I think is a proper way."

Some communities, Chatham County included, have already made the change to allow condensate lines to drain into sanitary pipes, which are less likely to freeze. Others are looking at changes to the actual furnace system.

Furnace manufacturer Carrier and home builder Standard Pacific issued statements Wednesday promising to make things right.

Standard Pacific said:

"We have communicated with the homeowners who have these high efficiency units to advise them of the problem. We are working with the manufacturer and local officials to implement a solution before this winter so that our homeowners do not experience the problem again."

Carrier said it is working with builder M/I Homes "to understand the root cause of this issue, to design and implement a solution to retrofit homes currently impacted, and to prevent condensate freezing in future installations."

Homeowners are desperate for a permanent, reasonable solution. Last winter, they were reduced to stopgap measures to keep their pipes from freezing.

Nancy Bane was instructed to pour a watering can of salty water into her unit each day. Others used blow dryers, beach towels or heat from a lamp to keep the pipes warm.

"I set up the light on the ground just a few inches away from the pipe and I left it running 24/7 for three weeks," said Lois Duncan.

In one location, builders countered the cold by installing bushes to "insulate" a drain pipe.

Tingen called the temporary fixes "ridiculous" and said he was confident the issue would be resolved before the cold returns.


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  • Scott Householder May 16, 2015
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    Agreed, Sir!!

  • Scott Householder May 16, 2015
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    Yes, 90%+ furnaces do dump a lot of condensation. That being said, the drain lines must be insulated or they will freeze in cold weather. How do I know this? Because I'm a plumbing contractor. I read that one inspector is suggesting that the condensation drains need to be connected to the sanitary drainage system. It sounds good in theory, however the NC Plumbing Code states that no non-metered water is to be discharged into the sanitary drainage system....now what?? It would solve the problem, but would create headaches for the water treatment plants. They operate based on the amount of metered water that is consumed (metered water is that which is delivered to a home via a city or county water meter). I think it should be piped in to the positive drain for the foundation. This would keep the condensate water away from the cold and out of the sanitary sewer system. It would also eliminate the "wet spot" in the yard due to water dripping from pipes outside of the house-from ac & heat.

  • Jim Boseman May 13, 2015
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    folks let me explain something to you..... a 90 percent plus furnace will produce moisture or water.....insulation of certain pipes is key....how do I know this.....I'm a HVAC Contractor, and I have a 90+ plus furnace in my house. NC building codes are minimal a good contractor will go beyound these codes so the customer has no problems. stock built homes......well you get what you pay for, oh I don't do stock built homes.

  • Jamal Jensen May 13, 2015
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    Any appliance with "green" stuck on it's label is garbage. Those people that are sucked in by that get what they deserve.

  • Daniel Corell May 13, 2015
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    Not running a heating unit during the winter months is in and of itself...."green". These people got what they asked for. Thank your politician.