Promised code change will improve performance of 'green' heating units
Posted May 13, 2015
Updated May 14, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.