5 On Your Side

'Green' furnace law still needs tweaking, some say

Posted September 17, 2015 6:37 p.m. EDT

Homeowners with “green” heating systems are already worried about winter. They are concerned their systems, which are 90 percent energy efficient, will freeze up and stop working.

A change in the state law was made to address the issue. The change allows condensate, or dripping water from energy-efficient furnaces, to be rerouted to a home's sewer lines.

But not all builders are making adjustments, telling homeowners that the units were installed to code.

TJ Lynch, with Raleigh's Public Utilities Department, worries about the impact of that added water on municipal treatment systems.

"What I don't like about the new law is that we're being forced to take on a water, a discharge, that doesn't need to be treated,” he said.

Builder Dan Tingen is chairman of the North Carolina Building Code Council. He pushed for the law after 5 On Your Side stories that showed homeowner after homeowner having to use blow-dryers, spotlights and buckets of hot water to melt frozen furnace pipes to get their heat to work.

"I think municipalities have an obligation to consider the best interest of their citizens, not just the best interest of their own finances,” Tingen said.

Several area utilities’ leaders worked together on an option they want the Building Code Council to consider: Instead of the condensate always draining into sewer lines, an alternative design routes it there only after the outside drain freezes.

"We propose that you have a T in that line,” Lynch said. “You would have an overflow line, and it would then go onto sanitary sewer. After that, when that freezing goes away, the pipe thaws (and the water) goes back to the environment where it should be being discharged."

Tingen says it could work, although cost and consistency are a consideration.

“I want to see a statewide solution,” he said. “Every inspector will be enforcing it more or less the same, not jurisdiction by jurisdiction."

The bottom line is that builders and homeowners now have options.

"Having you bring it to our attention like you did last winter, it was very helpful,” Tingen said to 5 On Your Side. “With a little bit of luck, we'll have a full circle close by this winter so that people won't have this trouble anymore."