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posted: 2/21/2014 12:01 AM

White particles signal a problem with the furnace

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Q. Ever since we installed wood flooring, we notice little white granules on the floor every morning. We previously had white carpet, so we never noticed this before. We suspect this is coming from the forced air registers in the ceiling, but we had the furnace checked by a heating contractor. He said the system was OK. We're tired of vacuuming every day and are worried that this might be a health risk. What do you recommend?

A. If the white granules are coming from the heating system, this could be the symptom of a serious defect in your furnace. Step one is to confirm whether the forced air heating system is the source of the white granules. To do this, you should place filters inside the air registers where the problem is occurring. If white particles show up on the filters, the furnace is the source of the problem. If your heating contractor failed to identify this, you should contact another heating contractor and should discontinue use of the system until you have had a reliable evaluation.

The combustion exhaust in a furnace is acidic. If this makes contact with galvanized steel, the acid will react with the zinc in the galvanizing, and this can produce a white powdery residue, as is commonly seen on the terminals of a car battery. If this substance is getting into the circulating air system, there could be a crack or hole in the heat exchanger, and that would be hazardous. Again, you should have this system thoroughly evaluated by a qualified HVAC contractor. You can also have the white particles analyzed by an environmental laboratory to determine their chemical composition.

Q. We just bought a home from an elderly lady who had moved into a nursing home. Her real estate agent handled all of the house repairs, including installation of all new flooring.

After moving in, we discovered the subflooring near the fireplace was rotted beneath the carpet because of a chimney leak. There is no way that this could have been overlooked by the carpet layer. Therefore, either he or the real estate agent withheld this information. Is this something that should have been disclosed to me and not covered up, and are they liable?

A. If the subfloor was visibly rotted, the carpet layer should have pointed this out to the agent. Once the agent knew about the problem, disclosure to you was imperative, legally and ethically. The question now is who knew and who did not know. It is possible the carpet layer was too incompetent to recognize the problem or the need to report it to the agent. This means the agent may not have known, or if she did, may have lacked the integrity to provide disclosure.

You should discuss this issue with both of them. Invite them to your home and show them the problem. Once you get their responses, you'll have a better idea who is liable.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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