Home inspector: new homebuyer afraid of gas appliances

Posted5/10/2013 4:03 AM

Q. As a first-time homebuyer, I'm worried about gas appliances. All the houses I've looked at have gas stoves, gas water heaters and gas furnaces. The house I'm renting has all-electric appliances. I've heard lots of horror stories about safety problems with natural gas -- everything from fires to explosions. Are gas appliances safe, or should I stick with electrical ones?

A. Every man-made device has its hazards. Gas appliances can burn you up or blow you up. Electrical appliances can shock you or electrocute you, and cars can crash into trees or run off the edge of a cliff. Each has its benefits and can be safe when the risks are properly managed.

If you buy a home with gas appliances, there are two precautions to keep in mind: First, you should hire a qualified home inspector to evaluate the general condition and operability of the water heater, furnace, kitchen range, fireplace, etc. A competent inspector will evaluate numerous safety-related aspects of these fixtures, including fire clearances, combustion air supply, exhaust venting, gas connections, flame patterns, fixture damage, and much more.

Second, the gas company should perform a routine safety inspection of all gas-burning fixtures before you close escrow. Aside from the conditions that would be reported by a home inspector, the gas company will ensure proper adjustment of the burners and will test for carbon monoxide. A gas company inspection is advised not only when you purchase a home, but as an annual checkup for ongoing home safety.

Finally, make sure there are carbon monoxide alarms near all bedroom entrances, with at least one alarm on each level of the home. This is among the items that should be checked by your home inspector.

Follow these procedures, and the gas fixtures in your home should be safe, functional, and trouble-free.

An added advantage with gas appliances is that they are more economical to use than electrical fixtures. With gas, your overall utility costs should be lower.

Q. My home has a problem with the forced air heater. When you turn off the thermostat, the air continues to blow for several minutes before turning off. Is this a problem? If so, should I call a heating contractor or the gas company?

A. It is normal for a forced air heating system to continue blowing after the thermostat is turned off. In fact, if the blower turns off immediately, that is a problem that warrant attention by a heating contractor.

Basically, here is how your furnace works. When you turn on the thermostat, the burner ignites, but the blower does not begin to operate until the interior of the furnace becomes sufficiently heated -- usually about 150 degrees. When the thermostat is turned off, the flame is extinguished, but the blower stays on until the inside of the furnace is sufficiently cooled. This helps to prolong the useful life of the combustion chamber, also known as the heat exchanger.

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

Action Coast Publishing

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