Problems With a Propane Furnace

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Furnaces warm homes and other buildings, keeping occupants comfortable during severe winters. Propane furnaces--those that burn propane gas to generate heat--are a cost-effective alternative to wood and other gas-burning furnaces. They are easy to maintain and commonly last between eight to 10 years longer than heat pumps. Propane furnaces are, however, associated with some problems that affect their functionality and heat-generating efficiency.

Fire Hazard

  • Propane is a highly flammable gas; thus, propane furnaces, like other types of furnaces, are a fire hazard if not routinely inspected and maintained. Propane gas is heavier than air and can collect easily in low-lying areas and drains in case of a leak in the furnace. This accumulated gas will ignite if it comes in contact with electricity or a spark, creating both an explosion and a fire hazard.

Release of Noxious Gases

  • The burning of propane gas releases heat and other by-products, including carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. According to the book "Prescriptions for a Healthy House," other potentially toxic emissions from propane furnaces include hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. The level of these gases will depend on the amount and quality of fuel burnt. Exposure to the by-products of propane combustion include fatigue, depression, irritability and lack of concentration. More serious health consequences of exposure to these toxic gases include nervous and cardiovascular system disorders and organ failures. Propane furnaces consume indoor oxygen unless they are supplied with a constant source of fresh air.

Technical Problems

  • Propane furnaces are susceptible to a number of technical problems, depending on their age and quality. Some problems can be easily addressed and managed while others require the help of professional furnace repairmen. It is not uncommon for propane furnace ignitors to go bad, warranting replacement. A faulty furnace ignitor will not supply an adequate amount of heat. Other problems common to propane furnaces include duct obstructions, undersized ductwork, loose fan belts, dirty heating coils, dirty fan blades and dirty furnace filters, which result in low airflow and furnace inefficiency. Air leaks and furnace control settings also affect furnace efficiency. These, and similar problems can be avoided if a propane furnace is cleaned and tuned once every two to three years.

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References

  • "Prescriptions for a Healthy House"; Paula Baker-Laporte, Erica Elliott and John Banta; 2001 (Pg 6)
  • "Insulate and Weatherize"; Bruce Harley; 2002 (Pg 107)
  • "Alternative Energy Demystified‎"; Stan Gibilisco; 2006 (Pg 33)
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