A while back, Rocklin went through a big growth spurt. In 1980, the town had fewer than 10,000 residents, but these days that number is up to over 55,000. That’s a good thing for the town, of course, with all the new jobs, shops, and opportunities for the community that growth has brought. But, it also means that many of the homes in Rocklin were built around the same time, about 15 or 20 years ago, so Rocklin dwellers have more than just a love for Placer County in common—they may also all be experiencing the same furnace maintenance issues.
As an HVAC professional, one of the trends I’ve noticed in Rocklin over the last year is that I’m getting a rash of calls about furnaces leaking water. The tone in these calls is usually a mixture of something between panic and confusion. Panic because there’s water all over the place, and confusion because, “Isn’t it the air conditioner that usually leaks, not the furnace?” It’s obviously time to clear up some misconceptions.
A High-Efficiency Furnace’s Lifespan May Be Less Than You Think
First, let me set your mind at ease and assure you, I’m never surprised by these calls. The average lifespan of a furnace is between 15 to 20 years, so it makes sense that so many houses in Rocklin would all be having HVAC issues come up about now. Between 1990 and 2000, Rocklin’s population grew from 19,033 to 36,330. That’s a massive 90 percent increase. Now, even if all these new homeowners had annual checkups done on their furnaces and invested in all the recommended upkeep and maintenance, for a place like Rocklin where major growth happened just about 20 years ago, this all adds up to a perfect storm of furnaces having problems at once.
Second, many of the houses built back then in Rocklin were two stories, a bit on the larger side, so they have something called high-efficiency furnaces designed to burn less fuel and ultimately save on heating costs. So, why are they becoming a problem in Rocklin? Mainly it’s because of the fact they produce more condensation, that has to go somewhere, than a standard furnace. So, the only surprising unknown for me in all of this is the actual reason behind the leak, as they can vary—although there’s a pretty common one when it comes to these high-efficiency furnaces.
The Most Common Reason for a Leaky Furnace
High-efficiency furnaces have a cool exhaust system that produces plenty of condensation. They extract more heat from gasses over a longer period of time than standard furnaces, which allows the gasses to cool and condense. The condensation that is produced through this process then exits out through a drain by way of the condensation tubing—when everything is running smoothly that is.
A puddle under the furnace is often the result of a leak of some sort in that tubing, which can be caused by a clog or a full-fledged break in the line. It’s also possible that the floor drain itself has become clogged. These are incredibly common problems for old furnaces with old tubing, so, not that it will make you feel any better, but if you’re one of these folks in Rocklin who’s found a big puddle of water around the furnace in your 15 years or older home, just know that your neighbor has likely found the same thing—or will soon.
Is It Even the Furnace? Other Water Leak Causes
Modern high-efficiency furnaces are complex. Bad condensation tubing is only one of a number of problems that could be causing a water leak. Let’s take a look at some of the other possible causes:
- Clogged internal drain: In our area, the weather is blazingly hot in the summer and moderately cold in the winter, which means we need both a furnace and a powerful air conditioner to keep our homes comfortable year-round. High-efficiency furnaces almost always share an internal draining system with an AC unit. If the air conditioner was acting up in the summer, and water was a problem then as well, there’s a very good chance that your water woes are being caused by a clogged internal drain.
- Leaky pipe near furnace: This isn’t really the fault of your furnace either, and because of that, this doesn’t just apply to those older houses in Rocklin. No, it applies to all houses. A leaky or clogged plumbing pipe near the furnace could be backing up and causing water to come out of the furnace or air conditioner’s floor drain, which would trick you into thinking it’s your furnace that’s leaking.
- Malfunctioning heat exchanger: We’ve talked about the benefits of having a healthy heat exchanger in the past, but a malfunctioning one will send fluid all over the ground near your furnace. It’s where the actual fuel combustion takes places—air is heated inside of the heat exchanger and then blown out into your house. If the seal around it cracks, gas and other chemicals can leak from inside of it. Go ahead and cross your fingers right now and hope this never happens, though, because this means you need to replace your heat exchanger all together, and that costs a pretty penny.
Why is all this must-know information? Well, because even a small leak in your home can cause big problems, like damaged floors and walls, or even mold growth. Like I said near the top, Rocklin had many, many homes built about 15 to 20 years ago, which also happens to be the timeframe for a furnace’s overall life.
These sorts of problems are not uncommon. My biggest piece of advice, obviously, is to call a professional HVAC technician if your furnace is leaking. A good tech will be able to tell you why it’s leaking, how to fix it, and whether you should bite the bullet and just get a whole new furnace. Give your trusted HVAC guys a call, so you can take the family out for a Sunday matinee of Willie Wonkaat Rocklin’s Finnish Temperance Hall without worrying about a flood in your hall when you get home.