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Ask the Architect

Making sure the furnace is accessible


Q. I’m trying to figure out a new place in my addition for a furnace. We want to have a door from the shed on the side of our house so we don’t have to go to the furnace from inside. Also, we want to use a “direct vent” to exhaust instead of a chimney, but I need to know, how far does the wall of my neighbor’s home have to be from ours? We live in a neighborhood where the houses are very close, and we don’t want to start a fire. What do you think?

A. It’s a good time to answer this hot-topic question because the time of year easily demonstrates why I would never locate the utility room entrance outside the house. Most humans don’t fare well in the cold, so they bundle up to conserve body heat. I know you may be thinking that you don’t want a furnace-repair person traipsing through your clean house in dirty overalls, or with dirty equipment, but that problem can also be addressed. After all, what time of the year is it when most people notice or are concerned about a boiler repair? If you answered winter, give yourself 5 points. If you answered summer, then you probably have other boiler issues that should also be addressed.

In the winter, when the boiler breaks down, you’ll want to grab a flashlight and look to see what the matter is before contacting a repairperson. At that point, the theory of having a warm room to work in, anyway, can be dismissed, since the boiler’s non-functioning was the reason you went to check to see why the house was cold. Forcing a repairperson to work in the wind, in a heavy coat, is unkind and not very productive. He’ll be wearing bulky clothing, working with gloves on and taking hot drink breaks more often, slowing down the process of repair.

Install a door from the interior, in a garage, a storage room or a mudroom hallway, all with easy access for you and for the service person. Leave room around all sides of the heating equipment so that it can be monitored and repaired easily. Lack of space means more time necessary to repair, adding cost and discomfort, since it will take longer for the house to be warm again.

Direct vents require only three to four feet of distance (or less, depending on the manufacturer). The required setback distance, by ordinance for your community, is five feet, and the required state code distance for non-flammable surface materials is three feet. If your home is closer than three feet, it must have an outside surface material that is fire-rated, such as concrete, stone, brick or metal. Otherwise, the distance is fine, by local ordinance, for direct venting, as long as the venting is installed properly. Stay warm and good luck!

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.