Loud furnace has owner hot under collar

HOME WORK

January 21, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

For most people, the sound of the furnace coming on is a comforting one. It means the furnace is working and warmth is on the way.

However, for one reader in Maryland, the furnace is announcing it's on the job a little too noisily.

"I would like to know if there is a furnace filter that reduces noise," she writes. "The return-air register is located in my living room wall. When the furnace goes on and pulls the air through this register to be forced out of the ceiling vents, it sounds like a 50 mile-per-hour wind. Do you have any suggestions as to how this sound can be reduced? My furnace is gas -- and I do not have a basement. I dread the winter because of the noise."

There are a lot of reasons why furnace operation could be noisy, but filters are not designed to reduce noise, and anything that restricts noise would also restrict air, interfering with the operation of the furnace. In fact, removing the existing filter could make the system quieter -- but it would also make the air dirty in the house, or could fill the system with dirt, which could damage equipment.

Here are some problems that could cause a furnace to be noisy and what to do about them. Some of the solutions can be expensive, so it's best to start with the simplest and see if that works.

*Dirty furnace filter, or dirt and debris in the ductwork. Anything that restricts or hampers air flow can make the air turbulent, or noisy. Solutions: Replace or clean the air filter; have the system vacuumed by a heating-repair firm.

*Insufficient cold-air-return ductwork. The intake register or duct may be too small for the amount of suction generated by the furnace. Solutions: Enlarge the existing return-air register, or split the return-air system and install a cold-air return in another room. A qualified forced-air heating installer should be able to evaluate the system and make recommendations.

*Fan speed too high. Solution: It may be possible to lower the fan speed and slow the velocity of air moving through the system without affecting heating or cooling capacity, but the decision whether to do so needs to be made by a qualified installer.

*Return register may be in the wrong place. In a one-story house, the return-air register should be near the floor in a hallway or in a location where it pulls evenly from all parts of the house. Ideally, there should be an air return in every space that has a door; that would keep the temperature all over the house closer to the thermostat setting. (If there is a cooling unit as well, it requires a warm-airreturn near the ceiling in a hallway or central location.)

In a two-story house, the cold-air return should be near the bottom of the steps to the second floor. (For cooling, the warm-air return should be near the ceiling at the highest central location on the second floor.)

Solution: It might be possible to move the return-air register from the living room to a hallway or some other suitable spot (as long as it's not moved into a location where the noise will interfere with sleep). Again, it would take a qualified installer to determine whether or not this could be done.

A really simple solution might be to rearrange furniture in the room so the return-air register is not so near the chair or sofa in which you habitually sit. That won't reduce the noise, but it may make it less annoying.

As we've mentioned before, all houses have "voices." They all make various noises that are part of their character. Sometimes, in the case of a small annoyance, like a squeaky floor or a noisy furnace, it's better to let the house talk than to embark on a potentially expensive and disruptive process of repair.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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