Furnace Problem Comments Welcome

I just received email from customer with a complaint about her furnace. Natural gas low efficiency York installed in 1992. I include pictures taken at time of inspection. Customer is stating that water leak from faulty A frame for A/C unit has caused her heat exchanger to rust out and now her furnace has to be replaced. Her email stated that there is visible rust and water marks in furnace and water pooling on floor of basement around heater.

The pictures I have show a few small moisture stains, no visible rust, and from three sides of furnace in pictures, no visible pooling of water. Her drain line from A frame does go to drain in front of furnace. This I usually find is usually located on top or close to drain.

I am wondering what your recommendations are in this type of situation, I dont want to shirk any responsibilities but also not interested in buying her a new furnace. Her estimate is $6,000.00. My report states that furnace average life span is 14 to 17 years and no perdicted service life could be given. Also noted that orange and yellow flame indicated poor combustion and needed “tune up”. The humidifier was not working at time of inspection and was noted. Usually cheaper drum humidifiers do not work long after installation especially with hard water in this area. I would assumed that the minor spots on bottom shelf would have been from faulty humidifier.

I would be interested in your comments as I intend to do something for this customer but would like to be fair to myself and her.









When was the inspection ,Did she get it serviced .
I always recommend immediate removal of Humidifier as they are not an advantage in our part of Canada.
They also are the cause of many furnaces rusting out .
It is 15 years old and could have reached it normal life expectancy with out the humidifier adding to the difficulties.
I would be back to see her immediately make no comments just listen and ask questions .
Then go to your friendly furnace man and talk it over with him asking what experience he has had with these furnaces in you area .
Even if you are wrong No way can you be expected to upgrade a 15 year old furnace . 20% of and upgrade cost at most ( but do not say or admit to any thing .
Best of luck please keep us posted .
… Cookie


First, the pictures show a pretty clean furnace for a 1992 model. The other pictures are kinda small, can’t get much detail on floor stains, flame color, Humidifier condition, etc. Looks well maintained though.

What I don’t understand is why she is coming back to you for help in the cost of repair/replacement of a 15 yr.+ furnace. I guess I’m interested in the wording of your comments about the HVAC system as a whole in your report I’ve never had this problem before, and would like to avoid the situation.

I have always been very clear about my reporting of existing conditions. I make sure the Client understands that just because I’m performing a Home Inspection, I’m not a specialist, I’m not Superman, I look for markers, indicators of potential problems, and make recommendations.
I warrant nothing, and they understand, because I’m typically including reaffirming comments in each catagory of my report. I’ll reference life expectancies, probabilities, etc. as confirmation to a condition found, but it’s actuarial data only.

I wish you luck.
If your wording is clear, don’t be bullied or buffaloed into spending anything more than you’re comfortable with. If it were me, I probably would’nt contribute a dime. Clients who try stuff like this get me all bowed up, makes me wants to dig my heels in and fight.

Get’um killer…

I want to know what indications of a problem you missed during the inspection.
If it ran ok and it was that clean did the ex owner clean it to cover up this supposedly rusted exchanger.If you inspected the humidifier you did more than I would as they are often excluded.

First off $6k is too much (even in Canadian)!

There is no reason to replace a furnace in this good of shape for a broken heat exchanger (even if it was broken). The/or part of the heat exchanger can be repaired.

Second, the furnace is spotless (compared to most of this age)!

Third, with no obvious exterior visible signs of problems, heat exchanger and A/C coil evaluation requires TOTAL dismantling of the equipment (not just taking of a cover). Outside of scope.

Forth, you called out enough issues that should have brought in an HVAC guy to evaluate. Did they follow up?

When was the inspection? Did you have sufficient weather to run the a/c for an hour or so during the inspection? You can not find leaks when you can’t make water.

How did she find out about these issues? I would assume after a “thorough inspection” by an HVAC guy and the unit is long gone! Did she notify you in a timely manner to come look things over? Or is this just the HVAC guy shooting off his mouth against your word.

It looks like you documented things quite well and from here I see no reason to suspect problems. As they say, you can’t inspect from a picture. However, the scope of HVAC Inspection is limited to just about that extent, a visual look!

Condensate leaks are inevitable, not possible.
Where are the HVAC guys pictures?

Damn, I hate it when a client attempts to get a free furnace out of the home inspector. She has to go somewhere to save money. Her attorney probably advised her to go after everyone involved and you are simply on the list.

I don’t run into these type of situations due to several reasons…

  1. I always annotate all visible defects on the inspection report and “I recommend they have a qualified technician to service and clean existing furnace/boiler before close of escrow”. That leaves me out of the picture when an immediate problem does arise, when they finally take possesion of their home.

  2. I recommend removal of all humidifiers older than 5 years old. I’ve seen many humidifiers cause major problems inside the return ducts, blower area, heat exchanger area and duct work.

  3. I include the following in all my reports…

Your report does not include all maintenance items and should not be relied upon for such items. Any recommendations that Massachusetts Home Inspections makes for service, a second opinion, or permit research involving any component or condition should be completed and documented before the close of escrow, or Massachusetts Home Inspections will be held harmless for any subsequently alleged defects.

I report all conditions as they existed at the time of the inspection. The information contained in your report may be unreliable beyond the date of the inspection due to changing conditions. Your inspection was essentially visual, is not technically exhaustive, and does not imply that every defect was found. Latent and concealed defects and deficiencies are excluded from the inspection. Cosmetic flaws and defects will not be a part of your Home Inspection.

  1. Recommend a final walk through. I believe the purpose of a final walk-through is not only to make sure that any requested items have been repaired correctly, but also to make sure that additional damage, deterioration, and destruction beyond normal wear and tear has not occurred.

I recommend a careful, slow, and thorough observation with your Realtor at your final walk-through to ensure your satisfaction.

This is what a potential problem looks like, not yours.

I’m certified to pull this thing apart.
I did not.
If the client doesnt do something about it, it’s not my problem.

I posted a thread somewhere about this issue when my client came back on me.
I sent him the Inspection Agreement, pictures and report as a reminder, along with a nasty letter. I have not heard a peep out of him.

The unit was low on refrigerant and looked like the picture below.
He was depending on a “useless” home warrenty and lost.
Then he thought about depending on me! NOT!
He had his chance to get it fixed for free before he closed escrow.

She is trying to upgrade to a hi-eff furnace at your expense. As David said $6K is too much for a mid.

I also think it is rather clean for it age.

If you need, I have a used perfectly working mid sitting in my basement that you can have for a small token sum if you really need it to satisfy her.

I see no reason why you should do anything for this customer, I come to this conclusion from what I see in the pics and what you said in this posting.
Good Luck, if you spend any money here it should be for legal counsel, not for a new furnace.

T******hanks to everyone for their comments, they helped considerably. I went over to clients home yesteday and only had 15 min before had to leave for another inspection and found furnace was taken apart waiting for HVAC guys who were late.

Took tons of pictures and was suruprised to see that area on furnace which I had taken pictures of now had large area of rust on it. As this was almost 4 months since inspection this was good sign for my case. Also on my pre-inspection agreement I added 3 items for myself to initial and my customer. One is for mould, one for moisture and one blank which in this case i filled in furnace. This stated that customer had been informed about potenital problems with furnace. He had initialed and signed agreement.

Also for some reason they had turned water on to drum humidifier which was turned off and not working at time of inspection. I asked him about it and he said it was still not working. I noted and took pics of fact that tray was full on water. This alone could have been cause of rust and leaking etc.

When I left they questioned me on what I was going to do. I told them that I was meeting my lawyer on Wednesday and that I was confident that I had no liability due to fact that I now had two pictures, one of fairly clean furnace and now one with large amount of rust in same area. Also the fact that I had informed them that there was no perdicatable service life left in furnace was all that could be expected from me, I was not a furnace technician.

Recieved email from them this morning asking if I would give them a refund on inspection fee even though time period was over. I replied to them that in the spirit of good customer relations I would send them $500.00 which ends this particular experience.

Thanks again for your support and comments


Some good advice from others.

Just one comment…
“I/me” would never consider being involved with a repair that includes the replacement of the “Heat Exchanger” in any existing furnace, no matter what the physical condition appears to be.
I know, there will be lots of folks that will argue my position, but I followed a case back in the early 80’s, that convinced me that the exposure to liability, on all levels, is just to great.
As a H/I, I will never recommend that as an option.

Just another observation I felt I would share, for what it’s worth.

You are very generous, not me!

They wouldn’t be getting a dime (refund) out of me.

My report specifically states…

I highly recommend that you request your HVAC technician to inspect the Heat Exchanger for cracks, holes or leaks as my inspection is mechanically limited since the furnace requires dismantling to examine this particular area. A deteriorated heat exchanger will allow deadly products of combustion into your living area.

Who took the unit apart?


Very generous, considering the max fee is $259.

As a HI, it is not your position to give options.
It is also not your position to say HOW a repair will be conducted.
There are people out there that get paid to change heat exchangers. It is their liability and nothing to do with you or your liability.

*“Her email stated that there is visible rust and water marks in furnace and water pooling on floor of basement around heater.”

*Enhanced your first pic, and I sure don’t see it present at time of inspection:


I looked at picture i33, and there appears to be stains under the burner. That an indication something is amiss.

There is no picture of the floor of the front side of the furnace.

So much for the theory photographs are a risk reduction tool at least in this case.

I had a problem just like this over a year ago. The client did not follow my partner’s recommendation to have the system inspected and serviced prior to closing. They had the system serviced after the inspection. The HVAC guy found that the heat exchanger was warped and cracked. The HVAC guy said that my partner should have seen it. Well, we both went back to the house and re-inspected the system, which was all dismantled by the HVAC guy. We described the condition of the heat exchanger, and that it visible only after dismantling the unit. We told the client that the HVAC guy was incorrect to assume that we should have seen the defect. And we referred back to the report, pictures, and standard of practice restrictions. Parts of the report are standard disclaimer stuff.
Using PVSoftware I’m able to put disclaimers as header of each system. The disclaimer that we have in the report is "We are not HVAC professionals. Feel free to hire one prior to closing. This inspection of the heating system is a visual inspection using only the normal operating controls for the system. The inspection of the heating is general and not technically exhaustive. A detailed evaluation of the interior components of the heating system is beyond the scope of a home inspection. We do not inspect the humidifier or dehumidifier, the electronic air filter, and determine heating supply adequacy or distribution balance. We do not operate the heating system when the air temperature is too hot, to prevent damaging the unit. It is essential that any recommendation that we make for service, correction, or repair be scheduled prior to closing or purchasing the property, because the hired-professional could reveal defects or recommend further repairs that could affect your evaluation of the property. Note: Health is a deeply personal responsibility. You should have the air quality tested and the ductwork or baseboards cleaned as a prudent investment in environmental hygiene, especially if any family member suffers from allergies or asthma. "
[size=2]Meeting in person with the complaining client was worth my time. After re-inspecting, we walked out of the house without assuming responsibility, without paying for anything, and had the opportunity to see a really cool cracked, warped exchanger.[/size]


As a H/I, I believe it is in the scope of my business and imperitive to respond to direct questions about what I think and/or know about certain aspects of my findings, conditions, etc.
That being said, I do from time to time, even offer my unsolicited opinion, if I feel it is warranted. I plan to continue this practice, on an as need basis.
I appreciate your input though.