Furnace Red Tagged? Now What?
If your furnace has been red tagged by a technician, it’s supposed to be because it’s a danger to you or your family. In some cases a repair is needed, but in more serious cases the entire furnace needs to be replaced. You can read more about what red tags mean below.
But not all red tags are created equal…
What Some Companies Don’t Want You to Know
The red tagging process can be scary and intimidating. You’ve been told your furnace is either unsafe or is a ticking time bomb. Possibly your gas has been disconnected.
If you suspect your furnace may actually be safe, you can call us for a free second opinion. If the issue is real, we’ll also provide a free estimate for the repair or replacement so you can compare.
Over the years, we’ve found that many technicians are too quick to tag a furnace. For example, we learned that one furnace was tagged because it was 25 years old. It was still working fine, was in good condition, and there was no danger to the people in the home.
This was just one example of many. We like to think that no technician would ever falsely tag a furnace, and perhaps some are a little over cautious. We’re not naming names, but there are some companies in the Ottawa area that we know are tagging furnaces in the hopes of getting more sales they don’t deserve.
Sometimes a red tag is bona fide. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be there. Find out what’s really going on.
What the Red Tag Means
According to Ontario Gas Code B149, a technician is obliged to red tag a furnace or water heater if it poses a threat to the occupants of the home. This is most often from a gas leak, or if deadly carbon monoxide (CO) gas is being released into the home, or from another mechanical or electrical issue that means that a fire or shock could result.
There are two types of red tags.
This means there is an immediate danger to you and your family. The technician deems the appliance inoperable often by shutting off the gas and is obligated to report this to the gas company. The only way to clear the tag with the gas company is if a licensed technician verifies that the issue is addressed… or confirms that there was no issue to begin with.
This is the less serious type of issue . Your gas isn’t turned off, but you’re given a specified time window to get the issue resolved. Once the repairs have been completed, the tag is then cleared with the gas company. If the tag is not cleared within the time window provided, the gas company then shuts off the gas.
ONLY A LICENCED GAS FITTER CAN CLEAR A TAG.
What Kind of Problems Mean a Furnace Should Be Red Tagged?
The most common causes of a red tag are leaks in the incoming natural gas supply and leaks of combustion gasses from the furnace itself.
Natural Gas Leaks
Natural gas is generally safe to use in our homes provided the furnace, water heater or stove using it is in good repair. It’s one of the cleanest and safest fossil fuels. But natural gas is a combustible, which means it can burn or explode.
If there is a gas leak, you will smell a “rotten eggs” or hydrogen sulfide smell. This isn’t the usual smell of natural gas, which is colourless and odourless. The smell is mercaptan, a harmless but smelly additive that is added to the gas so people can detect a leak. If you smell gas, you should leave the building and call the gas company immediately to have your supply turned off.
Not only can natural gas burn quickly and at a high temperature, but in rare situations it can explode. Even if neither of these things happen, it is harmful to breathe even for short periods of time. You can learn more about gas leaks here.
Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a natural byproduct of the burning process. It is colourless and odourless, but must be safely vented from your furnace because it is deadly. It is the same chemical as in car exhaust (which is why you need to leave the garage door open if the engine is on) In fact, every year about 500 people in the US die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in their homes. In Canada, it’s over 40 people per year. That’s why it’s essential to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
One of the benefits of using natural gas is that it has comparatively lower levels of CO – but it can escape from cracked burners or heat exchangers in your furnace, or if venting is blocked somehow.
Cracks in heat exchangers can be either highly visible but sometimes almost invisible to the naked eye. An licensed technician can use a number of tests to tell for sure (we don’t recommend you do this yourself as it involves opening the furnace).
It’s important to take gas safety seriously. At Ottawa Home Services, we’ve had to issue a few red tags ourselves in the interest of preventing injury or death. But we only do this when we are sure there’s a chance you could be in danger.
If you need a second opinion on the condition of your furnace, ask for your free check.