Tips on Building (and Maintaining) Your Furnace Room

by Roger Grochmal, CEO and Chief Brand Officer for AtlasCare

Your furnace should be installed in a room dedicated to its needs and efficient operation.  When a house is built, it usually has an open unfinished basement which, in effect, is the furnace room.  Many people finish the basement, and whether they do it themselves or use a contractor, the furnace is almost always hidden away in a specially constructed enclosed space called (the "Furnace Room").  The furnace room is typically among the most neglected rooms in a house-most of us only go there to change the furnace filter.  However, this room is well worth paying attention to when you're building it-following a few simple guidelines can affect how well the equipment inside the room functions which in turn affects you and your family's comfort, safety and even everyone's health.

The most important part of a furnace room is the space around the equipment.  You need enough space to access equipment on all sides to allow a serviceperson to perform maintenance and repairs.  Specifically, this means at least 30 inches from the front of a furnace (required by the gas code) and enough space to remove the water heater or furnace from the furnace room when they have to be replaced.  You'll also need enough space to accommodate any future home comfort equipment, such as heat recovery ventilators, humidifiers, Hepa filters, and air purifiers.  In addition to sufficient space, a well planned furnace room should have the following:

  • Air openings in the walls sufficiently large for all combustion appliances to operate without producing carbon monoxide;
  • A well-marked furnace switch;
  • Well-insulated joist header spaces on the outside walls;
  • Insulated walls if the furnace room is adjacent to areas where mechanical noise would be a nuisance;
  • Floor drains that can accommodate possible water overflow from humidifiers, air conditioners and high efficiency furnaces;
  • Good lighting for service and maintenance.

Your furnace room should not have any return air vents that take in air from inside the furnace room since this can pose a health and safety risk.

Most importantly, a furnace room should not be used to store anything other than your home comfort equipment.  If you're finishing your basement, you should plan for storage space other than in the furnace room.  Piles of stuff can obstruct service and maintenance as well as interfere with the efficient operation of your equipment.  As the furnace circulates air into every room of your house, you should avoid storing anything there that may be toxic or contain harmful odours.  Some substances can even damage your equipment.

The following suggestions will help keep your furnace room clean and safe:

  • Keep gas appliances free of surrounding clutter than could block air needed for combustion or that could catch fire;
  • Remove and dispose of used filters and old parts;
  • Store chemicals in a cabinet somewhere else, particularly solvents such as paint thinners or gasoline, both of which are toxic and are fire hazards;
  • If the furnace room doubles as the laundry room, store cleaning chemicals in tightly sealed containers.  Cleaners, bleaches, and laundry detergents accelerate the rusting and failure of the heat exchanger in the furnace;
  • Do not suspend anything (e.g. laundry) from either the furnace or hot water heater vent pipes, gas pipes or water lines;
  • Keep kitty litter boxes well away from the furnace because the ammonia fumes from the litter can corrode the furnace's heat exchanger and the odours will circulate throughout the house.

If you have a question about your furnace room, please call your healthy home comfort specialists at AtlasCare, 905-829-1296 or contact us.

Roger Grochmal is the CEO and Chief Brand Officer for AtlasCare, the GTA's premier HVAC dealer and healthy home company.