Furnace Draft Control – How it Works

Caretakers in apartment and condominium buildings generally are not experts in the operation of these buildings. A retired electrician may be hired as a caretaker but that doesn’t make him a plumber. An accountant caretaker is not necessarily a pipe fitter. The job of the caretaker is to know who to call to do the job at hand.

A Problem for Many Years

Our first job as caretakers was in an 11-storey, 80-unit, 25-year-old apartment building. We were brand new to the business and had just completed a 2-week training program. A problem with the furnace draft control had been an issue possibly since the building was built.

We had taken a tour of the building by the previous caretaker prior to our taking over the job. One strange problem was a water leak in the garbage chutes. There were no pipes in the chutes, no water source, but if you put your hand inside the chute you could feel a very fine mist, almost a fine fog or heavy dampness.

The dampness would come out of the chute door in the wall and seep down to the floor and wet the carpet. The problem had been going on so long that it seemed to crystalize the carpet and ruin it.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

This company had been noted as a very cheap one to deal with. Our head office wanted to suck out every penny from the building and therefore their maintenance department didn’t have a qualified person on board. The job should have had a person with a degree in civil engineering as they owned 17 high rise towers to keep a person busy. Of course they saved money by not needing to pay him a high wage or union dues, etc. He had been in the job for many years. Over that time, and because of the leaking, he and the general manager had assumed that the water was coming from a leak in the roof, so they spent a lot of money on a re-roofing job but the problem persisted. Of course a trained heating specialist would have traced the problem to the furnace draft control quickly.

The problem, as I could see it, was the general manager. He had zero personality, had been running the company for many years and thought he knew everything. He was a so-called expert in every field.

I was born in a small town back in the middle of the Depression. It was a coal-mining town and everyone burned coal for cooking and heating. At a young age, one of the chores I had to take care of was the semiannual cleaning of the stove pipes in the kitchen range. My mom showed me how to take the pipes down, take them outside to the backyard and clean out the soot. The pipe had a draft control and she showed me how to set the control for its most efficient setting. There was a furnace draft control as well. I didn’t have any idea as to what the draft control worked but apparently it did so.

The Furnace in Our Highrise Was Oil-Fired.

It was a large furnace and was set up in a huge room where it shared space with the garbage compactor. I was always a curious person. One day, not long after we took over the building, I was looking around in this huge room trying to become familiar with how everything worked. I noticed a round, metal thing that was up on the wall. It looked like a cap on the end of a pipe which was approximately 12 inches in diameter. There was no pipe to be seen — just the cap. I thought it was odd but I moved along to other duties.

The next day I heard some heavy pounding coming from high up in the building. I rode up the elevator and found the maintenance man from head office along with the general manager in the elevator room just below the roof. They were pounding a hole in the concrete wall and they told me they wanted to see where the leak was coming from. I backed off and left them to the job as they were convinced that there was a water pipe hidden away somewhere that was causing the problem.

A couple of days later I was making my rounds as usual in the furnace room and again I was drawn to that metal thing on the wall. I took a stepladder and pried off the cover and a draft was so strong that I turned the metal cover around and when I placed the cover over the end of the pipe it held it in place on the end of the pipe without anything to hold it there. I lowered the cover so that it exposed about ⅓ of the pipe opening. Now I had no idea what this pipe was for but it surely was part of the heating system. The furnace was still working so I didn’t think it would hurt anything if I left the cover like that for a bit.

The Garbage Chute Was Dry

While making my rounds the next morning I happened to check one of the garbage chutes and it was dry. Figuring that the head office guys had found the leak I went to the room they were pounding in the day before. Looking where they had been, I saw the hole in the wall but there was nothing there. I walked down checking each chute but every one of them was dry.

An hour later I had a visitor who had been sent over by head office. He was a mechanical engineer sent to look at the garbage chute problem. He wanted to see one of the chutes and of course it was dry. I took him to the furnace room and explained what I did the day before. I asked if this may have been something to do with the furnace draft control. He said possibly and checked all around the area and finally came to the conclusion that somehow there was no draft control installed. He had me replace the cover over the end of the pipe and report the problem to head office and suggest a proper draft control be installed.

Finally, after an unknown number of years, a furnace technician arrived, installed a new draft control and the problem was solved! I remember afterwards silently thanking my mom for showing me what to do with the old stove pipe in our home so many years ago.

Caretakers need to be nosy while wandering around their buildings. Learn how things work as it may come in handy some day.

16 years experience went into our book.

  • Writing your resume
  • Finding a job
  • Job interview
  • Rental buildings
  • Condominiums
  • Daily routines
  • Waste management
  • Fixing things

Benefits you may receive such as;

  • Rent reduction
  • Working from home
  • Free parking, phones, cable, hydro,
  • Vacations
  • Stat holidays
  • Salaries
  • Dental

Once you have read CARETAKERS you will be ready to hit the job market.