Gas Logs and Soot Damage

This is a subject that I have blogged about in the past.  Gas log sets are very popular with homeowners and tend to create or add to a warm atmosphere when used.  However, soot damage is continuing to occur because manufacturers continue to build log sets that burn natural gas or propane incompletely.  That is, unburned carbon is escaping in the combustion gases and settling on walls, ceilings, furniture, clothing and anything else that happens to present a cool surface.  The science of combustion of gaseous fuels is well known and by no means new technology.  It has long been recognized that a blue flame is indicative of the closest to complete combustion that can be achieved.  The secret is mixing enough air with the fuel to obtain the correct mixture.  When the correct mixture is obtained, a blue flame results.  In contrast, flames with yellow tips or long yellow flames are indicators of incomplete combustion.  These are the flames that produce unburned carbon that ultimately settles on various surfaces as soot.  There is nothing that a homeowner can do to change the burning characteristics of a log set as the appearance is an inherent design.  If the log set is installed in a ventless fireplace, 100% of the products of combustion will enter the living space.  As a result, all of the soot produced will also enter whatever space the set faces.  If the set is installed in a fireplace with a chimney, then it is possible to control the ventilation of the gases by opening the chimney damper and allowing the gases to escape.  Instead of entering the home, soot usually travels up the chimney and settles on the walls and damper instead of the interior.

If you are unlucky enough to have soot damage, I recommend doing the following: first, take plenty of pictures of the places where soot has been deposited.  It is possible that you might be called upon to prove that soot damaged specific belongings.  Second, notify your insurance carrier.  Homeowners policies usually give policyholders a toll-free telephone number to call in the event that a claim has to be filed.  If you can’t find the number, call your insurance agent.  Your agent also has access to the insurance carrier and can report the claim or tell you what to do.  Third, start making a list of the damaged items.  The adjuster that will be assigned to your case will need to have an itemized list of damages so that they can begin to prepare estimates for those things that can be repaired or will have to be replaced.  Fourth, be prepared to have the gas logs set become the center of controversy.  Your carrier will most likely want to have the set examined by an engineer in order to establish a product defect.  The manufacturer also has the right to examine the set.  In doing so, both sides will have questions and will want access to your home and specifically, the area where the set was located.  Both sides will need documentation in the form of the owner’s manual, purchase invoice, and the metal identification plate that comes with the log set and is NOT supposed to be removed.  Fifth, the log set will become evidence and must be preserved as such.  The engineer hired by your carrier will want to take possession of the log set and place it in storage in anticipation of further examination or for use in court, if the need arises.  Sixth, cases can take months if not years to settle.  So, don’t expect to get the log set back anytime soon after it is taken.  Seventh, if you replace the set with another gas log set, remember that the possibility of soot damage returns again.  The only way to minimize the possibility of soot damage is to limit usage times to short periods or stop using the set altogether.

 

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Soot Damage From Gas Logs

Although it has been several years since we’ve seen sooting damage from a set of gas logs, it still occurs. The main problem is that soot is created when a fuel such as natural gas or propane is burned incompletely.  That is, there is a lack of air mixed with the gas and as a result, carbon is not completely burned.  The excess carbon then appears as soot on solid surfaces.  Appliances, like gas logs units, that advertise the appearance of a realistic wood fire tend to burn with a yellow flame.  The yellow flame is an indication that the fuel is not burned completely.  Some older readers might remember when gas appliances, including log sets, were made to burn with a blue flame.  A blue flame indicated that your appliance was operating as efficiently as possible.  When the flame turned yellow, this was owner’s cue to have the appliance checked.  This is no longer true and hasn’t been true for at least 30 years.  As a result, homeowners don’t have any warning as to when their appliances need attention.  Many of the log sets made today come equipped with what is known as an oxygen depletion sensor.  The device is supposed to shut the log set off if the oxygen in the space drops to a point below what is required to operate the set.  In reality, soot can be produced before the oxygen level drops to an unacceptable level.  This is because the sensor does not sense oxygen, it senses heat from the pilot.  As long as the pilot is producing a flame and the sensor is detecting the heat, the main gas valve will remain open.

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