Flue bill seeks to allow easier furnace upgrades

Posted Feb. 18, 2009, at 9:29 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 9:02 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Some homeowners with single-flue chimneys looking to upgrade oil-fired furnaces could get help from a bill now under consideration in legislative committee.

LD53, “An Act to Permit the Use of a Common Flue for Oil and Solid Burning Equipment,” if eventually passed into law, would relax a rule that now prohibits using a single-flue chimney to operate both an oil burner and wood stove.

“I received a call from a constituent who said he couldn’t replace his old furnace without adding another flue to his chimney,” Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, the bill’s sponsor, said. “He said it was because of insurance reasons.”

Martin said he made some calls on the constituent’s behalf and found the issue was not with the individual’s insurer, but with the Maine state fire marshal.

“Several years ago the fire marshal instituted a rule that all new homes that burn wood and oil for heat have to have two chimney flues,” Martin said. “Two years ago the fire marshal said any upgrades must include two flues.”

Before that rule, Martin said, older homes that ran both wood and oil furnaces into one chimney were protected under grandfather provisions.

“You and I know that these people with two furnaces — one for wood and one for oil — don’t use them at the same time,” Martin said. “They burn wood when they are home and use the oil when they are away.”

That practice does not create overuse on the single chimney flue, he said.

At the same time, Martin pointed out, newer oil furnaces are more efficient and burn cleaner, but under the current rules, anyone with an older, less-efficient furnace can’t upgrade without undertaking major chimney reconstruction.

“There are so many people in Aroostook County — and in Maine, for that matter — who have the double systems and want to upgrade and can’t as it stands now,” Martin said. “That didn’t make much sense to me.”

Calls for comment to the State Fire Marshal’s Office were not returned Wednesday.

Martin’s bill prohibits the commissioner of public safety and the state’s solid fuel board from adopting any rules that ban the use of a common chimney flue for two appliances using different fuels.

“Any changes would have to come before the Legislature,” Martin said.

As long as residents don’t simultaneously use two different furnaces hooked into the same flue, Martin said, there is no safety problem.

Problems with using two heat sources through a single flue include inadequate ventilation of carbon monoxide from the home. Carbon monoxide in sufficient quantities over a period of time can cause severe illness and even death.

“Every call I’ve received on this has been supportive,” he said.

LD53 will be considered by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, in Augusta.

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