Smell of propane or exhaust fumes?

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Old 03-25-17, 11:11 AM
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Smell of propane or exhaust fumes?

Hello everyone. I have a problem in the closet where my water heater is, It has to do with the smell of what my wife thinks is propane. I don't think so. It smells like the *exhaust* gases to me. Either way, I can't find the problem. Can anyone tell me how to tell the difference between the smell of propane and the smell of exhaust gases?

Thing is, this problem has been going on for over a month. At first notice, thinking this smell was propane, I sprayed soapy water around all the connections in the propane line at the water heater, but found nothing leaking. It's not a real strong smell, but easily detectable. I really don't think it's propane, but I need some way of actually determining if it is or not. Frankly, in the closet itself, it's very strong, and would probably have exploded by now if it's propane But given it's been going on a month.. well..that's why I'm here. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
 
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Old 03-25-17, 12:14 PM
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It's possible to smell propane in the exhaust fumes but you should not be smelling any fumes from the water heater.

Is this water heater a direct vent with PVC or a metal flue into a chimney ?
Where is the furnace ?
Does it connect to a chimney too ?
 
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Old 03-25-17, 03:28 PM
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Hi PJmax. Thanks for chiming in. Ok here's the deal. The water heater is in a separate enclosure inside a clothing closet. NORMALLY, there is a thin, drywall removable panel that encloses the water heater in it's own enclosure. But two months ago, in the middle of the night, I discovered a hot water leak in the connection at the water heater. Whole nuther story. However, the leaking hot water sprayed on this panel, and ruined it. Haven't covered this opening yet. Maybe, just maybe, this keeps any exhaust fumes from entering house? Didn't smell it till this panel was off a few days.
As for the vent, it's a metal tube, coming off the top of the water heater, straight up through the attic/roof to a vent cover to keep snow from entering. Maybe this is clogged up with leaves or whatever. Thing is..I'm too old to be climbing up on a roof. Been there done that last year for a reroof. Never again. So..I guess I'll ask my son to climb up and inspect for any kind of clogging ..cause..I swear this smells like exhaust fumes.. not propane. Although..I could be wrong. That's why I am here.

In reality, the exhaust pipe connection at the water heater isn't the best it could be. I suspect, a leakage right at that connection. But that would imply a blockage. Soooooooooo.. I'll twist my sons arm to climb up and inspect that cover. In the meantime, is there any kind of *propane test device* I can buy just to insure my hypothesis doesn't kill us. Hahahaha! All I know is this smell has been going on for a month. I've tested for propane leaks at the connections inside the enclosure. HOWEVER.. this is an old modular, and there may be connections UNDER THE HOUSE that may be leaking. But I don't smell it anywhere under the house, or anywhere other than the bedroom and it's closet.

So..there's where I'm at. Hope this helps.
 
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Old 03-25-17, 04:00 PM
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The flue fitting just sits on top of the water heater. It is not sealed. It relies on hot air rising thru the metal duct to create a draft. So any type of blockage in the vent will allow the fumes to back up or to not all be carried outside.

Like I mentioned... it is very likely to smell propane in the exhaust itself..... especially when the water heater first lights. Be sure the water heater has plenty of fresh air too. If fresh air is restricted there is not enough available air for the exhaust.
 
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Old 03-26-17, 04:46 PM
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Hello pete.. thanks for the reply.

Ok, this is what I don't understand..

If fresh air is restricted there is not enough available air for the exhaust.
My home is an old modular. The water heater is in a closet enclosure, that from day of manufacture, was *sealed* by a thin drywall panel. Over the years, this panel warped, but still no smell. Then, after an event where the hot water pipe connection broke, I turned off the propane valve and water. I had to repair the hot water pipe connection at the water heater itself. After relighting pilot light, within 2 or three days this smell started. I checked the connections with soapy water. Nothing. So... where does the "available air normally come from if the enclosure is sealed???? Right now, the panel is removed so there is *plenty* of fresh air. We open the door to the closet.. and still smell ..whatever it is we are smelling.
 
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Old 03-26-17, 04:53 PM
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Wait..wait... bingo...
So any type of blockage in the vent will allow the fumes to back up or to not all be carried outside.
I think we reached a consensus. Thanks. Will check that possibility.. just like I hypothesized earlier. Well, ok, thanks again.
 
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Old 03-26-17, 06:59 PM
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For the exhaust to go up and out the chimney there has to be a source of replacement air, either from the house or from the outside. Since the panel is now removed it sounds like it can pull the needed air from the house if not from the outside. However, the reverse can also be happening when kitchen and bath fans are running they can overpower the natural exhaust and pull those fumes back into the house.

I'm not familiar with an inexpensive gas tester but your gas company will have one and they are usually very helpful when someone thinks they smell gas, bad for business.

Fumes are expected to spill out between the top of the heater and the flue pipe, the gap PJ mentioned, but it should stop and establish a draft within one minute. That spill or if it has been spilling for longer was being contained within that small space and eventually vented out as the draft takes over. But with the cover off there is now no containment.

You need to have the heater and flue checked to be sure they are functioning correctly as exhaust gasses or excess gas fumes can cause real problems. When someone is there ask about a combustion air source, there has to be one.

Bud
 
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Old 03-27-17, 05:01 AM
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Since the panel is now removed it sounds like it can pull the needed air from the house if not from the outside. However, the reverse can also be happening when kitchen and bath fans are running they can overpower the natural exhaust and pull those fumes back into the house.
Oh man. THANK YOU. That never occurred to me. Same thing happens if I try to light a fire in my woodstove when the furnace is running. It pulls air DOWN the stove pipe and starts filling the room with smoke. DOH!

Ok, first thing I'll check is where this enclosure gets fresh replacement air. Then I'll check the exhaust cover at the roof for blockage. Then I'll replace the panel. If that doesn't help, I'll call the gas company.


Thank you again. I'll be back with an update.
 
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Old 03-27-17, 07:58 AM
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@fitz "Same thing happens if I try to light a fire in my wood stove when the furnace is running."
That throws up a red flag. If it is related to when the furnace blower is on as opposed to just the fire in the furnace then something is wrong. A blower should draw air from inside the house and return all of it as well, thus very little pressure difference throughout the house. If there is a disconnected supply duct in an attic or crawlspace then any warm air that blows out creates a negative pressure inside the house trying to pull back in the same amount lost.

Now, if the backdrafting is related to when the fire in the furnace is going that also exhausts air that has to be replaced and may be an indication that the house is too tight and needs a source o makeup air for the combustion process.

As a note, the home appliance that has the weakest draft and is most easily back drafted is a naturally drafted water heater. Sounds like you are getting close to finding the problem, which may have been there for a very long time. But with the closet sealed you never smelled it. Your fireplace back drafting was another symptom.

Bud
 
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Old 03-27-17, 05:03 PM
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Hi Bud9051. Thanks for the very insightful reply.

Ok, so what is the answer? From what I understand from your post, I have three or four things, trying to draw fresh air into the house, each with it's own set of requirements. To wit..

My cloths dryer. In the same laundry room as the furnace. The cloths dryer is propane fueled too. Three feet away from the furnace.

It would appear, the furnace actually gets its *air supply* from inside the house, as the front panel of the furnace, is louvered, with a fiberglass filter on the back side of the front panel. That explains why, if it is running, any source that allows fresh air to enter the house, from where ever..ie.. my wood stove or. the water heater without a sealed panel, or, from leaks around doors, windows etc. to reach the filtered furnace panel.

Then the water heater. *Should* have it's own interior fresh air vent, as the enclosure is sealed. And there is the weird problem. There is NO fresh air vent. No holes in the floor. No special vent. Nothing. Nada. Zero. So.. Now I'm wondering WTF were these designers thinking???? Could it be.. they just assumed *little* unsealed openings around pipes coming up through the floor inside the enclosure..would supply enough fresh air for the combustion inside the water heater to push the exhaust out the pipe through the roof????

Ok, from what I gather from your post is..there must be some kind of *air leakage standard* that designers of HVAC must assume exists in all homes. NO? Otherwise,.. well. I'll let it go at that. Far be it from me to challenge HVAC standards. Hahaha. Anyway, ok..I GET it. Thanks. I think I can work it out now.

Thanks.
 
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Old 03-27-17, 05:44 PM
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I'm not a hvac pro so perhaps some of those experts can comment on where that air might be coming from. My only thought is the exhaust vent might also be the sir supply. Some through the wall gas heaters have a coaxial exhaust vent for that purpose. Exhaust goes out the center and fresh air comes back in through the double walled gap.

We use a term, "worst case depressurization" and we look to be sure that water heater isn't back drafted when all other exhaust appliances are running, dryer, kitchen and bath fans, and especially the fireplace. The fireplace is difficult to add in but when in use it is a major contributor.

Sounds like you are on the right track. Most energy auditors have the equipment and can test to tell you how tight the home actually is and if that water heater is in trouble, which I think we already know.

Bud
 
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Old 04-27-17, 10:55 PM
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Help! I've lived in my house 2 years with no problems until yesterday when I began to smell propane. ??? Not a constant smell, Only comes in waves, can smell it... then it goes away. But every few minutes. What could be wrong? Will my birds die? Am I ok?
 
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Old 04-27-17, 11:04 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

Normally I'd move you to your own thread but I didn't want to lose you.

You have propane.
What propane appliances do you have ?
Do you smell the propane near one of those appliances ?

You should have an emergency phone number for your propane company.
Call them.... they will come instantly if you tell them you have a leak.

If they don't have that service.... call your family plumber.

If you don't have a plumber.... and the smell gets worse.... call the fire company.
 
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