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Barry Stone: Spa heater affects flames on kitchen stove


DEAR BARRY: Whenever I'm cooking, if the spa heater turns on at the patio, the flames on the kitchen stove become smaller. Now that I'm selling the property, the buyers' home inspector reported this as a defect and recommended that we call a plumber. Do you know what could be causing this problem?

— Clyde

DEAR CLYDE: At least half of all backyard spas are installed without the benefit of professional expertise, and this can lead to problems of one kind or another. Amateur spa installations may be acceptable with all-electric systems, because one only needs to plug in the power cord. However, when unqualified people install gas piping and gas-burning equipment, code violations and other unsafe conditions often result.

The problem you describe with your stovetop burner indicates that the total BTU demand in your home may exceed the capacity of your gas meter, or some of the gas piping may be undersized. Most residential gas meters are designed to deliver between 175 and 250 cubic feet of natural gas per hour. This capacity is based upon the average fuel demand for most homes, assuming the presence of a range, oven, water heater and furnace. When a spa heater is added to the equation, the excess demand may require that a meter of higher capacity be installed.

The gas company should be contacted to ensure that your meter is sufficient for its assigned tasks. If your spa heater was not professionally installed, the system should be reviewed by a qualified technician to ensure that it is in compliance with applicable requirements for performance and particularly for safety.

DEAR BARRY: The circuit breaker for our kitchen outlets often trips, and this was not disclosed by our home inspector when we bought the house. Our electrician checked the problem and discovered that the outlet circuits are rated at 15 amps, instead of the required 20 amps. Should this problem have been found by our inspector?

— Bill

DEAR BILL: A good case could be made for requiring home inspectors to verify that all kitchen appliance circuits are rated at 20 amps, but to date, this is not a condition typically included in home inspections. There are several reasons for this omission.

Many electric service panels, especially in older homes, lack adequate labeling of the circuit breakers. Inspectors who check these panels often have no way of knowing which breakers are wired to the kitchen circuits. Even when breakers are labeled, it is common for the labeling to be incorrect.

In the absence of sufficient labeling, the inspector would have to switch off the breakers to determine which are connected to the kitchen outlets. If problems of any kind were to result in the process of turning breakers on and off (such as a breaker that will not reset), the inspector would be liable for the repair work. Additionally, switching off circuit breakers can raise the ire of sellers because of the effects this may have on electric clocks and computers. For these reasons, home inspectors do not routinely verify the capacity of kitchen circuits.

Additionally, if your home was built before 1959, 20-amp circuits may not have been required for the kitchen outlets.

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