Unlike residential boilers, residential furnaces heat homes using gravity or a forced air technique instead of steam or hot water circulated through radiators. Up until the late 1970s, many furnace manufacturers incorporated asbestos-containing materials into residential and commercial furnaces. Residential furnaces that contained asbestos components include gravity furnaces and square-shaped forced air furnaces. Duct work and piping associated with both gravity and forced air furnaces were also insulated with or composed of asbestos materials. Individuals who installed, repaired, maintained and removed furnaces were exposed to asbestos, which can cause mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Gravity or octopus furnaces are heating units that use gravity to move hot air throughout a building. Boilermakers, plumbers and HVAC technicians commonly refer to gravity furnaces as octopus furnaces because of their shape, which includes multiple arms or oversized duct work that stretches out in different directions to numerous vents. Gravity furnaces were installed in homes built during the late 1800s to the 1950s and initially, coal was used as the fuel source. When newer fuel sources became available, these furnaces were converted to oil or natural gas. Even though a gravity furnace can burn natural gas, it was not designed for high efficiency as 50% of the heated air escapes through the exhaust system. Because gravity furnaces have very few moving parts, they can withstand a great deal of wear and tear, and these furnaces can still be found in use in older homes throughout the United States.
Asbestos mud or insulation blankets typically covered the exterior surfaces of gravity or octopus furnaces. The application of this type of asbestos insulation often involved mixing raw asbestos fibers with water and then applying it to the exterior surfaces. Pursuant to manufacturers’ recommendations, some of these furnaces not only required the use of asbestos insulation, but also required that the insulation be applied at the residence after the furnace and duct work were installed. Door gaskets also contained asbestos. This not only put furnace men at risk for exposure to harmful asbestos fibers, but it put those who lived in the house where work was conducted at risk as well.
Square furnaces that employ forced air in order to heat a home also consisted of asbestos-containing materials. Early forced air furnaces differ from gravity furnaces because they were designed to burn oil or gas in order to distribute heat with a forced air fan system. Asbestos-containing materials can often be found on the inside of these units, and rarely, if ever, found on the exterior surfaces. Door gaskets and corrugated asbestos sheets were commonly found on the inside of the air handling units.
Duct work associated with both gravity furnaces and forced air furnaces also contain asbestos materials, such as transite, asbestos paper and asbestos cloth. Transite pipe was commonly used as an exhaust pipe or as a chimney in older homes. Transite is a material that is composed of asbestos and cement. Metal duct work was commonly covered with asbestos paper. In furnaces manufactured before the late 1970’s the vibration dampener was commonly composed of asbestos cloth. Vibration dampeners are flexible fabric or rubberized fabric materials used to connect the supply of air to ducts. The purpose of the vibration dampener is to eliminate or soften the noise through metal ductwork when the blower or furnace is running. Removing or disturbing equipment associated with furnace duct work emitted asbestos dust and fibers into the air.
In the process of representing boilermakers, plumbers, HVAC personnel and their families, our attorneys have gathered numerous medical and liability documents that could be instrumental in your legal representation. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease as a result of working with or around residential boilers and/or furnaces, contact us today for a free and confidential case evaluation.