Wall Around My Furnace

Posted by Ben Thompson on 02.2.11

Listener Q: I don't want to look at my ugly furnace or water heater.  I want to build a wall around them.  How close can I put it?

A: I agree that furnaces & water heaters are pretty ugly looking.  I have 3 initial considerations for you that all are dependent on each other.  If you miss one it will not work.  This is a conversation where FUNCTION trumps FORM.

Serviceability - Something will go wrong with your furnace and it will need to be serviced or replaced.  Your walls need to give access to the technician.  More importantly you need to be changing your air filter regularly.  A rule of thumb - the depth of unit is a minimum (as long as it is code compliant).  If it sticks out 36" from the wall you'll need a minimum of 36" to fit a filter (some are 1"x15"x26") in there but that still may not be enough practical room.  Won't you be mad when your tech puts his foot or backside through your wall?  I'd be frowny if the next time I had to  service/replace my furnace I needed to cut a wall out of the way.

  1. Fire control - Obvious enough - don't put flammable things near the hottest, flaming things in your home.  Near should be measured in FEET not inches.  On your radar for building materials should be fire-rated 5/8" drywall & fire-rated air intake baffles if you don't use louvered doors.  Think of this like wanting to build a cage for a fire breathing dragon.  If you cramp him in there you'll make him mad.  If he can't breathe easily, he'll also be mad.  If you make him mad enough, he'll burn down your house.
  2. Code compliance - We have building codes so your house doesn't kill you and we don't do anything stupid.  Local codes will dictate exact minimums.  Right now our new local code books are being printed.  When our new one comes out I'll be able to directly answer the minimum's question, but in the end you owe it to humanity to comply with your local code as a minimum but consider going beyond that.  You don't want a C (passing grade) on a report card would you?  Example: Code may only require 1/2" fire rated drywall.  If you spend a few bucks more for 5/8" fire rated drywall you can have double the theoretical fire rating.  You'd put a little extra security in that cage for a fire breathing dragon wouldn't you?

Alternative Strategies (maintaining the considerations above):

  1. Louvered Doors - a bank of swing out doors, bifold, or a bypass track for multiple doors can be cool.  The louvers allow in combustion air and heat dissipation.
  2. Room Dividers - inexpensive, maybe the least expensive viable option.
  3. Multi-track doors - Check out this example HERE from Johnson Hardware.

Bad Strategies:

  1. Thinking "it won't happen to me" - too much is at stake.
  2. Curtains - unless the curtains cannot swing within 3' of the furnace / water heater please don't do it.  Imagine someone sets down some boxes against the curtains and pushes those curtains against the appliance.  Yikes.

I want you to have a sweet looking laundry room or mechanical room.  I want you to transform and purpose every square foot of your home so that it supports the lifestyle of your family.  Thank you for the question.

Topics: On the Radio, heating & cooling, water heater, furnace, laundry room, plumbing