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What is the Required Service Area in Front of a Furnace or Air Conditioner?

What is the Required Service Area in Front of a Furnace or Air Conditioner?

When we install HVAC equipment in people’s homes, there is a code that covers how much service area there needs to be in front of the equipment. That’s what we are talking about on Code Corner.
We’re not here to pretend we know or could even interpret all the codes correctly. We’re simply trying to open a conversation about codes we cite on the job every day out there without even knowing it.
But where is that code in the book? That’s what this project is all about. So, let’s take a look at what the codes say about the required service area in front of the HVAC equipment and adherence to the code when doing an HVAC change-out.
Have you ever been in front of a furnace in the basement, and noticed you don’t have enough space to work? Imagine you need to pull the heat exchanger from the furnace and change it with a new one.

If there’s not enough room in front of that furnace, the technician won’t be able to remove and replace parts as needed. And trust us, this accessibility issue is a major problem because if we can’t get that blower motor out, a more invasive procedure needs to be carried out to extract the part which will cost the homeowner more money at that time in the future.
So, this has already happened to people a long time ago, and they learned from it and they wrote it in a book so that future techs won’t make the same mistakes they did.
Now, imagine you’re trying to perform regular maintenance but can’t get the access panel off the AC because a giant lattice structure has been solidly built around it.

The homeowner doesn’t want to look at their horrid AC in the backyard so they cover it up. Well, the builder of the lattice structure at the AC, and the installer of the platform or non-existent platform at the air handler in the attic didn’t install this system properly.
International Mechanical Code says a level working platform not less than 30 inches by 30 inches has to be provided in front of the service side of the appliance. The exception to this rule is that a working platform doesn’t need to be provided when the furnace is capable of being serviced from the required access opening.
We keep encouraging you to read the installation manual while you’re installing the equipment, right? We personally like to look through it the night before our next install. That way, we know what we’re saying if something comes up during the install with our co-workers.
Usually, the manual has more restrictive guidelines when installing HVAC equipment. The city code inspectors everywhere defer to the installation manual so many times because the manufacturer has more strict requirements for the installation.
In the International Mechanical Code, in 102.1 Conflicts in Code, it says to follow the more stringent requirement if the codebook and the installation manual conflict with each other. Now, the installation manual for our equipment says the clearance in front of the furnace and coil in the attic is required to be at least 24 inches.
If the inspector adheres to the International Mechanical Code and it says 30 inches in front of the appliance, but the installation manual says we can go 24 inches in front of the unit, then which is the correct answer?

In this instance, the mechanical code is still more stringent on its requirements, so when we hear people say we only need 24 inches in front of the furnace, we know it will probably fly but the inspector could call us on it and ask for a 30 inches service area in front of the unit and you need to know that.
Outside at the AC, just make sure you have a 30 x 30 area in front of your access panel. This way, future techs will be able to get in there and make the necessary repairs to get the customer up and going again.
And if your homeowner is going to build that lattice structure around the AC, ask them to build it so it can be slid out and then back when the AC tech moves on.

Don’t let them pour concrete piles so its securely sit there and never be moved again. That inhibits technicians from doing their job safely.
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to start taking down the lattice panels around an AC one screw at a time just so you can get in there and clean the AC so it will work properly again.
We have to think like we are installers. We have the responsibility to consider the next tech who will come to service the equipment might not be 5 foot 8 and 165 lbs. There are short techs and tall techs, narrow techs, and wide techs – so it’s best to build it for everyone.
We know too many contractors win the job and get the cheapest stuff so that they can save money on that HVAC install. They’ll buy the cheapest equipment, install it cheaply, and don’t care about the techs who will come after them because they didn’t pull the required permit to do their job anyway.
And most of the time, the homeowners aren’t aware that they need a permit either so it’s easy to take advantage of this situation for those types of operators.
It’s not to say that we know all the codes and can interpret them perfectly. Red Deer Heating and Air wants to install the equipment correctly, so we can pass the inspection that comes with pulling a permit for the job.

Remember, any time we alter the electrical, the mechanical, the plumbing, and gas lines, we need to pull a permit and follow the codes and the installation manual. And then we need to have a third party, unattached inspector come by just make sure we installed it correctly.
It’s not a bad thing! We just look at it as an extra set of eyes on our work to make sure the family who resides in that house and uses that system we installed is safe forevermore!
We hope nobody is taking offense on these topics. We just want to elevate the HVAC world and make us all better technicians so we can go out and take care of our customers safely.
Let us know if you’ve have had any weird platforms, or service areas so tight you couldn’t service the AC – Red Deer Heating and AC, at your service.

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