Just when you thought that your home was the safe, secure and a rejuvenating place that you want be…I guess I’m on a roll about things that can show up in our homes that can really cause us harm, and, we very well may have no idea they are present! Last month I discussed radon and its adverse health issues. This month I thought we ought discuss a substance, a gas, which has been aptly referred to as the “silent killer” – carbon monoxide. The reason carbon monoxide got such a dubious moniker is that you can’t see it, you can’t smell it or taste it. This time of year (winter) is when we many times will hear about people, sometimes whole families that have been sickened and/or died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. This occurs because it’s cold outside and the house gets closed up as tight as possible to keep the heat in, and then a gas/petroleum burning appliance or system is put to use to either make heat, electricity or light, and, that appliance or system is either damaged, defective or used improperly or in an improper location. The reason gas fired furnaces and water heaters have specifically designed and constructed exhaust flue pipes that are routed carefully up through the walls, ceilings and finally out the roof is to safely carry off the byproducts of the combustion process that is occurring in the furnace or water heater as the appliances do their work of making heat. Carbon monoxide is part of those combustion byproducts and is one of the main reasons for the vent flue pipes existence. But, when a person drags a small gasoline burning generator into the house to make electricity because the power has been interrupted, or cook a meal on a charcoal barbecue in the house, there is no provision for safely venting the combustion byproducts to the exterior of the home so that the inhabitants don’t breathe them in. That’s when the disasters occur, as most people never know what got them, unless they are lucky enough to wake up in a hospital because someone was able to find them in time and safe them. One source of carbon monoxide poisoning that occurs far too often is that the heat exchanger of a gas fired furnace will fail (the metal walls will crack or corrode through), which allows the combustion byproducts to escape out of the heat exchanger and mix in with the air of the house that is being conditioned (heated). Because this happens slowly (usually) over time, and because the inhabitants of the home can’t detect the carbon monoxide, they begin getting chronically ill for what appears to be no reason. So, I guess we can all agree that this is a serious issue, but what can we do about it to avoid such a disaster? First, and foremost, buy and install a carbon monoxide detector in your home at the appropriate location – make sure to follow the instructions. They are inexpensive, easy to install, and, you may need more than one to be safe. Oh, by the way, in California it is the law now that every house is to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in them. Second, never, ever run an un-vented or improperly vented gas/petroleum burning appliance in your home! Third, have any gas fired appliances present in your home inspected and serviced by a qualified technician, with the best time being just before the winter heating season. The exhaust flue vent pipes/systems should be part of this inspection in case they have corroded through or become blocked or disconnected. Fourth, make sure that your door from the interior of the house to the garage has a self-closing hinge arrangement installed and that the appropriate seals are in place around the door to seal it closed into the jamb opening. Of course, you should never let you vehicle idle to warm up, but especially in a closed garage. I hope that this gives you a starting point to start checking out your home and its’ equipment to make sure that you and your family are living in a safe, sound and healthy home.
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