There have been recent studies and investigations into the emissions of deadly gases, such as carbon monoxide, by fuel-burning appliances, namely furnaces, barbecues, fireplaces, space heaters, and clothing dryers, which was conducted by the Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study concluded that 94% of homeowners are aware that the emission of these gases exist but 53.7% of them ignore it and don’t take reasonable precautions to control the hazard within their own home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes carbon monoxide poisoning as “a leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States, causing nearly 15 000 emergency room visits and 500 deaths annually.”
Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete combustion of fuels, such as natural gas, coal, gasoline, propane or wood, in a dirty, inefficient, obstructed gas furnace where there is insufficient ventilation. Therefore, it must be maintained periodically so it runs as efficiently as possible in order to prevent leakage into the home. Gas furnaces produce minute amounts of carbon monoxide regardless, so it is important to follow through on small preventative steps for safety reasons.
This gas is dangerous based on the level of exposure, however, it’s tasteless, colourless, odourless, and therefore, hard to detect, and highly toxic as it produces sudden disorientation, weakness, nausea, confusion, and for high exposures: comma, convulsions, or death within a relatively short period of time, as stated by Health Canada. By requesting annual service calls and check-ups on the unit with a qualified HVAC technician, especially with older furnaces that are not equipped with the safety functions, controls, and alarms that newer furnaces are now equipped with, the hazard of carbon monoxide poisoning can be properly controlled.
Some of the more recent control features include shut-off capabilities that detect when the level of carbon monoxide has exceeded an acceptable limit, and subsequently cuts off the ventilation or feed into the home. In addition, it is important to change the furnace filter, in order to facilitate efficient burning and prevent dust, dirt, and particulates from circulating within the home. A study conducted by Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, surveyed 68 000 cases of non-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning or exposure between 2000 and 2009. It was determined that 66.5% did not know if they would recognize symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, 54% of homeowners did not schedule a technician to perform annual inspections of their furnace for potential safety hazards, 41% of them do not replace their carbon monoxide monitor and 34% are not sure if they even have one or don’t have one.
This was a shocking revelation as these dangers can be present in any home; even a new furnace that has not been installed correctly can produce these gases. A carbon monoxide monitor provides alerts in key areas such as bedrooms, near heating appliances or in the kitchen, and in the bathrooms. By conceding to annual inspections of the unit, the homeowner also ensures he is not overspending on utility costs and maintains the warranty as some of them require periodic and preventative maintenance to be conducted in order to remain valid.
By educating homeowners about these dangers, while older infrastructure remains to be upgraded with the appropriate sensing, alarming and control, these very unnecessary incidents can be avoided altogether. It was recently reported by WCVB last week on November 18th, 2015, that an eleven year-old girl in Nashua, New Hampshire, USA saved her family from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a deficient furnace in the basement that had been emitting high levels of the gas and causing dizziness and difficulty of breathing for the family.
Unfortunately, a family in Brampton, Ontario, Canada was not able to share the same fate; police pinned the source of death of three family members found unconscious on the upper floor of their home Monday, November 16th, 2015 as carbon monoxide poisoning. There are many educational sources of information regarding carbon monoxide poisoning and I highly encourage you to take a few minutes to ensure your home is meeting the standards and codes set out to ensure personal safety.