Carbon Monoxide in Your Home: The Silent Killer
With the return of chilly temperatures, you should be aware of carbon monoxide (CO) dangers. Of course having a least one CO detector is a good first step. Having two or three is even better. In some states the installation of CO detectors is mandatory. We’ll go into depth on that later in this article, but for know we’ll concentrate on CO and your heating equipment, in particular with your furnace. Similar caution should be exercised if you own a steam or hot water boiler.
Carbon Monoxide is produced whenever a fuel (such as wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas or kerosene) is burning. If your furnace, water heater or boiler malfunctions, or the vent becomes blocked, carbon monoxide can leak into your home. CO poisoning can occur in any situation where a person is exposed to an incomplete burning of fossil fuel, and it can be fatal.
Carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from being used in your body and can harm the central nervous system, and even your heart. Everyone is at risk of being poisoned when exposed to the gas but individuals with existing health problems such as heart disease or lung problems are at risk of succumbing faster. Infants, children and pregnant women are at higher risk.
The most common cause for a natural gas furnace to leak CO is from a crack in the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is the metal wall or tubing that is heated up when the burners are ignited. The inside of the heat exchanger allows the toxic flue gases produced from the burners to exhaust out through the furnace flue. The outside of the heat exchanger is where the cold air passes over, becomes warmed, and is blown throughout the ductwork of the home. The heat exchanger is the only wall separating the toxic flue gases from the air supply. If a crack develops in the heat exchanger, there is a potential for carbon monoxide gas to leak over to the supply side and be blown throughout your rooms. Since carbon monoxide gas is odorless, the human senses will not detect its presence.
The Cause Part 2:
If there is a crack in the heat exchanger there may not be carbon monoxide present right away. A very dangerous misconception is that if there is a crack in the heat exchanger but no carbon monoxide present at the time of the check up, the furnace is still safe to run. In fact, at any time during the use of the furnace, carbon monoxide may suddenly and without warning appear. As the furnace runs it begins to burn dirtier which can create the gas. A crack in the heat exchanger is a pathway for the gas to escape through, and leak out into the home. As the gas goes through the crack, and the metal continues to heat up, the hole can grow larger quickly! What may have been only 1 or 2 parts per million, can rapidly become 300 parts per million or higher! Any HVAC Professional telling you that a unit in this condition is safe to run is putting everyone in your home at risk!
The Importance of Furnace Maintenance:
Gas forced air furnaces last approximately 15 years, some more, some less, depending on how well maintained the units are. Several factors play into the demise or shortened life span of your unit. We won’t go into every contributing factor here, but it is not uncommon to find a crack in a heat exchanger much sooner than the 15 years. Since a heat exchanger is made of metal and it is constantly being heated up repeatedly, the heat exchanger will eventually fail. To prevent an emergency, a furnace tune-up and heat exchanger inspection should be performed annually by a licensed HVAC Professional.
Your HVAC Company Expectations:
Not all heating companies are created equal. At Verne & Ellsworth Hann we hold ourselves to the highest standards and take your safety very seriously. To ensure the safety in your home, ask the company you choose questions about their carbon monoxide policies, tools used during the tune-up or inspection and whether or not a heat exchanger inspection is included with their tune-up price?
Q: What does your company consider as a safe level of carbon monoxide indoors?
A: NONE, or zero parts per million.
Q: Do they scope the heat exchangers during their tune-ups or inspections?
A: Companies that are truly concerned about safety will include a heat exchanger inspection at no additional cost.
The Final Analysis:
There is no agreed upon safe level of carbon monoxide indoors. According the United States Environmental Protection Agency; no standards for CO have been agreed upon for indoor air quality. The U.S. National Ambient air quality standards for outdoor air are 9 parts per million for 8 hours.
At Verne & Ellsworth Hann, we have a zero tolerance policy towards carbon monoxide.
Don’t allow the Silent Killer refuge in your home!
To schedule a heat exchanger inspection and test for carbon monoxide, please call us at 216-932-975.
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