Home Made Poison Threatens Homeowners

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A study in the New England Journal of Medicine calls carbon monoxide "one of the most common causes of morbidity due to poisoning in the United States." Homeowners should protect themselves against tasteless, odorless, invisible carbon monoxide gasses produced by furnaces, water heaters and gas appliances with regular inspections and maintenance by trained professionals.

Most people wouldn't dream of taking poison, but every winter they manufacture batches of the stuff in their own homes. Usually, they aren't aware of it, but as natural gas furnaces fire up to stave off the chill in the air and water heaters cycle more frequently, danger lurks.

Carbon monoxide, also referred to as CO, a normal byproduct of hydrocarbon combustion, is a tasteless, odorless, invisible gas that is difficult to detect. Yet, it's so prevalent in American homes that a study in the New England Journal of Medicine cites carbon monoxide as "one of the most common causes of morbidity due to poisoning in the United States."

That's the bad news. The good news is that it can be prevented by assuring proper installation and maintenance of gas furnaces, water heaters and appliances. A small amount of carbon monoxide is present in most homes, but a number of things can raise levels dangerously high, including:

  • incorrect air/gas mix in burners;
  • improper venting that may cause air to enter the burner from the wrong direction;
  • a malfunction in the furnace, water heater or appliance itself, or
  • improper installation.

The danger may be more real than most homeowners imagine, according to an industry expert. Bill Stevens, president of Berkey's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, says homes with older furnaces that have pilot lights are particularly susceptible. "The industry moved away from pilot lights to hot surface electric igniters more than a decade ago, but there are still plenty of the old systems out there," Stevens said.

Stevens cautions that a particular problem with older units is the heat exchanger. When natural gas burns it sends hot gasses through a metal box filled with tubing. As the furnace's fan blows air over the tubing, it is heated and distributed throughout the house.

"A crack anywhere in the heat exchanger can result in dangerous carbon monoxide gas being circulated throughout the home," Stevens explained. "Unless the homeowner has carbon monoxide monitoring devices installed, they'll never know about it until they start to develop symptoms of CO poisoning, which often are confused with the flu or other common illnesses".

Newer homes have hidden perils, too. As homeowners install commercial grade appliances, outdoor fireplaces and grills, pool heaters and other gas appliances they strain home gas systems, often not designed to accommodate these additional demands. As a result, gas furnaces and water heaters may get insufficient gas for proper burn rates, which causes incomplete burning and harmful combustion byproducts.

Stevens is wary of homeowners or handyman repair services performing maintenance and inspection of heating and ventilation systems. He says there are many things homeowners and handymen can do, such as changing air filters regularly, but most do not have the training or equipment necessary to do complete inspections.

"Trained HVAC service professionals know what to look for, such as non-standard parts or dirt buildup that can restrict air flow," Stevens explained. "Trained professionals also observe building codes: a code violation by a home handyman could result in a disputed insurance claim, in event of an accident."

Stevens urges homeowners to call a heating and air conditioning specialist to ensure safe, efficient operation of furnaces and water heaters.

About Berkey's

Berkey's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning has specialized in the needs of homeowners in Southlake, Grapevine, Colleyville and Flower Mound for more than 30 years. Our reputation for prompt, honest service from licensed and factory trained technicians assures our customers the best in professional service and equipment. To learn more, call Berkey's at 817-481-5869, or visit our Website at http://www.berkeys.com.

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