Killer Heating Systems

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As the weather turns colder throughout much of the country, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urges consumers to have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances - including furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters -- to detect deadly carbon monoxide leaks.
Carbon monoxide or "CO" is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. Each year, over 200 people die from exposure to this colorless killer. CO

As the weather turns colder throughout much of the country, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urges consumers to have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances - including furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters -- to detect deadly carbon monoxide leaks.

Carbon monoxide or "CO" is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. Each year, over 200 people die from exposure to this colorless killer. CO is an odorless gas produced by burning any fuel. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to flu, and include headache, fatigue, shortness-of-breath, nausea and dizziness.

An annual inspection and service of all fuel burning appliances, like furnaces, water heaters or boilers, is the first line of defense against this silent killer. When an appliance burns fuel, like gas, kerosene, oil, coal or wood, they can produce CO. However, with proper installation and maintenance, they are safe to use. According to Ann Brown, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, “having an inspection performed could prevent a terrible tragedy.”

Carbon monoxide usually leaks into the home due to faulty heating equipment. There are several areas of the heating system where leakage is common. To avoid becoming a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning, have a qualified heating contractor check your system carefully each year. A thorough examination should include the following:

  • Heat Exchanger -- The heat exchanger keeps the air you breathe separate from carbon monoxide laced exhaust gases. Check the furnace heat exchanger for any signs of rust, combustion deposits or cracks. If any cracks or holes are found, the furnace should be replaced.
  • Vent Pipe -- The vent pipe carries exhaust gases to the outside of your house. If the pipe is rusted, loose or blocked, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can back up into the house. Check the pipe for any sign of corrosion. If the pipe is damaged, replace it immediately. The seams of the vent pipe should also be screwed together to prevent the pipe from separating. Moreover, make sure the pipe clears the roof properly. The vent should be at least two feet higher than any part of the roof within a ten foot radius.
  • Chimney -- Like vent pipes, chimneys must be free of blockage and properly designed. If you haven’t had your chimney cleaned lately, now is a great time to do it. Also, consider installing a chimney cap. This is a steel grate that lets gases escape while keeping the chimney off-limits to animals that could build nests inside of it.
  • Blower Compartment Door -- On the furnace, make sure the door, which covers the blower, is secure. If the door is loose, bent or damaged, the blower could suck carbon monoxide from the burners and distribute it throughout the house.
  • Flame Color -- Proper gas combustion will produce a blue flame. Yellow or orange flames often indicate incomplete combustion, which can release higher levels of carbon monoxide. Also make sure the burners are clean and not covered by rust.
  • Combustion Air -- All heating appliances, gas or oil, need fresh air to burn properly and reduce carbon monoxide levels. If your heating equipment is located in a small room or closet, you may need to add wall, floor or ceiling vents to make sure enough air gets to the equipment. At a minimum, appliances need 1 square inch of ventilation for every 1000 BTU’s of heating capacity. An average utility room containing a furnace, water heater and dryer would use about 200,000 BTU’s and need at least 200 square inches of vent area.
  • The CPSC also recommends that the yearly professional inspection make sure the appliance is operating on the fuel that it is designed to use.

    Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s website.

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