Posts Tagged ‘CO’

The Things you Find out in the Garage

April 28, 2014

While visiting one of our locations, Young’s Air conditioning in Los Banos, I had the pleasure of joining their auditor on the discovery of a unique furnace venting arrangement. As you might imagine with combustion equipment, unique is not really a good thing.P1060853
To the untrained eye, this arrangement might look fine, everything’s connected after all. But even from a distance, this furnace and water heater set up, to even the slightly trained eye, looked wrong because…well it was.
Two exhausts into one may be ok if it is sized right and pitched correctly, but here is a natural draft water heater and a power vented “sealed combustion” into the same flue.
Power vented appliances are also called direct vent, implying they are directly vented to the outside, and should be, on their own.
IP1060852’m in awe over the connection where the PVC (used for lower temperature exhaust) is TAPED into the metal connector (high temperature exhaust) of the 6” flue.
Making sure combustion equipment is set up properly is only the beginning. Having certified and trained people to install and assess that equipment is important. Our advisors are BPI-certified for this reason.
I’ve got more to share, till next time.
Stay safe!

Jason.

Deadly mix: Attic fans and Carbon Monoxide

June 25, 2013

There seems to be a rash of CO Poisonings and scares occurring in hotels recently.  It highlights the importance of CO alarms, and also testing combustion equipment. But Last May, this mom rescued her family overwhelmed by carbon monoxide and it was mother’s day no less!  The attic fan was left on with windows closed and the heating system couldn’t draft properly when it came on.  Carbon monoxide filled the home.

attic

It can happen anywhere, not just in St. Louis.   Attic fans are strong fans and it is important to open windows when using them.  It’s also important to make sure all fans in your home won’t affect heating equipment, especially the kind that drafts naturally.

As much as one big fan can be problem for some heating systems, so can a bunch of small ones.  Have a dryer that exhausts to the outside (it should) in the same space as a furnace?  It can influence draft as can a bath fan, a range hood, even closing doors upstairs.

Just because a furnace or water heater has its own flue or chimney, doesn’t mean it will always work correctly.     Have your HVAC systems tested regularly, but have your home tested too.  Consider having a BPI certified professional test your home, even better, a BPI certified HVAC professional. It’s a strong antidote for a deadly mix.

Thanks,

Jason

 

Where is that Check Engine Light?

May 6, 2013

checkA fairly comprehensive list of ailments sufferable from your very own home was posted in this article.

It is disheartening to read that more than “30 million homes have significant health problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 20 million housing units have a lead-based paint hazard. And more than 6.8 million homes have radon exposures above the level at which remedial action should be taken, as determined by the EPA.”

Building materials, new and old can affect our indoor air quality.  Moisture can lead to problems as well especially when it helps foster the growth of mold.  Lead is still an issue in older homes, and carbon monoxide, one of our regular topics is also a concern.

How in the world do you keep track of all of this?  Certainly knowledge is power.  Learning more about hazards can help you avoid them.  We’ve had numerous posts on CO, information in our learning center  and there are other resources as well such as the EPA.

One quote from the same piece that I really appreciated was this: In our cars, we have oil and check engine lights,” says Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing. “There’s no such light for a house.”    This is true, and one of the reasons why an energy assessment of your home that is focused on health and safety is so critical.  It can be like a check engine light going off, then its’ just a matter of finding a mechanic to fix it.

Thanks,

Jason

Carbon Monoxide: Be Afraid, Take Action!

April 17, 2013

We’ve posted about CO in the past.  It comes up in the news too often, and it is something we should all be concerned about.   A case in Aspen, Colorado is moving to trial following the death of a family due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Aspen Daily News reported that According to the lawsuit, the boiler’s exhaust piping was disconnected, because it had been “neither properly primed, glued or sealed and was not securely attached, supported or braced in any way.”  They also found that the vent to pull fresh air in was not connected to the outside so it only recirculated CO in the home.

This seems like gross negligence, and the reason why installers need to be certified, as well as why codes are in place.   Even with this, systems fail when they are not maintained.

  • Install a CO monitor and check it annually much like a smoke detector.
  • Have your combustion appliances checked regularly.
  • Regular HVAC service calls are important.
  • Even better have a BPI certified auditor assess your home.  It is part of a very thorough inspection of not only water heaters, furnaces and boilers, but also gas ovens and fireplaces, some things HVAC technicians may not normally inspect.

 

Thanks,

Jason

Safely Finding Your Way Through the Hazards of Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2012

It’s that time of year again and I look forward to the family gathering so we can stuff ourselves like birds.  With the colder weather we close up our homes, so it is time to ensure that our heating equipment is in good shape, like I mentioned last week in talking about fall clean ups.

Here are a few safety tips for the kitchen:

  • Keep the cooking area clear of clutter:  Don’t overload a cook top with too many pots and pans. More heat and more confusion can increase the chance for burns and grease fires.  
  • Dress for the occasion!  Cooking means being near the stove and range.  Make sure you won’t get snagged or burned in the process.  Wear tighter fitting clothes or short sleeves in the kitchen. 
  • Turn handles in.  We can forget some of these simpler things, but there may be more going on that you are used to in the kitchen and more kids too!
  • Do not pour water on a grease fire.  Turn off the burner, put on an oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding a lid onto the pan. Leave the lid in place until the pot or pan is cooled, water will only make it worse!
  • Turn off the stove when you are done:  Easy to forget in a busy kitchen trying to get everything to the table.  Hot surfaces are part of it but, how well is your oven vented? Or is it?

This last tip reminds me of a few posts from last year.

I still subscribe to our Director of QA and Safety, Dave Abrey’s theory of sleepy guests.  It might not be the Turkey!

Be thankful, stay safe, and stay warm!

Enjoy the holiday!

Jason

Image courtesy of Grant Snider from incidentalcomics.com

Helping and Staying Safe after the Storm

November 7, 2012

Housing is near and dear to us here at GreenHomes, and even closer is safe housing.  Hurricane Sandy has significantly changed what many have taken for granted just as we go into colder weather in the Northeast.  Tens of thousands have found themselves without a home because of the storm.  Many more have found themselves with extensive damage to their homes and a long struggle to recover.

There are many ways to support efforts to support those affected, the Red Cross is collecting donations, and Feeding America has been working to provide food and water for example.

It is also important to keep in mind how to stay safe as people return to their homes.  The CDC has some useful information about what to look for when coming home to water damage, the dangers of electrical issues, and mold.   For many our homes are no longer the safe havens they once were.

Losing power means often means relying on a generator, which is a great concern since they are one of the leading reasons for CO poisoning.    I often preach about the importance of checking heating and cooking equipment, having a CO alarm in your home, but when all goes wrong and we need a generator just to get by, it is even more important to make sure it will be helping not harming us.

The dangers of unvented fireplaces  also true for generators in your home or garage.  A garage or enclosed porch may be more connected to your home than you think.   When using a generator; always make sure there is enough fresh air to dilute any of the exhaust fumes.  Keep them out of your homes!

Help the people in need; stay safe please, no matter where you are!

Thanks,

Jason

Photo of the New Jersey coast from the National Guard

Spring Ahead and Think Ahead Too: Save Yourself From More than a Headache from Carbon Monoxide!

March 8, 2012

Here is an excellent reminder from the CDC for those who need to adjust to daylight savings this Sunday March 11, 2012: change the batteries in your CO detector.   CO Poisoning can be stopped

I’ve mentioned the dangers of CO in our homes in past posts such as in Testing: more than efficiency for safety’s sake  or A Bad Idea: unvented gas fire place.  I suspect CO may even have an unintended influence on us after Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s a simple thing to check the batteries or maybe just test the unit as some are hardwired.  It is also important to make sure your CO detector alarms at low levels of carbon monoxide.  The UL standards for CO detectors start at a level of 70 PPM for a 1-2 hour exposure.  Higher levels are obviously worse, but I think the lower range is just as dangerous. CO in the air robs us of oxygen and to be safe, I’d like the levels in my home to be zero.

The U.S. consumer product safety commission suggests that most folks are not affected in the low exposure ranges of 1-70 PPM.  Funny because others, such as The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established a recommended exposure limit of 35 PPM.  We spend as much time if not more in our homes than on the job.  This is important!

35 PPM is the same maximum level Building Performance Institute certified advisors watch out for when performing assessments on homes, but really we don’t want CO in our homes at all.  As we change our clocks and the days get longer, let’s consider longer and healthier lives as well!  

Thanks, Jason

A Bad Idea: Unvented gas fireplace

December 20, 2011

If you read no further, know this:  unvented fireplaces are a bad idea.

We’ve had a few responses regarding Carbon Monoxide lately, and for good reasons: it’s a concern we should pay close attention to.  As we button up our homes and keep warm for the holidays, some of us look to inexpensive solutions and quick fixes such as unvented gas fireplaces.

My personal experience so far suggests burning a fire inside just doesn’t seem like a good idea (don’t ask, just trust me on this one).

Up north in igloos, the Inuit used small oil lamps called Kudliks and vented them with smoke holes in those igloos.  Further south in a region many of us call home now, the Lakota used Tipis, and also showing great intelligence, had a smoke hole at the top.   Overseas, centuries ago, Romans built tubes in walls to draw smoke out of bakeries and what we now know of as a chimney may have started in northern Europe in the 12th century. So what happened?  Are we smarter now than all of our ancestors or have we failed to learn something, and as they say History is repeating itself?

Some manufacturers of vent-free appliances claim they burn so cleanly that they don’t need to be vented.  I have a hard time believing this since there will always be combustion by-products namely Carbon Monoxide and water.  I’ll discuss the CO side in a minute—CO kills.  But water is an issue for every one of these units, burning correctly or incorrectly.

Vent-free appliances can produce about a gallon of water in the house for every 100,000 BTU’s.  Leave one on for 4 hours, and you’re well beyond the moisture you’ll put in the air from a couple of showers and cooking a pot of spaghetti.  That’s why you’ll often see condensation on your windows or sense a clammy feeling in the air.  This humidity, if left unchecked can lead to other issues such as mold or rot.  Sure you can address the moisture by providing whole-house ventilation something we regularly recommend, but you will be paying a penalty over ventilating your home because you didn’t want to ventilate your fireplace.  You shouldn’t use your house as a chimney—that’s what flues are for!

Water is a serious problem—but it’s not the worst of it. Without regular service the stove produces more CO, and my science books suggest incomplete combustion creates more by-products.

The effects of CO can be overt or subtle but either way long lasting.   We pay attention to dangerous high level exposure, but even low level exposure over time can be debilitating.  From the American Lung Association:

Breathing CO at low levels regularly may cause permanent mental or physical problems. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.1

Approximately 450 people die each year from CO exposure related to fuel-burning, residential appliances. Thousands more became ill or sought medical attention.2 CO poisoning is estimated to cause more than 50,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year.1

The EPA suggests never heating your home with a gas oven.  Short term exposure might be ok but long term exposure is not, like when you are heating your home all day long.   For those without kitchen range hoods, or those who fail to turn them on, a stove is essentially an unvented gas heater, so why do we use unvented fireplaces?

Apparently there are safety features.  Some manufacturers’ fine print indicates you should open a window every time you use the appliance!  Who does that?  And if you’re supposed to open a window, it can’t be an unvented appliance.  I’m guessing the lawyers have paid attention to the potential liability from combustion gases and perhaps related moisture problems.  Other fine print from a vent free manufacturers retail site suggests that the Oxygen Depletion Safety Pilot device shuts off the gas before dangerous levels of CO can be formed, but says nothing about using a CO detector as a back-up. It also does not address long term low level exposure.

Since you can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, but high levels can kill you in minutes, it makes sense to have a CO detector.

Here is what an average off the shelf CO meter will do:

In accordance with UL 2034, the CO sensor will not alarm to levels of CO below 30 ppm and will alarm in the following time range when exposed to the corresponding levels of CO. 70 ppm CO concentration 60 240 minutes 150 ppm CO concentration 10 50 minutes 400 ppm CO concentration 4 15 minutes.

It won’t sound below 30ppm.

This link has a long list of letters from folks that have been harmed from high and low levels of exposure. Some when finding CO levels in their home, complained to the fireplace manufacturers who suggested the meters they had bought were too sensitive!  The last thing I want is a device that does its job too well.

It is wrong that our national code allows unvented gas fireplaces when we know they can be harmful. They should never be installed.  The consumer advocacy group, Consumer Reports justifiably suggests caution with these appliances and they also say that there is “No national standard that compels contractors to consider air quality when they install an unvented fireplace; the National Fuel Gas Code and many local codes call only for the fireplace to be sized so that sufficient air is available for combustion.” But this is not entirely true, as accredited contractors with the Building Performance Institute we can’t perform improvements on a home until an existing unvented heater is removed.  Why?  It’s not considered safe and the risks aren’t worth it.

Unvented gas fireplaces are a potentially deadly example of penny wise and pound foolish.  Let’s pay respect to those who figured this out a long time ago and keep ourselves and our families safe through the heating season.  If you have one, get rid of it.  If you’re thinking of adding an unvented appliance, please don’t.

Thanks and stay safe,

Jason.

 photo used under creative commons liscense from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeandkasia/3260232561/
1. Weaver LK. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. 2009. New England Journal of Medicine 360: 1217-1225.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nonfatal, Unintentional, Non-Fire-Related Carbon Monoxide Exposures—United States, 2004-2006.
2. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review 57:33 (August 2, 2008). Accessed October 20, 2009 

Turkey, tryptophan and the real reason we all might get sleepy

November 22, 2011
Long established mythology is that the high levels of the amino acid tryptophan contained in turkey causes sleepiness after thanksgiving dinner.    While this may have some merit, turkey doesn’t really have much more of this than other meats, and soybeans have much more so it should be all those vegetarians eating their Tofurkies (yes there really are such things) that are zonking out.  It might have more to do with the one two punch of largeamounts of carbohydrates we eat.  You know, breads, stuffing, potatoes, sweets, eat much of that for thanksgiving dinner? 

One of my esteemed colleagues here at GreenHomes America has another theory, and it’s a deadly one.  Carbon Monoxide (CO).  Our ovens can produce a great deal of the stuff which is why we test them on every assessment.     We’ve covered some of the issues here.

 This is the only unvented gas appliance allowed by BPI in our homes, partially because we usually don’t have it on for long periods of time.   Your average service man does not check for CO regularly, and when you’ve got that 20 lb turkey to cook that oven will be on for half the day!    Some homes may have CO monitors but most of these monitor do not alert at low levels—even levels which can cause illness (and no CO is good CO).  Get a good CO meter if you don’t have one already.  Vent the kitchen when you are cooking and consider having a professional test your oven as well as the rest of your home.

Thanks and be safe!

Jason

Photo from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/wild-turkey/

“Can gas leaks kill you?”

October 28, 2009

Had a few searches hit our website with people asking if natural gas leaks can kill you.  YES, THEY CAN.   They should be taken very seriously.  The big risk is fire or explosion–enough to lose your home and injure or kill everyone in it.  [Google “gas leak house fire” for recent examples]

If you smell gas, it’s a bad leak and should be fixed.  Note that propone can be even more problematic since it’s heavier and can settle and collect in low spots like basements.  If you notice a faint smell of gas, call the gas company or a qualified contractor immediately.  If you notice a strong smell of gas, get out of the house immediately and then call the gas company from a safe location.

This is not an alarmist plea to panic about using gas.  It’s what I use to heat my home, and its how most homes in the U.S. are heated.  It has great advantages as a heating fuel.  I much prefer it to oil, which is dirtier, smellier, and fouls equipment faster.  It also allows for much more efficient equipment.  But gas must be used safely, and leaks should be taken seriously.

That’s why you should have your home tested for gas leaks and combustion safety issues (such as proper drafting of fuel-burning appliances and carbon monoxide spillage).  This is particulary true if you’re changing your house–remodeling, adding windows, insulating and air-sealing, etc since you not only have the risk of bumping pipe and loosening joints, but you also change to dynamics of how the house operates.

Take gas leaks seriously.  And insist that anyone working in your house take them seriously, too. 

Thanks,
Mike


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