Posts Tagged ‘combustion safety’

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.

Advertisements

Bird’s Nests and Broken Flues

December 6, 2013

We are well into the heating season for many areas of the country.  And recently we talked about

bird nesta clean and tune; the annual servicing of your heating equipment.    This can be done at any point in the year but some of us wait to the last minute to do it.  Some sign on with a service agreement so they don’t have to think about it.

Efficiency is a big part of getting your furnace or boiler running in top shape, but it’s important to check equipment attached to flues or chimneys to ensure that they are actually drafting properly.  The bird nest built over the summer in this home in Allentown Pa  caused a lot of problems for the residents, in particular potentially lethal levels of Carbon Monoxide.

Consider a BPI certified contractor capable of doing testing needed to ensure the worst case doesn’t happen.   Make nesting for the winter comfortable and safe!

Thanks,

Jason

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seggerde_Storchennest.JPG

When in Rome….perform combustion safety testing!

October 11, 2013

Heating season is approaching for some parts of the country and while this stove doesn’t heat the place, the College of Cardinals that gathered in the Sistine Chapel last winter, used a stove system that has evolved over many years, and needed some fine tuning to work right.   The_Sistine_Chapel_(5967688938)

Jon Vara, in The Journal of Light Construction wrote, that since at least 1903, ballots from the papal voting have been burned in this system of ductwork and combustion equipment to announce their decision on a new pope.

Many things have been tried to ensure the color of the smoke is correct, but just as important if not more so, is the trouble of getting the smoke to go the right way.  Even in the latest installation from 2005, the stove back-drafted.

Our advisors might pay special attention to how equipment works in your home.  They also pay special attention to how the home and heating equipment interact too.  I’d say they would have to bring a few more (ok, many more) blower doors to test the tightness of such a big place like the Sistine Chapel, but combustion testing is the same big or small.

Smoke needs to leave the house (or chapel) and other gasses should go with it.  Carbon Monoxide is the silent killer we are most often concerned about.  Holy Smokes, no matter what kind of stove furnace or boiler, or building for that matter, we should all be concerned with combustion safety whether you live in Rome, Georgia, or Rome, Pennsylvania or Rome, Ohio, or Rome, Maryland or Rome, New York, or Rome, Oregon… you get the idea.

Thanks,

Jason

photo from Wikicommons

 

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

 

Asthma? Indoors is not Always a Safe Haven!

June 11, 2013

June is upon us and in some parts of the country we are opening windows in others, closing them up.  Asthma awareness month, the month of May, is over but I feel it’s a subject always worth talking about.

asthma triggers from epa.gov

We forget how important our indoor air is.  The EPA graphic above, points out a number of triggers for those that suffer from Asthma, so many of them trapped in our indoor environments we consider safe.

Outdoor air pollution is the problem that comes to mind, but inside we can build up excessive dust from a lack of air sealing in a home, unhealthy by-products from unvented combustion appliances, mold from crawlspaces and basements as well as chemical triggers from the stuff under the sink.

Allergens and irritants build up in a home when we don’t have the right kind of airflow, we need fresh air and we need to know where it comes from.  Breathing easy comes from taking care of the fundamentals we consider when we assess a home:  IAQ, combustion safety, and controlling the airways.

Thanks,

Jason

image from http://epa.gov/asthma/triggers.html

The Six P’s, and some more!

December 11, 2012

Some may have heard the expression before:  “Proper Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance” or possibly a less pleasant version, but I will leave that to your imagination.  Permutations previewed in this photo provide possibilities for a plethora of problems, primarily CO poisoning!

Please provide proper ventilation for atmospheric combustion equipment such as the water heater shown here. VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200This is common configuration for a water heater, drawing combustion air from its surroundings, but it can create problems!

Pressures in a house can change and affect equipment like this.  Our predecessors discovered that it was more pleasant when smoke from the fire went up the chimney.  It’s more than pleasant but imperative! 

This chimney shown is going downhill before it goes up, the primary problem! Our heating equipment needs to be vented properly or those gasses enter our homes.  Consider having your combustion equipment checked as part of a whole house assessment

Please, a plug, poke, or paltry plea, proper planning provides prime performance, and prevents poisoning (CO that is!).

Pthanks,

Jason

 

The Sweetness of Home Performance

January 24, 2012

 Coming from New England, I find winter on the West Coast is a different beast.  The lack of snow is not really it.  I think it’s the fact that there are citrus trees in many back yards.  My recent visit to one of our fine GreenHomes America partners, Residential Energy Pros  in San Jose, California, reminded me that no matter where you go, remodeling changes our homes in ways we are never sure of, often not for the best and often in a way that sacrifices our comfort or costs us money we shouldn’t be throwing away.

I constantly preach the importance of air sealing (watch some videos here), and on a home assessment during my visit, we were pleasantly surprised that the home was not as leaky as many we see.  This home originally had a flat roof and at some point a new one was built over it.  This old roof created a fairly good air barrier but there were still leaks as well as a lack of good insulation, creating rooms that can get very hot and uncomfortable in the summer, and too cold and uncomfortable in the winter. And blindly tightening a home without paying attention to important details and considerations like moisture and combustion safety isn’t smart either.  Despite its relative tightness there were still some issues with this home.

Like many homes out West, this house had a crawlspace.  And with crawlspaces, we often see a lot of indoor air quality issues (homes with basements or slabs are NOT immune!).  For this home, air from the crawlspace was constantly being drawn into the home and filtered through the carpet at the hatch! This doesn’t just dirty the carpet—it means the homeowners were breathing in crawlspace air all day, but since the hatch was right in the bedroom, more concentrated air where they spend 8 hours a day.   

Something else we noted was that the home also had a lot of condensation on the windows.  Too much moisture was sticking around in the home in the form of high humidity.  This is a problem because, the condensation pools at the sill, starts to rot the trim, and even the underlying framing.  High humidity can also promote mold and mildew growth elsewhere.

Some of that moisture could be dealt with by installing good spot ventilation, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms.  Even when you are opening the windows during large parts of the year it is good to control indoor air and moisture.

All of these things are problems we look to address with home performance, no matter where the home is located.   Maybe some suffer through some discomfort and high energy bills in the short term in California since they have the luxury of plucking lemons from the back yard.   But why settle for lemons when with a little bit of work you can have lemonade?

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

October 13, 2010

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, which is dangerous to humans. It is almost impossible for an unaided person to detect CO, which is why it is often called ‘The Silent Killer.’ Each year approximately 500 people in the US die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Many of these deaths could have been prevented with a few simple precautions.

Carbon Monoxide is released when a carbon-based fuel (oil, propane, kerosene, wood, natural gas, charcoal etc.) does not fully combust. This may occur when an appliance is not functioning adequately or is used improperly. Luckily there are some simple steps you can take to make sure you and your family are safe.

Steps for PREVENTION:

1.     Have your heating system, water heaters and gas ranges inspected every year, no matter the fuel you use.

2.     Ensure that your appliances are properly maintained and ventilated. If you are not sure, call a licensed contractor and have them inspect your appliances and answer your questions.

3.     Keep all sidewall vents clear of brush and snow.

4.     Never run a vehicle or generator in the garage or basement of your home, even if the door or windows are open.

5.     Inspect your chimney for blockages. You never know what Santa may have left behind that could cause inadequate venting of your fireplace.

6.      Use your oven for heating your food, not your house.

7.     Never use a grill or portable stove in an enclosed area (even if you’re camping and it’s raining and really, really cold outside).

8.     Do not use or install an unvented room heater, space heater or gas fireplace.

Steps for DETECTION:

1. Install CO detectors in your home, with battery back-up. It is best to have multiple CO detectors and the models with a numerical readout are preferred.

2.     If you have symptoms such as:

a.     Shortness of breath

b.     Nausea

c.     Headache

d.     Dizziness

e.     Light-headedness

And you suspect CO poisoning follow the following evacuation procedure.

Steps for EVACUATION:

If you suspect you have been exposed to high levels of CO seek fresh air immediately and remain outside. Call 911 and ask for both the Fire Department and an Ambulance. Seek medical attention immediately for yourself and others who are exhibiting the symptoms listed above.

Handy Hint: CO detectors cost only a few dollars and most models only require their batteries to be changed about every other year. You will know when the batteries need to be changed because it will start to make that annoying chirping sound like smoke detectors do. Invest a few dollars and it could save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Can natural gas leaks kill you?

September 13, 2010

Because of the spike in inquires in the wake of the massive California natural gas explosions, I’m reposting an article from last year.  If you read no further, carry this away:  take gas leaks seriously.

We 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, beyond the California disaster.]

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 than air 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.  You may not be able to detect leaks be smell, however, and you should have your lines tested for leaks periodically–we suggest doing so along with your regular furnace maintenance.

This is not an alarmist plea to panic about using gas.  It’s what I use to heat my home, and it’s 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

DIY—Do it yourself attic insulation and air-sealing

February 18, 2010

With winter still hammering parts of the country, the mid-Atlantic states being plagued by ice dams, and people being interested in good home economics in today’s tough national economy, a lot of people are insulating their attics now.  This is a great step, if done correctly.  We think there are big advantages to using a well-trained professional to do the job properly. But some handy folks are inclined to handle it all their own—and that’s a reasonable approach. If you’re doing it yourself, however, it’s important to use the right details not just to save energy but also to stay safe!

DIY Done Right–The Short Version

  • Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You need to air-seal first. The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.  And do this safely.  You don’t want to fall through ceiling.  And improper installation causes problems, like moisture issues and fire risk.
  • Be prepared to stay the course—this isn’t a fun job. It’s generally dirty, cramped, and uncomfortable—but you need to do it right if you want to see results. With some guidance from the ENERGY STAR guide, a friend and neighbor recently completed an insulation and air-sealing project. He’s very glad he did because he’s saving energy and his house is more comfortable. But he did say he’d never do it himself again. The hassle isn’t worth it and he’d rather hire someone. Check out his fun video on his DIY attic insulation project below.
  • After you’re done, make sure a professional checks the safety of all combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—in your home.

DIY Done Right–The Longer Version

Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You’ll get very little benefit with fiberglass batts without rigorous attention to air-sealing.  Think of wearing a lose sweater or fleece on a windy winter day.  That fleece is a good insulating layer.  But when the wind blows through it, the heat gets sucked right out.  The same thing happens in your home as wind and the “stack effect” allow heat to escape through leaks in your home and blow right through the insulation.  (The stack effect:  warm air rises, and in the winter you whole house acts like a big chimney with the warm air rising out the top—unless you stop it)  This is a reason why you’ll see stained, dirty insulation in the attic.  It has essentially been filtering all of the air escaping your house–air that you paid to heat and cool and that you’re losing to outside. 


In fact, not adding insulation without air-sealing can lead to moisture and mold problems in the attic as the warm, moist air hits cold surfaces in the attic and the water condenses out just like it does on a glass of iced tea on a summer day.  Over time, this can lead to structural failure and other issues! 

Thus, it’s important to air-seal the attic.  This can be tricky as you need to use different materials and techniques depending on the type of holes and leaks.  For example, you can’t use foam against chimneys and flue because of the fire risk.  I can’t get in to all of the variations here.  The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.

Attics aren’t usually fun places, but you need to spend the time finding the holes and leaks.  And be careful up there!.  You don’t want to fall through the ceiling, you need to be on the lookout the electrical wiring, you need to watch out for protruding nails and screws, and you need to use the right techniques.

After insulating and air-sealing, it is very important to make sure that your combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—are operating safely and venting properly.  Most homeowner don’t have the equipment or skills to do this, so I won’t describe it here.  Your fuel company, a home performance specialist, or a good heating contractor should be able to do this for you.  As I’ve mentioned previously, carbon monoxide is not something to take lightly. 

All-in-all, this job may be more than most people want to handle.  If you hire someone to do this, make sure they are willing and able to do it right, with proper air-sealing and combustion safety testing.  If the contractor you’re talking to balks or doesn’t understand, walk away and find a contractor who can deliver what you need.


%d bloggers like this: