'Tis the Season....To Be Aware of the Dangers of CO Poisoning

I have addressed this a few times before but it's worth another look.  Carbon Monoxide poisoning is something that most people have heard of, but many don't realize the real danger that it poses.  The Centers for Disease Control website does a great job summarizing all aspects of CO dangers and I recommend you visit it to get all the details, but I'll highlist a few excerps here:

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death.

found at http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

found at http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

Who is at risk from CO poisoning?

All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. Fatality is highest among Americans 65 and older. (emphasis mine)

How can I prevent CO poisoning from my home appliances?

  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. (emphasis mine)

So, you can't see it, you can't taste it, you can't smell it, and it makes you feel sick.  This time of the year a lot of things can make you feel sick, but not all of them will kill you if not addressed.  Unfortunately there are stories every year about families that have been affected by Carbon Monoxide poisoning.  I found 4 within the last month.  I want to share them here and highlight something they all share in common: 

CO scare at Rutland home - "Fire officials say they did find unsafe levels of carbon monoxide in the home and determined it was due to a faulty furnace."  The carbon monoxide detector probably saved their lives

Day after Mooresville family replaces batteries, CO alarm sounds "Ted Freshwater looks over the gas furnace that is a suspect in the CO poisoning at the home on Sunday morning. Carbon monoxide sent four familiy members to the hospital Sunday morning. They had been sick for a few days."  “Everything didn’t really point back to (carbon monoxide) until after the fact, unfortunately,”

He said inspectors found a crack in an internal part of the furnace Monday afternoon and would replace the unit later this week. It’s unclear when the crack appeared.


Furnace problem sends 8 to hospital in Des Moines "...she had a headache for the last four days"

"Brown said the occupants of the home could’ve easily been killed by the CO gas had the 911 call not been placed. “Our meters read 500 parts per million and it alerts at 25 parts per million, so it was way over…1,200 parts per million in a home is immediately dangerous to life and health,” Brown said.

The source of the gas leak was traced to home’s furnace [emphasis mine]. Brown said it appeared moisture from the air conditioner dripped onto the heat exchanger, causing rust and the buildup of carbon monoxide."  In other words - the heat exchanger had rusted through and the furnace was putting carbon monoxide in deadly levels into the home.  

2 Minnesota men died of carbon monoxide poisoning "a damper on the furnace of the rural Springfield home was not functioning properly."  So it doesn't appear to have been a heat exchanger, but part of the furnace that appeared to be functioning normally was in fact the cause of death for 2 people.

So what's the takeaway?  What's the lesson we should learn here?  Furnace safety matters.  It's a life or death situation for some people.  Annual preventative maintenance and inspections are one great way to keep your family safe.  Carbon monoxide detectors are another.

I keep talking about this subject because it's important, and like I said before, people don't necessarily understand the potential danger.  We have received more phone calls and gone through more trouble related to failed heat exchangers that we find than any other problem we encounter.  People are furious that we have told them they have a dangerous situation and shut down their equipment.  People call angry that we've left their elderly parents without heat "for no good reason".  They call insisting we're trying to rip them off and don't believe they have an issue.  They won't let us come back to show them again when we offer, either.  We've been called unethical, liars, cheats, you name it, but we're going to keep informing customers when we find cracks in heat exchangers because it truly is a safety issue.

The reason for their frustration is fairly simple - the furnace appears to still be running fine, and they have carbon monoxide detectors that aren't going off.  

The reason for our insistance on addressing the issue with a new heat exchanger or new equipment is also fairly simple -- what seems like a small crack or hole could in fairly short order become a crack or hole large enough to kill them and their family.  Literally.