Recently when at the doctor’s office the admitting nurse asked me, “Do you feel safe in your home?” I immediately answered, “yes.” This question really got me to thinking… as a certified Combustion and Carbon Monoxide Safety Analyst my question to a customer should be,
“Are you safe in your home from carbon monoxide?”
Unfortunately for many buildings and homes in North America, the answer is ‘NO!’ The problem is, most people do not really know if their home is safe from carbon monoxide (CO). In the following article, I hope to help debunk several myths and tell you some of the facts regarding CO.
Consumer Myth 1: “I have a CO detector, so I have nothing to worry about”
Fact: It is part of the building code in several states that “all residential dwellings shall have a working CO detector that complies with UL2034 within 10 feet of every bedroom.”
This is an excellent code and it has saved many lives. But the UL2034 standard allows 69 ppm (parts per million) continuous CO prior to the alarm sounding. Thus, a typical CO detector notifies occupants of deadly amounts of CO. But it does NOT protect them from continuous CO, or lower-
level CO poisoning.
Many medical studies show that low-level CO poisoning can be the root of dozens of serious diseases. These include Parkinson’s, heart and circulatory problems, many respiratory diseases, nerve and brain damage, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) — just to name a few.
Every home should have at least one low-level CO monitor to protect all occupants from any level of CO poisoning. I encourage you to tell your customers they need one on each level of the home and always near bedrooms.
Consumer Myth 2: “I had my furnace checked so I have no worries regarding CO poisoning”
Fact: Every furnace manufacturer recommends yearly maintenance on furnaces. But, less than 5% of furnace technicians are trained and certified in combustion and CO analysis. Unless a technician has such training and certification, there is no certainty that a furnace is safe.
Also, every combustion appliance in a home or building is a potential CO producer. So you should check all water heaters, boilers, dryers, stoves, fireplaces, wood stoves, and kitchen ranges. In fact, kitchen ranges and water heaters cause more CO poisonings than furnaces do.
Consumer Myth 3: “If I suspect CO, I should call the fire department, gas company, or any heating contractor”
Fact: It is true that most fire departments, gas companies, and many heating contractors buy the proper tools to detect low levels of CO in buildings. But less than 5% (actually less than 1%) of them ever completed a training course or are certified in the proper repairs to prevent the problem from re-occurring.
That is why it is incumbent on you to explain to your customers that your technicians are trained in Combustion and CO safety. Tell them your team is well equipped to handle any combustion situation.
With that in mind, your techs should always carry their current wallet card to show customers they, in fact, have been properly trained.
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Consumer Myth 4: “CO poisonings only happen in really cold weather”
Fact: CO does not care about the weather. We tend to hear about more poisonings in the middle of winter. But poisonings can take place any time of year.
For example, gravity-vent water heaters tend to have venting problems in mild weather. This is especially true if they have marginal levels of combustion air in the mechanical area. Gas ranges are installed all over North America without proper range hoods that ventilate to the outside.
Even if they have a hood, rarely do people actually run the ventilation fan when they are cooking.
Baking and broiling are the most dangerous. Home centers sell vent-free heaters that ignorant consumers use in their homes, potentially making deadly levels of CO in just minutes of operation.
Consumer Myth 5: “Public buildings are safer than private homes”
Fact: Actually, there is NO Federal guideline for Carbon Monoxide monitoring in schools, apartment buildings, hotels, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and churches among all other public buildings with the exception of public parking garages.
They are currently the only building type with specified maximum levels of carbon monoxide allowed. Deaths and poisonings actually happen in public buildings as much or more than private homes.
Consumer Myth 6: “At Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is the turkey that makes you sleepy”
Fact: Residential gas ovens by law can produce up to 800 ppm of CO during typical operation. In many homes that don’t have a vented range hood or don’t run the fan even if they do have a vented hood, the oven running continuously for several hours can produce dangerously high levels of CO in a space. This combined with many people in that space using up the oxygen and producing CO2 can exacerbate this issue.
So the next time you are at a holiday gathering, pay attention to this and ventilate the space if there is a gas oven running for an extended period of time.
Consumer Myth 7: “I don’t hear much about poisonings, so it must not be a problem”
Fact: A huge majority of CO poisonings are never detected as such. Google shows more than 72,000 CO poisonings in the US each year.
An educated guess after testing for CO in homes for over 10 years and talking to trained and certified CO analysts from all over the US and Canada, is that as much as 20% of ALL buildings suffer from some degree of CO poisoning in a given year. Also, our medical profession does NOT test for CO poisoning in patients that exhibit flue like symptoms. In fact, many thousands of these patients are actually experiencing symptoms of low-level CO poisoning.
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CO Poisonings Are Preventable
It just baffles me that in 2019 our industry and our society are absolutely ignorant of the dangers of CO. We are also ignorant about the preventions available to alleviate the issue.
For example, we still build water heaters and heating appliances that are engineered specifically to hurt people if they are not installed and monitored properly (ie: the draft hood and the vent-free heater). So what is the answer? In two words: proper training!
Do you know that National Comfort Institute (NCI) is the ONLY organization in North America with a complete training and certification course recognized by the HVAC industry as proper and complete Carbon Monoxide certification training?
CO Training: A Must
It’s time to look into attending one of these classes. By the way, NCI will actually bring an instructor to your business to do this training for your people in-house.
If you have eight or more people needing this training, it is cost-effective to bring the training into your facility. You have no transportation costs, you can train all your people, and keep your business operating.
Plus, you can attend the class with your people to re-enforce the value of the training.
Several successful companies have completely paid for their entire training investment in just a few weeks. They do
Trained and certified technicians are the most qualified to debunk these and other myths that permeate the HVAC Industry.
Tom Johnson is a Plumbing and HVAC contractor from Cambridge, MN. He is one of six nationally certified Carbon Monoxide and Combustion trainers teaching for NCI. Johnson has 40+ years of industry experience and 10+ years of experience in testing and repairing CO problems in the field. He can be reached at email@example.com.