AccuServ Heating and Air Conditioning

Carbon Monoxide from Gas Appliances – Questions and Answers

January 20, 2020

A Leading Cause of Accidental Poisoning in Toronto[1]:

Carbon Monoxide

In this article, we answer some common questions about the dangers of carbon monoxide – dangers to which all homeowners are exposed. If you own gas appliances, do yourself a favor and educate yourself on the dangers of carbon monoxide and – more importantly – how to prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you have questions about carbon monoxide, contact your local gas utility, a qualified heating contractor, or the Extension Services office listed in the white pages of your phone book.

What is carbon monoxide?

To put it scientifically, carbon monoxide is the chemical “CO.” It consists of one carbon molecule and one oxygen molecule. It is invisible and odorless. That is, it in undetectable without tools. Most importantly, it is lethal.

You will not know you have been poisoned by carbon monoxide until you start feeling the symptoms of the poisoning. These symptoms feel much like influenza: You will feel chest and stomach pain, become dizzy, and will likely begin vomiting. These symptoms alone do not kill you – it is an “overdose” of carbon monoxide that kills you.

In other words, those who die from carbon monoxide poisoning are people who ignore the symptoms or are not aware of the symptoms – sleeping family members, for example. Another rare case of a carbon monoxide poisoning death is a person who is sick or drunk and attributes the symptoms of carbon monoxide to their illness or indulgence in alcohol. Overall, the lack of visibility and odor as well as the similarity of symptoms to common illnesses and drunkenness make carbon monoxide a silent killer.

Why are homeowners at risk?

If you are using gas as your energy source for heating, you are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Whether it be your stove, fireplace, or furnace, any appliance using gas fueling can produce carbon monoxide. An abundance of carbon monoxide production can poison the people and even pets in your home.

In short, if you use any source of gas in your home, no one is immune from carbon monoxide poisoning. However, certain groups are especially susceptible due to their weaker bodies: the elderly, people with respiratory problems, and young children. According to the Canada Safety Council, over 10 people per year are killed in Ontario due to carbon monoxide poisoning.[2]

Which appliances are the troublemakers?

When any gas fuel is burned, carbon monoxide is produced – so all gas-utilizing appliances are potential troublemakers. The danger of carbon monoxide extends to appliances installed in the garage or outdoors, as carbon monoxide can enter the home through cracks in the walls – especially in poorly insulated homes. On the other side of things is poor ventilation, which can block carbon monoxide produced inside the home (e.g., via gas clothes driers or furnaces) from escaping the house.

The latter of the two situations is more common in Toronto. Compared to homes in tropical regions, for instance, where homeowners care little about insulation and often leave their windows open, Toronto’s homes are built to hold in heat, making them more energy efficient. This is a double-edged sword, however, as the insulation of Toronto homes traps carbon monoxide in the home.

Further problems, such as problems with the appliances themselves can cause carbon monoxide overproduction or buildup. For example, a broken heat exchanger[3] can alter the combustion process of a furnace, producing an abundance of carbon monoxide. This alone can be lethal.

What can a homeowner do to protect the family from carbon monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

We recently stated on our blog that Toronto has now mandated all homeowners install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.[4] Though the city has threatened homeowners with a fine for not doing so, the government has not given clear advice as to how to install the carbon monoxide detectors or where to do so. We hope you will be better informed by the article so as to protect your family – so here are some tips for the installation of carbon monoxide detectors.

  1. Install carbon monoxide detectors near or in sleeping areas, as many carbon monoxide deaths occur while the family is asleep.
  2. Do not stop at one carbon monoxide detector. Installing one per room is optimal but often impractical. At the very least, install one detector at every story of your home.
  3. Choose a battery-operated model (as opposed to an electricity-powered model). If the power shuts off in your home, as it occasionally does during the Toronto winter, your carbon monoxide detector will still sound its alarm.

Appliance Servicing

A carbon monoxide detector alone is not a substitute for routine inspections of carbon monoxide related dangers in the home.[5] Regular checkups of your home’s gas-based appliances and ventilation can reduce your chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ensure you contact a licensed HVAC technician at least once per year to inspect your gas appliances. In addition, you should request an extra inspection every time you make a major change to your home’s heating system or ventilation.

Appliance Selection

Some appliances are less prone to carbon monoxide problems. Electric-based heating systems, for example, completely prevent combustion problems. However, we do not recommend electric-based heating appliances in general, at least in Toronto, due to their cost relative to gas heating.[6]

Still, some gas-based heating appliances are safer than others. For example, induced draft water heaters and sealed combustion furnaces are safer than their conventional counterparts. Again, a consultation with a certified HVAC company can help you choose the safest gas-based heating, cooking, and cleaning appliances.

Contact us today for a free consultation!