Spa Incident Underscores CO Dangers

The recent downtown Boston carbon monoxide poisoning incident underscores the danger that carbon monoxide can pose to humans. About 30 people were sickened last Saturday at a spa, and 8 people were hospitalized. The source of the carbon monoxide was believed to be the commercial dryers the spa uses to dry its towels.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is created as a by-product of natural gas combustion. People exposed to even low levels of carbon monoxide can experience symptoms of varying severity, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation and chest pain. Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide in the air can cause unconsciousness or death. People exposed to CO while sleeping can die without experiencing any symptoms at all.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when the body substitutes carbon monoxide for oxygen. CO in the bloodstream binds to red blood cells and prevents oxygen from reaching the cell. Immediate medical treatment is required to prevent physical complications from worsening.

Preventing CO from accumulating in a closed space is essential. All gas appliances must be vented to the outside of the living space to ensure that CO cannot escape into the building’s interior. Gas stoves are typically not vented to the outside because they typically burn all fuel completely.

Build-ups of food, grease and other debris should be eliminated to help ensure that all gas burns completely while the stove or oven is in operation for cooking. Installation of a vented range hood, however, can help ensure that any unburned fuel is vented safely away. Never use a gas range or stove to heat the living space.

Annually, homeowners should have appliances that burn gas or coal inspected for any damage that may allow CO to vent improperly into the living space. This includes stoves, water heaters, gas dryers, furnaces, gas fireplaces and other similar appliances. Portable fuel-burning heaters and generators should not be used indoors under any circumstances.

Homeowners should also have their chimneys inspected annually, and any debris or buildup should be removed to help ensure that exhaust gases vent properly away from the building. Ventilation pipes for gas appliances should never be repaired with duct tape or other porous repair materials, as the repair can become a route for CO to enter the living space.

Ventilation pipes should also be properly installed by a trained installation professional. Horizontal pipes should be inclined slightly to discourage CO from entering the living space at the pipe joints.

Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in the living space, and should be tested periodically. Devices should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
If you have questions about your gas-fired appliances, or would like to arrange an inspection, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We’ll be happy to test your gas appliances, their connections and ventilation pipes for CO leakage.

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Winterizing Your Home, Part 2: Carbon Monoxide Kills

In my last post, I talked about winterizing your Boston home from the outside. Making sure that water can get away from your home is key to preventing leaks. Draining sprinkler lines and faucets can help prevent freezing damage to valves and lines. Winterizing the outside of your home is only half of the battle. There’s plenty to do inside to get your Boston home ready for winter.

On the inside, your first priority is safety. Have your furnace or heating plant inspected annually by a trained, licensed heating and cooling professional. This is essential, especially if you have a high-efficiency furnace. In the grand scheme of things, high efficiency furnaces don’t have a very long life and problems can arise without warning. Carbon monoxide (CO) leaks can kill in a very short period of time. A furnace inspection, along with the installation (or testing) of carbon monoxide detectors can mean the difference between life and death.

Having a lower-efficiency furnace or boiler doesn’t mean you’re safe, though. These systems can also develop dangerous problems that can allow carbon monoxide to leak into the living space. If you do not know how to inspect your furnace or heating system for problems, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating. We’re always happy to help keep your home safe and comfortable in the winter.

Any gas-burning appliance (furnace, boiler, gas dryer, gas stove) can create carbon monoxide. CO is a sign that natural gas is not burning completely. Gas stoves burn natural gas almost entirely and do not normally require any special ventilation. If you notice that your “blue flame” is yellow or orange, your stove may be having a problem. If you smell natural gas when the stove is not in use, ventilate your kitchen immediately. Turn the gas valve off and vacate your home. Contact the gas company or Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating. We can locate and correct gas leaks around your major appliances.

Gas dryers, water heaters, furnaces, and boilers must all vent to the outside. Do not attempt to heat a basement or laundry space with venting from a gas dryer. You’ll end up with pretty wet air (which can encourage mold and mildew growth), and you could unknowingly allow CO into your living space.

Also, do not run a fuel-burning generator of any kind in or near your living space. This includes basements, utility rooms, and attached or closed garages. Kerosene and diesel generators must be vented to the outside, because like other combustible fuel burners, they generate lethal amounts of CO.

If you have any questions about your heating plant, gas-fired appliances, or back-up generators, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can inspect your heating plant and gas appliances, and correct any issues, add or replace safety valves and help you ensure that your home is ready for the heating season.