Corbett Lunsford’s building inspection of a huge development is interrupted when he feels compelled to show you:
#1. How ridiculously huge this space heater is
#2. Proof that the worksite is safe according to air quality standards
Stop guessing. Proof Is Possible. Ask for it.
You might think it’s obvious when someone is being poisoned by carbon monoxide (CO). You might think your furnace simply must be replaced with a newer model if you have CO showing up in your home. You might think the $20 CO detector you bought will protect your whole family from the possibility of either of the above. WRONG on all counts!
“The amount of misinformation about carbon monoxide isn’t surprising, since the gas is everywhere around us- coming out of our vehicle exhaust, our furnaces and water heaters and ovens and stovetops,” says Corbett Lunsford, Exec. Dir. of the IL Association of Energy Raters & Home Performance Professionals (IAER). “Everyone takes pride in knowing something about everything- too bad most conventional wisdom about carbon monoxide is B.S.”
First, let’s look at the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: “flu-like” is how they’re usually described. Ask yourself: have you ever had “flu-like” symptoms? Have you ever been to the doctor because of them? We can safely bet that the answer to both questions is YES. Now ask yourself: has a doctor even once suggested testing you for carbon monoxide poisoning? The answer to that is a solid NO, 99.9% of the time. Doctors are conditioned day in and day out to seek the simplest solution for what ails you, and prescribe medication to fix it. Indeed, that is all we demand of our doctors- if they suggest further testing, we understandably press for the easier option in pill form and try to get the hell out of there. Nowadays, however, testing for CO poisoning is as easy as placing your finger in a medical LED device- no syringes or blood samples necessary.
Second, let’s look at how carbon monoxide is created: a something that burns fuel isn’t working correctly. It’s called “flame impingement” and it happens when the fuel isn’t burned completely because something’s in the way- dust, or metal, or a pot of water. Yes, that’s right- every time you make tea on a gas stove, you’re also making carbon monoxide. Should you avoid ever making tea again? Of course not! CO is a natural byproduct of driving, getting warm, making tea, and on and on- the trick is to make sure it doesn’t get into the air you’re breathing. That’s what the kitchen exhaust fan, the chimney, and the rear exhaust pipe is for. If your kitchen fan is a recirculating type (meaning you can feel the fan blow the air out above the stove), then it’s totally useless for its intended purpose, and sadly you’re not alone. Millions of kitchens don’t have exhaust fans connected to outdoors, because people who build kitchens generally don’t understand carbon monoxide either!
Lastly, let’s look at the carbon monoxide detector that’s hopefully installed somewhere in your home. You trust it- it says “UL-listed” whatever that means, it’s what everyone else seems to be using. Well, as with so many things, it’s important to read the instructions- in this case, you’ll see a warning that basically states: “this detector is designed to protect healthy adults from acute poisoning. It will alarm if the CO level is over 70 parts per million (ppm) for over an hour, and if you have anyone in your home who’s NOT a healthy adult, you should buy a better detector.”
That’s right: children, pregnant women, elderly and ill people all experience the toxic effects of carbon monoxide at levels as low as 9 ppm. Additionally, recently a fourth study was published pointing to a link between traffic pollution and autism (Epidemiology, October 2014). But don’t panic, there’s a solution!
The instructions in your CO detector also state that you should have your furnace and water heater (as long as they’re not electric) tested and maintained annually- get a BPI or RESNET-certified professional to run standard diagnostics on the CO level created by your appliances, and make sure they’re all being successfully evacuated outdoors. Also, have a blower door and zonal pressure test run to ensure that your attached garage doesn’t have a significant air connection to the house- a tragic flaw in most homes that becomes obvious when the car is accidentally left running inside. For a list of professionals in the Midwest, visit: http://ilenergyraters.org
And protection of children, pregnant women, elderly or ill individuals is simple with a Low-Level CO Detector (such as the Defender and a growing number of other brands) that’s NOT UL-listed. These alarms will sound immediately in response to small amounts of carbon monoxide. If your alarm sounds, make sure to first have a whole-home professional run tests on the dynamics of your home. Don’t immediately replace your furnace- it might be caused instead by any number of other factors, which home performance diagnostics can pinpoint and help you fix for good. You might not “get the flu” for years!