With winter coming on to cool much of North America, it’s worthwhile to address a potential hazard that arises with increased use of fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces and water heaters: carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas produced by the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, oil, and propane in devices including furnaces, water heaters, and stoves. These items are designed to vent the CO to the outside, but harmful interior levels of CO can result from incomplete combustion of fuel, improper installation, or blockages, leaks or cracks in the venting systems. Very high levels of CO can lead to incapacitation or death, with victims sometimes never having been aware they were being poisoned.
Homeowners can take action against potential carbon monoxide poisoning by taking the following steps:
Never use a gas stove or oven to heat the home, even temporarily.
Have all fuel-burning appliances professionally inspected annually, preferably before the start of the cold weather season when heaters and furnaces are first used.
These appliances include gas stoves and ovens, furnaces and heaters, water heaters and gas clothes dryers.
All such devices should be properly installed and vented to the outside.
If repairs are necessary, have them performed by a qualified technician.
Always use the proper fuel specified for the device.
Have flues and chimneys for gas fireplaces inspected regularly for cracks, leaks, and blockages that may allow a buildup of CO to occur.
Do not start a vehicle in a closed garage or idle the engine in the garage even when the garage door is open.
Gasoline-powered generators and charcoal grills must never be used indoors.
Purchase a CO detector (either battery operated, hard wired or plug-in) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper location and installation.
Installation of working CO detectors in residential properties is now required by law in most states.
Learn what to do if the CO alarm activates. If anyone in the home experiences symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, or confusion, everyone should leave immediately and seek medical attention. If no symptoms are felt, open doors and windows immediately and shut off all fuel-burning devices that may be potential sources of CO.
Enjoy the comfort and safety of home this winter and all year long.
Any home can have a radon problem – old or new homes, well-sealed or drafty homes, homes with or without basements. Health Canada estimates that 1 in 14 homes in Canada has an elevated level of radon. Prolonged exposure to unsafe levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer; in fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Lung cancer caused by avoidable radon exposure is preventable, but only if radon issues are detected and mitigated prior to prolonged exposure in homes and buildings. There is real risk in not knowing if a home has a high level of radon. Is it worth not knowing?
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a naturally occurring odourless, colourless, radioactive gas formed by the ongoing decay of uranium in soil, rocks, sediments, and even well or ground water. While radon that escapes into the atmosphere is not harmful, dangerously high concentrations can build up indoors, exposing occupants to possible health risks.
HOW DOES RADON GET INTO A HOME?
Radon can migrate into the home in several ways. Openings or cracks in basement walls, foundations or floors are common avenues. Sumps, basement drains, and spaces between gas or water fittings can also allow radon into the structure. Other entry points can include gaps in suspended floors and cavities within walls.
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY CLIENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES AREN’T AT RISK?
We encourage homeowners to add radon testing to the home inspection process. Your Pillar To Post Home Inspector will set up the monitoring equipment in the home and report on the results. If an elevated level of radon is detected, steps can be taken to reduce the concentration to or below acceptable levels inside virtually any home. This can include a relatively simple setup such as a collection system with a radon vent pipe, which prevents radon from entering the home in the first place. Professional mitigation services can provide solutions for a home’s specific conditions.
Request radon testing when you book your next home inspection with Pillar To Post Home Inspectors.
You can almost hear the hum of furnaces in homes throughout North America cranking up for the colder months ahead. It is especially important to have furnaces inspected and properly maintained to ensure that they run efficiently and safely. Here are some pointers to get the most out of a furnace:
SIMPLE WAYS TO IMPROVE EFFICIENCY
Home heating, especially with a gas furnace and your location, can represent half or more of a typical home’s winter utility bill. Efficient operation can mean lower energy bills and a more comfortable home. Programmable thermostats can be used to automatically turn heat up or down at specified times, so that the temperature is lowered overnight or while no one is at home. The newest types of thermostats can be operated via smartphone or tablet and can even “learn” the preferred temperature for different times of day. Now that’s a “Hot Trend”.
Thermostats should be calibrated occasionally to avoid “off-cycle” heat loss. A properly calibrated thermostat will result in more even heating between the on/off cycles, which is more efficient and more comfortable.
SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE
Safety is also an important factor in furnace operation. Gas furnaces can be a source of dangerous carbon monoxide if there are leaks or cracks that go unnoticed or unrepaired. The furnace flame should be steady and burn blue; if not, this should be addressed immediately. A qualified contractor or inspector can detect these types of problems and recommend needed action.
Simple furnace maintenance includes checking and replacing disposable air filters and cleaning permanent-type filters, as well as keeping dust, hair, and lint away from the burner compartment and air intake. No matter what type it is, a well-maintained furnace will not only last longer, but can save energy, money, and help a home’s overall air quality and comfort.
CONSIDERING A NEW FURNACE?
If a new furnace is necessary, it’s worth it to evaluate the various types of furnaces available and how well they might meet a home’s specific situation. Furnaces are defined as conventional efficiency, mid efficiency, and high efficiency. There are advantages and drawbacks to each type, and some are better suited to older homes, for example. Cost may be a factor in considering various types of systems. However, the ability of most new furnaces to reduce off-cycle heat loss, eliminate the need for an always-on pilot light, etc., make replacing a furnace worth considering if the current system is in bad repair or functioning poorly.
With autumn just around the corner, now is the perfect time for homeowners to get their property in shape and help avoid problems in the months ahead. Here are six key jobs to tackle before cold weather sets in.
Caulk around exterior door and window frames for a tight seal. Look for gaps where pipes or wiring enter the home and caulk those as well. Not only does heat escape from these openings, but water can enter and damage underlying materials, and even cause structural damage.
Check the roof for missing or damaged shingles. Water, wind, ice and snow can cause serious damage to a vulnerable roof, leading to a greater chance of further damage inside the home. Always have a qualified professional inspect and repair the roof, but binoculars can be used to do a preliminary survey from the ground.
Clear gutters of leaves, sticks, and other debris. If the home gets heavy leaf fall, this may need to be done more than once during the season. If the gutters can accommodate them, leaf guards can be real time-savers and prevent clogging. Check the joints between sections of the gutter, as well as between the gutter and downspouts, and make any necessary adjustments or repairs. Make sure downspouts direct water away from the house.
In cold-weather climates, garden hoses should be drained and stored indoors to protect them from the harsh winter elements. Shut off outdoor faucets and make sure exterior pipes are drained of water. Faucets and pipes can easily freeze and burst, causing leaks and increasing the potential for serious water damage.
Have the furnace inspected to ensure that it’s safe and in good working order. Most utility companies will provide basic, no-cost furnace inspections to their customers, but schedule early as there can often be a long waiting list as the weather cools down. Replace disposable furnace air filters or clean the permanent type according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a clean filter not only helps with interior air quality, it will help the furnace run more efficiently, saving money and energy.
A wood-burning fireplace can be a real pleasure on a chilly fall evening. For safety, have the firebox and chimney professionally cleaned before use this season. Creosote, a byproduct of wood burning, can build up to dangerous levels and cause a chimney fire that can spread to the rest of the house.
With these easy steps, your clients will enjoy the comforts of home all season long and know that they’re protecting their investment, too.