Carbon monoxide poisoning is something that very few people worry about, simply because preventing it in your home seems very simple — just make sure that your home heating systems and home cooling systems are working properly, and make sure to install a carbon monoxide detector in addition to a smoke alarm, and you’re all set.
But it’s no coincidence that carbon monoxide poisoning occurs more often during the cold winter months; here’s a short explanation of why that is, and how you, as a homeowner, can make sure that it doesn’t happen in your own house. Considering that more than half of all Americans use natural gas to heat their homes, it’s not surprising that the majority of carbon monoxide poisoning occurs between November and February.
So Here’s The Deal:
The Dangers: Carbon monoxide is a gas that’s odorless, colorless, and tasteless. When you inhale too much of it, your body isn’t able to absorb oxygen — thus making it extremely toxic and dangerous, especially since humans aren’t able to detect it at all.
The Causes: The most common reason that people get carbon monoxide poisoning is that their home heating systems aren’t working properly; usually this means that there’s a leak somewhere or that an essential part is broken. In general, being around any fuel-burning or wood-burning device (like an outdoor space heater, generator, or even a stove) without proper ventilation will increase your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Symptoms: Because the symptoms are so vague and so similar to other illnesses, people often don’t realize that they’re breathing in toxic levels of carbon monoxide — until the symptoms get very serious. They include: dizziness, weakness, a headache, vomiting, blurred vision, and confusion.
Treatment and Prevention: If you suspect that you’re breathing in too much carbon monoxide, the first thing to do is to get into an open space with plenty of fresh air; after that, it’s important to have a medical professional do some tests to see if a) poisoning did occur, and b) if there are any serious side effects to be concerned about.
As far as prevention goes, the best thing to do is to call up your local HVAC repair services and have someone inspect your home heating system regularly — ideally, it’s good to have your system inspected twice a year, before you turn on your heating in the fall and again before you turn on your air conditioning in the summer. Just remember: when it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning, there’s no such thing as being too careful or taking too many preventative measures.
Am I Allergic To My House?
Is your house making you sick?
Asthma and allergies strike 1-out-of-5 Americans, affecting nearly 60-million people. In fact, the EPA estimates that the air in our homes is 2-5x worse than outdoors. Some common indoor air pollutants may include dust mites, pollen, mold, radon, carbon monoxide, excessive carbon dioxide, and other chemical fumes. So the obvious question is, how the heck do these pollutants get into our homes?
The answer is actually really quite simple… ALL houses leak air! The biggest driver of air leaking out of our homes is something called “stack effect”. Stack effect is the phenomenon of hot air rising to the top of our homes, and then leaking out of all the cracks, crevices, and the many holes in a typical ceiling. Although it varies by home-type, literally all homes have leaks associated with the framing, recessed lights, ductwork & duct registers, attic stairs, etc., so there is no shortage of places for air to easily escape.
Similar to “what goes up, must come down” only different, what leaks out at the top must leak in at the bottom. For every cubic foot of air that leaks OUT, a cubic foot must leak IN from outdoors. This is happening in all our homes, 24-hours/day, 7-days/week. This on-going cycle of air leaking OUT and air leaking IN has a tremendous negative impact on the air quality of our homes, and subsequently our health and/or allergies.
All sorts of allergens get a free ride into our homes with each cubic foot of air leaking IN. If that air is leaking into through a nasty basement or crawlspace, before leaking up into our homes and then OUT, it’s also picking up whatever nasty’s are in those spaces too. You know what we’re talking about… those dank, smelly, moldy spaces we try to spend as little time as possible in. Yup, our homes are being polluted by all that “bad” air… dangit!
To add insult to injury, as our home leaks air OUT/IN any of these pollutants have the potential to become more concentrated inside versus outside. Some of them are heavier, and can “fall-out” of the air and land on surfaces like furniture, etc., which is why dust magically reappears after only a day or two after you just dusted. Some of them find their way into our heat-cool systems, either getting trapped by the air filter (good), or stuck in our ducts and/or equipment contaminating all the airflow through our system (bad).
A much more subtle and way less known cause of leakiness, and it’s a real BIGGIE, is something known as “duct imbalance”, which occurs when the blower in our heat or A/C systems creates imbalanced pressures in areas or rooms in our homes, causing them to leak way more than usual. Duct imbalance can be exasperated by unbalanced airflow, certain ductwork configurations (central returns are the worst!), and especially duct air leaks.
Okay, it’s hopeless, right? No, there is actually a lot we can do to improve the air for healthier, more comfortable enjoyment of our homes. Let’s break it down…
- Let’s give our homes a little TLC and seal up the excess air leakage. In this case TLC stands for the priority order to identify & fix air leaks; Top (attic), Lower (basement/crawlspace), the Conditioned areas (living space).
- Identify air leaks starting at the unit itself where the duct pressures are the highest, and work our way out from there tracing and checking each fitting and branch to identify gaps, cracks, seams that need to be sealed.
- We can really give our homes a BIG boost by converting any “atmospheric draft” appliances like furnaces, boiler, or water heaters to “sealed combustion” units, so that all the air for combustion, plus all the exhaust is directly to/from outdoors, instead of from inside our home.
- The cherry-on-top are specialized air quality devices to improve the health of our air once we’ve addressed how it’s primarily getting polluted to begin with:
- Humidifiers to maintain ideal relative humidity levels, especially during the winter season
- Dehumidifiers to maintain optimum relative humidity levels in below grade spaces like basements and crawlspaces, especially in summertime
- Air purifiers to purify the air using similar technology that is used in medical applications, to kill germs
- Hi-efficiency air filters that catch more and smaller particles, keeping them from clogging up our ducts and systems, and becoming breeding grounds for nasty’s
- Programmable thermostats that can circulate air, even when you might not actually need heating or cooling, to keep it fresh, clean, and conditioned
As a country, we spend approximately $14.5 billion on allergies annually. Yup, that’s billion with a “B”! Imagine if there was a way to reduce that number, while at the same time lowering our energy costs too? Guess what, there is… that’s exactly what we’re talking about! When it comes to being allergic to our home, the solution is definitely one of those “2-birds with 1-stone” opportunities.