Install carbon-monoxide detector to be safe

Last week at a New York restaurant, one person died and several where hospitalized due to carbon-monoxide poisoning. This news story made me think about a concern I have had since becoming an energy auditor and home inspector.

Carbon monoxide is produced when a fossil-fueled appliance does not achieve complete combustion. These gases are normally removed by way of a draft exhaust flue. When performing an energy audit, Building Performance Institute protocols require a Combustion Appliance Zone test be conducted. An instrument is used to measure the amount of carbon monoxide present at the start and during the operation of a combustion appliance.

One of these tests, the worst case test, requires all venting systems – such as bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen hood fans and dryers – are turned on. This lowers the pressure in the house, so exhaust can’t as easily go up the flue. Eighty percent of the homes I have tested fail the worst case test.

You may not think this is a big deal since it is not often that someone turns on everything. Even small amounts of carbon monoxide can cause headaches and reduce one’s ability to think.

In the very near future, the Department of Energy will be rolling out the Home Energy Score program, the intent of which is to make people aware and improve the energy usage in their homes – a good thing. But,as we seal and tighten up our homes, toxins such as carbon monoxide and radon – which causes thousands of cancer deaths a year – may increase in home environments.

My concern is that in the New York incident, where carbon-monoxide detectors are only required in buildings where people sleep, combustion appliances operate in offices, schools and museums. I’m sure their regulations will change, but too late for some. Are regulations in conflict? What can the average homeowner do? First and foremost, install a carbon monoxide detector. Have the home tested for radon and have a professional test your combustion appliances.

Thomas Lehnhardt