Silent but Deadly - Gas Leaks and Carbon Monoxide

Gas leaks and Carbon Monoxide in your home are the two of the most dangerous situations you can have.  In the past month, we found eight gas leaks, and dual water heaters venting CO non-stop into the basement of a home. Sure we find missing insulation too, and showers that leak into the walls and ceiling, but gas and CO are far more ubiquitous.

It sounds bad, but in the past year, finding gas and CO has been a fairly common event.

Increasing energy efficiency, and reducing your carbon foot print are for sure some of the biggest energy issues of our day, but the health and safety aspects of a BPI certified Home Energy Audit, are far more important.

Gas fuel for home heating and cooking is, on balance, pretty safe. You don’t see news of homes exploding every day, but the long term health effects of living with a gas leak can be debilitating. Small gas leaks accumulate over time, and add a significant amount of pollutants to your home that can stress your immune system. A severe leak can reduce the amount of available oxygen resulting in dizziness, fatigue, nausea and headache. Lower concentrations can cause symptoms such as pneumonia, nausea, vomiting, irregular breathing, memory loss, and sinus pain. Some other adverse effects of gas exposure include flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, depression, pain in hands and legs.

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Carbon Monoxide is a lighter-than-air, odorless gas found in combustion fumes. This is the result of burning natural gas, propane, or kerosene to heat your hot water, or for cooking.  One of the most common sources of CO that I have seen is starting a car in an attached garage, even with the door open, another is a malfunctioning gas fireplace. I was told two stories this week about carbon monoxide catastrophe narrowly averted. One person was awaked in the middle of the night by their CO detector, and the other awoke to use the bathroom, to find themselves foggy headed, nauseas and short of breath.  If you don’t have a CO monitor in your home, you need at least two; One within ten feet of your bedrooms, and the other near your furnace and hot water heater. We use a CO monitoring device,the NSI 3000, that alarms at 15 parts per million of CO rather than the industry standard 70 ppm. I prefer to know there is a problem before the stakes are dire. For more about the NSI 3000 see:

Carbon monoxide takes the place of oxygen molecules on your red blood cells, starving you body for oxygen, damaging tissues, and in high concentration can cause death in under a minute. Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, confusion, chest pain and headache. CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because it mimics the symptoms of other illnesses. People with heart or respiratory disease, infants and small children are at particular risk. Every year 400 people die from unintentional CO exposure and over 20,000 visit the emergency room due to CO poisoning. Read more:

To prevent this problem all combustion appliances must be properly vented to the outside with sufficient draft to suck the pollutants up the chimney and out of the house. The Building Performance Institute standards used by BPI certified contractors require the rigorous testing of combustion appliances for just this reason.

I have been in houses that are hundreds of years old, and houses that are years old. I am always amazed at what I find.

Get a Comprehensive Home Energy Assessment from a BPI certified contractor, and learn what you can do to make your home safer, healthier, less expensive to operate and more environmentally responsible. You could help save the planet, but you might just save your life. 

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