They call it the silent killer, and sadly, carbon monoxide’s nickname is well-deserved, considering it’s a flavourless, colourless, odourless gas that is impossible for any of our sense to detect. According to the Canada Safety Council, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of fatal poisonings in North America. One potential source of carbon monoxide is the furnace in your home — yet another reason why your annual furnace inspection is so crucial.
One frightening example of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning comes from one of our clients, who had a close call at his cabin earlier this year. He was just leaving the cabin to make the half-hour drive home, and called his wife to say he was on his way. When nearly an hour had passed and he still hadn’t arrived home, she called him back to check in. He was confused – he said that only five minutes had passed since he last spoke with her and that he’d be leaving soon. She told him to get out of the house immediately.
This fellow was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, but fortunately he got out soon enough that he didn’t lose consciousness. If his wife hadn’t called when she did, he likely would have passed out and the gas would have continued to poison him to the point of death.
When we arrived to inspect the furnace, we found that the heat exchanger was cracked. This is an issue we see at least once a month in our regular furnace inspections — the heat exchanger on the furnace is cracked or plugged causing carbon monoxide to be blown through the ducts into the house, instead of being vented outside.
When this happens, we can replace the heat exchanger, if the furnace is still under warranty. If it is not, the more economical route is for us to replace the whole furnace given the cost of parts and labour.
Another furnace issue which will cause carbon monoxide to leak into the home is plugged or damaged venting. In this scenario, carbon monoxide can’t exit the house.
The best way to keep yourself and your family safe is to have your furnace checked on a yearly basis. A qualified furnace technician can fully inspect your furnace and confirm that everything is safe and in good working order. We also check the home fully with a carbon monoxide detector after running the furnace for ten minutes. We’re looking for a level of zero or one; any higher and there is cause for concern.
We recommend using a carbon monoxide detector in your home as it offers great peace of mind. Ensure the detector is situated near the ground, as carbon monoxide is heavier than air and therefore sits within approximately 1-2 feet of the ground. The gas may gather in the basement, most commonly in the mechanical room where the water heater and furnace are.
Do not wait until there is a problem — protect your family with regular maintenance and carbon monoxide detectors.