In this column, staff at the Center for EcoTechnology offer advice on easy ways for people — and businesses — to introduce green changes in their daily lives.
Winter is coming and with it, the heating season. If you burn a fuel to heat your home, it is very important to know if your heating system is working correctly — if not, it could be releasing a harmful gas called carbon monoxide (CO).
Fortunately, there are some tests to determine whether there is a problem with a heating system and some ways to resolve those problems to keep you safe — and warm — all winter long.
Q: What is carbon monoxide, and how does my heating system produce it?
A; Carbon monoxide can be produced in your home if you burn natural gas, propane, oil or other fuels for heat. The typical product of burning natural gas (which is made up of carbon and hydrogen) in the oxygen-rich air is carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). However, if you do not have enough oxygen in the system, CO can be formed. If the CO is properly vented through a flue, it poses no danger to people in your home. However, if it escapes into the living spaces of your home, you could be in real danger.
Q: Why is CO dangerous?
A: CO is poisonous to humans when inhaled. Symptoms may include light-headedness, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms, confusion, vomiting, loss of coordination/consciousness and death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless, so it is easy to not notice you are in trouble until it's too late.
Q: What can I do to prevent the build up of CO in my home?
A; Massachusetts law now requires a CO detector on every floor of a home. These detectors indicate dangerous levels of CO with a loud noise in order to wake anyone sleeping, and will alert you to deadly concentrations of CO in your living space. However, it is possible to detect CO's presence before it reaches such concentrations.
Mass Save® is an initiative sponsored by Massachusetts' gas and electric utilities and energy-efficiency service providers, including the Berkshire Gas Co., Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, Cape Light Compact, Eversource, National Grid, Liberty Utilities and Unitil. As part of a no-cost Mass Save home energy assessment, a Mass Save energy specialist will perform one or more types of combustion safety test.
As you begin heating this season, keep safety in mind. Make sure you have the appropriate number of working carbon monoxide detectors and have a Mass Save home energy assessment. You'll stay healthy, happy and warm throughout the winter!