Don’t let your heating system kill you!

Boiler flue disconnected from chimney

In light of the recent tragedy in Allentown Pennsylvania (more or less just down the street from my house), I thought it important to remind my readers of the importance of maintaining their heating systems.

Tragic accidents like this don’t have to happen. But every year, people die in explosions caused by gas or propane leaks or are poisoned by carbon monoxide due to improperly functioning heaters. What can you do to minimize the chance of this happening to you?

  • Inspect your system now, checking for any irregularities
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home
  • Have your systems professionally inspected every year
  • If you smell gas, air out your home, evacuate, and call the gas company

Inspect your system

A simple visual inspection will often reveal dangerous problems. Look for anything that doesn’t “look right.” For example, the photo at the top of this page shows the exhaust flue connection to the chimney. Does this look right? This system could easily have been spewing carbon monoxide into the home, making the occupants sick or even killing them. 

Check for any signs of improper installation or operations. Any drips or leaks should be addressed professionally – most homeowners do not have the proper tools or training to safely repair their heating systems. You wouldn’t operate on your child would you? This is no different.

Install carbon monoxide detectors

Any home with combustion devices (gas, propane or oil) should have carbon monoxide detectors on each floor, located as per manufacturers instructions – typically close to the bedrooms. sells a wide variety of detectors, one of them caught my eye because it does more than just sound an alarm – it shows you the CO levels in your home:

Kidde Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display

This is a very reasonably priced unit, well worth it. 

Keep in mind that most CO detectors/alarms only alert you when the CO levels rise high enough to make you sick. Personally, I’d rather be warned before I’m being poisoned! 

Remember – CO detectors, like smoke detectors, have to be replace about every five years. If you’ve got an old unit, throw it away! The detectors deteriorate over time.

If you smell gas, do something about it!

Frankly, I don’t know why anybody would live in a house that smells of a gas leak. The gas company adds an odor to the gas for a reason, and if it gets strong enough to smell, it’s worth fixing.

Do not listen to a technician who says “it’s nothing to worry about.” This simply means they don’t have the proper tools to find and repair the gas leak. Find another technician, qualified to diagnose and repair leaks, and don’t accept no for an answer.

A professional will have an electronic device that looks like this 

It is capable of detecting minute quantities of gas. They should trace every inch of your gas pipes, especially around connections, until they find the leaks. Once they find the location of the leak, they will spray a soapy solution on the area to verify the leak (leaks will make soap bubbles). After that, they’ll have to disassemble the pipes and redo the connections properly.

Have your systems inspected yearly

Finally, make sure to have your systems inspected every year. This is your family’s life that’s at stake. Hire a reputable heating company and have them do a full test and cleaning on your system every year. It’s not worth waiting until there’s a problem, because by that point, your system could have killed you. A little preventative maintenance goes a long way.

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