Having Safer Holidays

The holidays bring many exciting events and things to look forward to with family and friends. As a Home Inspector, this is also the time of year that certain issues tend to be at there greatest frequency. Weather is getting colder, systems for heating are getting their first use of the season and appliances for cooking are getting the most use of the year. We run across more venting, exhaust and gas leakage issues now than any time of year. There are many aspects of these systems that can result in an issue, but here are a couple tips to improve safety.

Get your heating system and any combustion appliances serviced: We come across improperly vented boilers, furnaces, water heaters, and all other appliances regularly. I find it alarming the frequency of improperly installed equipment. We also find birds’ nests or other obstructions that occur during warmer months and cause improper drafting when the units are first utilized. Prior to use, having the equipment serviced to ensure proper function is a great way to be proactive. You should also have chimney’s and flues swept and inspected annually.

Check your Smokes and Carbon Monoxide detectors: You probably don’t test them enough but consider this the perfect time to evaluate them. You can get information from your town on the requirements for your smoke and CO system. Keep in mind that this is the minimum requirement, and you can consider other appropriate locations and making upgrades like adding hardwired smoke alarms and upgrading sensor type. I would recommend doing some research about what type of smoke alarms are safer. There is some startling information on the difference between photoelectric and Ionization alarms and the deaths related to each type. Both are allowed but the performance is drastically different. Also, you should check batteries, age and anything else that will impact performance.

Know what your venting: With impending snow you should evaluate and take note of anything venting out of your house. Make a checklist of all your appliances that are vented on the interior and note every vent and chimney visible on the exterior. First off, this will help you confirm everything is vented to the outside, secondly you can see if there are any obvious issues with vents like damage or obstructions.  As a rule, every vent should be 12 inches above the expected snowfall height if not more. Keep any low vents clear of snow and check regularly throughout the winter. I recommend evaluating every vent and making sure it is installed per manufacturer’s recommendations and repairing any issues now. Some appliances like gas dryers may not be on your radar for potential safety concerns and these units are frequently improperly installed and blocked by snow.

Trust your senses and investigate any potential issues: Natural gas typically has a chemical called mercaptan to give it a distinctive odor. The smell has a rotten eggs or hydrogen sulfide like odor. A perfectly performing gas appliance exhaust has no smell, however there is a detectable odor for many appliances, and I often experience a headache with most considerable venting issues I come across. One advantage to oil is the exhaust is detectable and you will typically smell the exhaust if an issue is present. If you smell gas or detect a potential combustion issue don’t dismiss it. I run across many gas leaks every year. I have heard many times a homeowner said they noticed an odor, but their heating technician didn’t find an issue. If you think there is a leak or issue, there probably is and you should take immediate action. National grid has information on their website on what to do in the event of a gas leak.

Ventilation cooking areas: If your stove is running all day, ventilate the area. Many homes do not have hood vents, even with gas appliances present. Your gas stove is a combustion appliance and even though it has less exhaust, it still creates a biproduct. Find a way to ensure your lungs are not the only thing venting the appliance.

There are many more components we could talk about as getting the exhaust out of your home is a complex issue. The main goal is to be aware of these potential issues and to be as proactive as possible. Unfortunately, these appliances will result in deaths every year and these problems will always be around. Make sure your home is safe and spend a little extra time getting ready for winter.