Combustion Safety Tips We All Can Use!

August 10, 2010 at 1:37 am Leave a comment

The Durham Neighborhood Energy Retrofit Program is funding energy-saving retrofits on targeted houses in Durham, and one of the criteria for being accepted into the program is that the home must have no combustion appliances in the living (heated and cooled) space.  What does this mean and why is this a criterion?

A combustion appliance is any appliance that burns fuel to produce heat or energy.  Some of the commonly found combustion appliances in homes are gas stoves and ovens, gas dryers, gas water heaters, gas furnaces, gas logs, wall-mounted gas heaters, propane furnaces, heating oil furnaces, kerosene space heaters, wood stoves or fireplaces, and coal burning stoves.

These are all perfectly safe appliances when used correctly.  But there is a small chance that these can be used incorrectly or can malfunction, leading to release of combustion products such as soot, smoke, carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) among others. Here is a good article on the subject by the experts at Advanced Energy in Raleigh.  Here is another good EPA fact sheet.

As our homes are tightened up to save energy, we need to be more careful about preventing situations where there is any danger.  The city retrofit program chose to retrofit only houses without combustion appliances so that the city would not have to worry about making sure appliances were properly installed and used.

There are things you can do to make sure you are protected from potential combustion safety issues:

  1. Make sure you have at least one CO detector in the hallway outside the bedrooms.  More is better—it is also recommended to have one near any indoor combustion source such as a gas stove or oven, gas dryer, gas furnace, or gas water heater.  If a CO alarm goes off—TRUST IT! Get out of the house and call 911.  You should then have a combustion analysis done on the house—the Building Performance Institute (BPI) certifies analysts in combustion safety testing.
  2. NEVER use kerosene space heaters, ‘ventless’ space heaters, or ‘ventless’ gas logs indoors. They release combustion products directly into the home and can build up over time. (These are often used during power outages—but it is strongly recommend not to do this).
  3. When cooking for extended periods of time with a gas stove or oven, use a fume hood vented to the outside or crack a nearby window.  Note that many fume hoods do not vent to the outside but just blow air up and into the kitchen.  Never use a gas stove or oven to heat a home (sometimes done during power outages).  Never use a gas or charcoal grill to cook indoors.
  4. Use sealed combustion and direct venting/power-assisted venting combustion appliances—most feasible when replacing failing appliances.
  5. Have your furnace serviced annually to look for cracks or malfunctioning parts.
  6. Make sure fireplace flues are properly open when in operation and that the visible combustion products are drafting up chimney.  Remember to close the flue when done to prevent energy loss.

There is no reason to fear having combustion appliances in your home.  Just make sure you are aware of the potential issues and have taken some precautionary action.

Tom

Entry filed under: Neighborhood Energy Retrofit Program (NERP), Neighborhoods.

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