Causes of Heating System Problems
Why is poisoning from carbon monoxide on the rise? And why does it stem primarily from home heating systems that – at first glance – seem the same as those that have been used safely for years?
- Today's houses are more air-tight. Homeowners are aware of the cost of heating drafty homes and have taken steps to seal up windows, doors and other areas of air infiltration. Consequently, there is less fresh air coming into a home and not as many pathways for stale or polluted air to leave it. And, when furnaces and boilers are starved of the oxygen needed to burn fuels completely, carbon monoxide is produced.
- Manufacturers have designed new, high-technology heating appliances whose greater efficiency helps us save money, conserve natural resources and decrease environmental pollution. However, the new breed of high-efficiency gas and oil furnaces – when hooked up to existing chimney flues – often does not perform at an optimum level. The differences in performance create conditions that allow toxic gases to more easily enter home living spaces.
- Damaged or deteriorating flue liners, soot build-up, debris clogging the passageway, and animal or bird nests obstructing chimney flues. The dangerous fumes that are by-products of combustion range from soot (particulate matter) to nitrogen dioxide (also toxic) to acidic water vapors formed when moisture condenses. None of these pollutants should be allowed to leak from the chimney into your living space. In addition to carrying off toxic gases, chimneys also create the draft (flow of air) that provides the proper air and fuel mixture for efficient operation of the heating appliance – whether a furnace or boiler. Unfortunately, many chimneys in daily use in homes throughout the country either are improperly sized or have conditions that make them unable to perform their intended function efficiently.
Chimney Problems to Avoid:
Fireplaces have distinct burning characteristics and produce different combustion by-products. Systems are subject to weathering, animal invasions, deterioration and rust-out. The accumulation of nest materials and debris require regular care and maintenance.
- Soot Deposits:Soot may build up on the interior wall of the chimney liner and excessive soot causes problems that range from chimney fires, to flue deterioration, to chimney blockages that direct toxic fumes back into the house and cause inefficient furnace operation.
- Corrosion: Some fumes produced are cooler and contain high levels of water vapor, which are more likely to cause condensation. Since these vapors may also contain chlorides picked up from house-supplied combustion air, the flues are subjected to more corrosive conditions than before.
- Deterioration: If the liners of these chimneys are made of terra cotta (fired clay commonly used in chimney construction), bits and pieces of them slowly flake off under corrosive conditions. The combination of water-laden gas vapors available to mix with old soot deposits speeds this process, and debris that can block the chimney builds up at the bottom of the flue. To the extent that problems with either of these heating systems interfere with the flow of toxic gases and particles out of the house, they may also force carbon monoxide, fumes and possibly soot into the living spaces of your home. They may cause a one-time, high-level exposure situation or release smaller amounts more regularly over a longer period.
- Chimney Fires: Chimney fires don’t have to happen. To prevent them make sure your chimney is maintained with no soot buildup; use seasoned woods only (dryness is more important than hard wood versus soft wood considerations; build smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke; never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash or Christmas trees--these can spark a chimney fire; install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures where wood stoves are in use, so you can adjust burning practices as needed. Inspect and clean catalytic combustors on a regular basis, where applicable.
In the United States, numerous agencies and organizations now recognize the importance of annual heating system inspection and maintenance in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Lung Association – are some of the organizations that now encourage the regular maintenance of home heating systems and their chimneys in order to keep "the silent killer" at bay.
An overlooked heating system can produce death and heartbreak. Considering the risks involved when gas or oil systems are neglected - and the benefits that accrue when they are properly maintained - you would do well to have your chimneys checked annually and cleaned or repaired as needed. This can keep illness or death from carbon monoxide poisoning from claiming you or those you love.
To properly clean and care for your chimney, Woodland Direct has an exhaustive array of chimney maintenance products to accommodate all types of chimney situations.