Working on a lot of systems around San Francisco, I'm suprised at how often I see potentially lethal problems in peoples homes. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from Carbon Monoxide poisoning due to improper combustion; malfunctioning, or poorly maintained appliances and blockages in venting such as water heaters and stoves, are some of the more common. When working properly there is very little CO being produced, but an improperly adjusted burner or blocked vent can produce a lethal amount.
How does carbon monoxide react in our bodies? According to Dr. Andrew Skipor*, hemoglobin is a protein containing iron that is located in red blood cells and transports oxygen around the body. Carbon monoxide binds more readily and tightly to hemoglobin than oxygen, which can fatally hinder hemoglobin’s ability to transport oxygen. The tight, preferential binding of carbon monoxide to hemoglobin is what is responsible for asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning. Dr. Andrew Skipor is the head of educational programs at Argonne National Laboratory. Their website can be found at http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov
A few common things that I look for anytime i'm working around gas fed appliances are:
- excessive amounts of soot in the vent pipe. Which means the combustion process is not complete and is producing more CO than it should.
- A flame that is yellow when it should be mostly blue. Though not always accurate it is something to consider.
-I also check to make sure vent pipes are connected securely and that they are free from obstruction.
-I make sure the room the appliance is in, has an adequate continuous supply of fresh air for clean combustion and proper exhausting.
To be sure that you and others are safe, always have a licensed individual or company perform the work for you. Remember to install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your house as well.