Scary, Real-Life Story Highlights Health & Safety for National Homeownership Month
Today everyone is concerned about home energy efficiency – which is good. People are primarily driven by a desire to lower their outrageous energy bills and/or fix some kind of comfort issue (these are typically interrelated). What many homeowners don’t understand though, is that serious health and safety issues can also be the outcome of a home that is ‘under-performing’ (the term us building performance folks use).
For National Homeownership Month, I want to share a very personal story with you about the truly life and death importance of applying a comprehensive, holistic approach to understanding how our homes work.
On a hot Saturday, I was called to a home for an emergency visit by the owner of a great local HVAC company I frequently work with on projects. His HVAC technicians were dealing with a critical situation that no one could figure out the solution to, and they wanted to see if I could help.
By the time I arrived at the house there were fire trucks and an ambulance parked in front. Not a good sign. Even worse, the family’s six month old baby was on a stretcher in the ambulance receiving emergency oxygen. The parents were frantic.
The HVAC service technician quickly conveyed the basic details: a new furnace had been installed the previous year and it had been functioning perfectly and was currently turned off due to the scorching summertime temperatures. The air conditioner was running and the basement was quite chilly. For no apparent reason, the home’s carbon monoxide detectors went off sounding the alarm that there was a problem. The family fled the house and called the HVAC company demanding immediate service. The service technician carefully reviewed the HVAC system but was perplexed about the build-up of fumes.
As I began diagnosing the home, it was clear to me that the furnace and its installation were not the problem. After some careful analysis, I finally discovered the “perfect storm” of factors that created this household nightmare. The gas water heater and the furnace were linked together through a single vent which is not uncommon. Although, what was uncommon was that the extreme summertime heat outside was forcing the vented fumes from the gas water heater back into the chilly basement.
The drastic difference in temperatures made it impossible for the fumes to vent to the outdoors. This build-up of carbon monoxide in the basement drifted upstairs into the house (CO is lighter than air, so this is why all levels of the home should be protected and why duct work should be sealed, particularly the return). The fumes eventually reached a dangerous level that activated the alarms and sent the family fleeing out the front door.
The good news is that the baby and parents are fine. The other good news is that solution was fairly simple and cost effective. The gas water heater was replaced with an electric water heater.
Temperature differentials between levels of a home (such as this really chilly basement) are a common complaint of clients’ but many don’t realize that temperature differentials can be the manifestation of a potentially serious problem. Truth is, you just don’t know until an assessment is done.
It’s important to be informed about how your house functions. Your home is a major financial investment and should be a source of comfort, happiness and safety. When you’re an informed homeowner, you can make smart decisions about maintenance and improvements, and protect the health of your family.
About Mark Cannella:
Mark Cannella is a Certified Auditor from Building Performance Institute (BPI), HERS, Retrotec, Inc. and the American Lung Association. He is also designated as a Certified Instructor by the State of Ohio Board and Building Standards and is an Energy Star partner. Mark Canella is the founder of Pro Energy Consultants and has been one of the country’s leading authorities on energy audits and building performance for nearly 20 years.