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Health Effects of Combustion Products in Your Home

by EPA


In addition to environmental tobacco smoke, other sources of combustion products are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves.  The major pollutants released are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles.  Unvented kerosene heaters may also generate acid aerosols.

Combustion gases and particles also come from chimneys and flues that are improperly installed or maintained and cracked furnace heat exchangers.  Pollutants from fireplaces and woodstoves with no dedicated outdoor air supply can be "back-drafted" from the chimney into the living space, particularly in weatherized homes.



Health Effects of Combustion Products

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body.  At high concentrations can cause a range of symptoms from headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and disorientation, to fatigue in healthy people and episodes of increased chest pain in people with chronic heart disease.  The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning.  Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially sensitive to carbon monoxide exposures.

Nitrogen dioxide is a reddish brown, irritating odor gas that irritates the mucous membranes in the eye, nose, and throat and causes shortness of breath after exposure to high concentrations.  There is evidence that high concentrations or continued exposure to low levels of nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of respiratory infection; there is also evidence from animals studies that repeated exposures to elevated nitrogen dioxide levels may lead, or contribute, to the development of lung disease such as emphysema.  People at particular risk from exposure to nitrogen dioxide include children and individuals with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Particles, released when fuels are incompletely burned, can lodge in the lungs and irritate or damage lung tissue.  A number of pollutants, including radon and benzo(a)pyrene, both of which can cause cancer, attach to small particles that are inhaled and then carried deep into the lung.

 

Basic Information on Pollutants and Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

 

 

Reducing Exposure to Combustion Products in Homes

  • Take special precautions when operating fuel-burning unvented space heaters.

    Consider potential effects of indoor air pollution if you use an unvented kerosene or gas space heater.  Follow the manufacturer's directions, especially instructions on the proper fuel and keeping the heater properly adjusted.  A persistent yellow-tipped flame is generally an indication of maladjustment and increased pollutant emissions.  While a space heater is in use, open a door from the room where the heater is located to the rest of the house and open a window slightly.
     
  • Install and use exhaust fans over gas cooking stoves and ranges and keep the burners properly adjusted.

    Using a stove hood with a fan vented to the outdoors greatly reduces exposure to pollutants during cooking.  Improper adjustment, often indicated by a persistent yellow-tipped flame, causes increased pollutant emissions.  Ask your gas company to adjust the burner so that the flame tip is blue.  If you purchase a new gas stove or range, consider buying one with pilot less ignition because it does not have a pilot light that burns continuously.  Never use a gas stove to heat your home.  Always make certain the flue in your gas fireplace is open when the fireplace is in use.
     
  • Keep woodstove emissions to a minimum.  Choose properly sized new stoves that are certified as meeting EPA emission standards.

    Make certain that doors in old woodstoves are tight-fitting.  Use aged or cured (dried) wood only and follow the manufacturer's directions for starting, stoking, and putting out the fire in woodstoves.  Chemicals are used to pressure-treat wood; such wood should never be burned indoors.  (Because some old gaskets in woodstove doors contain asbestos, when replacing gaskets refer to the instructions in the CPSC, ALA and EPA booklet, Asbestos in Your Home - www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/ashome.html
    , to avoid creating an Asbestos problem.  New gaskets are made of fiberglass.)
     
  • Have central air handling systems, including furnaces, flues, and chimneys, inspected annually and properly repair cracks or damaged parts.

    Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful combustion gases and particles and even fatal concentrations of carbon monoxide.

    Strictly follow all service and maintenance procedures recommended by the manufacturer, including those that tell you how frequently to change the filter.  If manufacturer's instructions are not readily available. change filters once every month or two during periods of use.  Proper maintenance is important even for new furnaces because they can also corrode and leak combustion gases, including carbon monoxide.

 

Fireplace Safety Basics

by Charles Furlough, RISMEDIA




In the winter, there’s nothing as idyllic as sitting by a gently crackling fireplace with a cup of cider or hot cocoa, feeling the warmth from your toes to your soul. The essence of comfort and luxury, a fireplace is the focal point of a home. But, in order to ensure many more years of fireside moments—and to keep something beautiful from becoming potentially dangerous—some regular maintenance is required, as well as a keen eye toward safety.

When most people think of fireplaces, they recall traditional ones, found in older and classic homes. In a traditional fireplace, the fire is encased in a metal firebox lined with special firebrick. Smoke moves up a flue, which is typically a tile or metal liner inside a masonry chimney. A flue damper keeps air from escaping when the fireplace isn’t being used; and the smoke shelf, behind the damper, stops outside air from coming in and pushing harmful smoke into the living area.

Besides traditional fireplaces, though, there are plenty of other types. A heat-circulating fireplace produces some radiant heat, but mainly warms the air that circulates around the firebox; some have a fan that increases the air flow. A gas fireplace is mostly decorative and takes gas logs. By contrast, direct-vent fireplaces are like a wood-burning heat circulator—cool air enters at the bottom, is warmed, and rises out the vent at the top; the CO is expelled out the rear, so there is no need for a chimney. Finally, if you have a modern home or apartment, there’s a good chance you’ll have a modern wood stove—they’re desirable because they’re more efficient that a heat-circulating fireplace.

No matter what type of fireplace you have, maintenance is key to safety. First, before the winter, it’s essential to call in a professional to clean the chimney. Creosote can build up in the chimney and start fires. Typically, as soon as the creosote in the chimney is 1/8-inch thick, that’s an automatic sign to call in a professional who will also check the firebox and masonry and fill in potentially dangerous cracks.

Another important safety note: Chimneys must be lined with metal, or the appropriate tile. Older homes (especially those built before 1950) are typically not. If you have just moved to your home, this is something that a certified home inspector should have found during an inspection; but, if you’re not sure, call in a reputable, professional home inspector to assess the safety of the chimney. The inspector will give input on required repairs you need to have done.

Beyond professional maintenance, it’s essential for the homeowner to take safety precautions too. Here are some of the most important:

-Never burn pine or soft wood; it generally causes extremely fast creosote buildup.

-If you have a wood stove, make sure ashes don’t build up too much. One or two inches of ash is optimal; more than that, and you should remove some.

-Never burn pressure-treated or painted wood; it can cause noxious fumes.

-Never burn any kind of trash—paper, Christmas trees, anything at all—in a wood-burning fireplace. Only use logs made for wood-burning fireplaces.

-Never burn charcoal in a wood-burning fireplace.

-Even though it’s tempting to have as big a fire as possible, never overload a fireplace or wood stove; it can cause restricted air flow and dangerously high levels of combustion.

-Use logs specifically designated for your type of fireplace. If the label on the log’s packaging doesn’t detail this clear enough (which it should), ask a representative at the store you’re buying it from.

-If you have a direct-vent fireplace, make sure that it’s underwritten by Underwriters’ Laboratories (the “UL” symbol will be prominently listed on the packaging) or by the American Gas Association (AGA).

-Play it safe. If anything looks or smells out of the ordinary while you’re operating your fireplace, call a professional for servicing.

How to Prepare Your Home for Fire Safety

by RISMEDIA

Many people think a fire won't happen to them. But what happens if it does? And what if there are children in the home? Will they know how to react to the sound of a smoke alarm?

"Tragically, about 436 children ages 14 and under die each year nationally in residential fires, said Allyson Fulton of Safe Kids Pennsylvania. "A properly functioning smoke alarm will cut the risk of dying in a residential fire by nearly 50 percent. Yet, smoke alarms are either not working or present in approximately 75 percent of the homes where a child has died in a residential fire."

Safe Kids Pennsylvania offers these "Tips for Parents" to prepare their home and their children in case of a residential fire.


The Right Way to Use Smoke Alarms

* Install smoke alarms in your home on every level and near each sleeping area or bedroom. Test them once a month, replace the batteries at least once a year and install new alarms every ten years. (Ten-year lithium alarms do not require battery changes each year.)

* Familiarize your child with the sound of your smoke alarm. Plan and practice several escape routes from each room of the home and identify a safe outside meeting place. Practicing an escape plan may help children, who can become frightened and confused, to escape to safety.

* Interconnect the alarms if possible so that when one sounds they all sound. If you cannot hardwire them, you can buy alarms that will broadcast a signal to each other.

* Place smoke alarms on ceilings or high on walls. Smoke rises, so alarms should be placed as high and as close to the middle of the room as possible.

* Do not place the smoke alarm on a wall that faces the outside if you live in a poorly insulated or mobile home. The temperature of the wall may vary depending upon the season and cause the alarm to malfunction.

* Place the alarm away from cooking or furnace fumes, fireplace smoke and dust. This will reduce unwanted alarms. The best location is at least three feet away from forced-air supply registers and not near windows or exterior doors since they can inhibit the alarm's ability to sense smoke.

* For the best protection against different types of fires, consider installing both ionization alarms (better at sensing flaming fires) and photoelectric alarms (better at sensing slow, smoky fires) or dual sensor alarms.

* If someone in your home is hearing-impaired, there are smoke alarms that use strobe lights.


How to Maintain Your Smoke Alarm

Most smoke alarms currently on the market are battery powered. However, 10-year lithium cell-powered smoke alarms are now available, eliminating the need to replace dead or missing batteries. Safe Kids USA offers the following guidelines for the proper maintenance of battery-powered and lithium smoke alarms:

* Test all alarms once a month. Testing is a simple process that can be done several ways. Most models have built-in test buttons that activate the alarm. For those alarms without built-in test buttons, follow the manufacturer's guidelines for testing and maintaining your smoke alarm.

* Vacuum your alarms regularly. Regular cleaning is imperative. Dirt can "confuse" the alarm and lead to false alarms or impair its functioning.

* Replace the batteries at least once a year. Even if your battery-operated alarm has never sounded, it is important to replace the batteries. In most battery-operated models, a "chirping" noise will sound for approximately 30 days when the battery needs replacing, but it is best to replace the batteries annually.

* Replace your smoke alarm, regardless of the type, at least every 10 years. Smoke alarms deteriorate over time, so they need to be replaced.

* If you have a problem with nuisance alarms, there are a few options you can try:

• Vacuum the smoke alarm more often.

• Move the smoke alarm farther away from the nuisance source, which is often cooking fumes.

• Switch to a photoelectric unit or an ionization unit with a hush button.

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Contact Information

Photo of Laurel Sweeney Real Estate
Laurel Sweeney
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nutshell Realty
1209 State Route 213, PO Box 452
High Falls NY 12440
Office: 845-687-2200
Toll Free 877-468-5783
Fax: 845-687-4162

© 2016 BHH Affiliates, LLC. An independently owned and operated franchisee of BHH Affiliates, LLC. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices symbol are registered service marks of HomeServices of America, Inc.®.  Equal Housing Opportunity.