Cold Weather is Here Again!

            Once again, the weather has turned and cooler temperatures are starting to become the norm.  With the arrival of cold weather comes the use of heat producing appliances to keep our homes and businesses warm.  If you haven’t already done so, it is recommended that you engage a reputable heating and air conditioning company to service your furnace or heat pump and make sure that it is working properly before the really cold weather settles in.  For those of you that undertake that job personally, there are a few things that you should bear in mind.  When you take the service access panels off, be prepared to clean the motor and blower thoroughly.  Use a brush (a paint brush works fine) to clean inside the air openings of the motor and blower louvers.  Once you’ve dusted the air handling section, use the blower end of a shop vac (if available) to blow all of the dust out of the air handler.  If you don’t have a shop vac, use a standard vacuum cleaner and suck out as much dust as possible.  Lint and dirt buildup can burn and help to spread a fire, particularly if the furnace is started, allowed to operate, and service ignored for several seasons.  With heat pumps, air has to be able to flow freely through the inside and outside coils and therefore, has to be free of and any trash and debris that might have accumulated during the summer.  As with gas fired units, the air handler also has be cleaned and kept free of dust and lint.  Air filters should be replaced at the beginning of each heating (and cooling) season and inspected at least once per month.  Filters should be replaced when you can’t see through the media.  If you can’t see through the filter media, then air is being restricted enough to affect the heating (and cooling) capacity. 

            Aside from standard heating units, there are those that use kerosene or propane gas heaters.  In addition to a through cleaning, care must be taken to remember that small, fuel burning, space heaters and some gas log appliances are NOT VENTED.  As a result, they will produce CARBON MONOXIDE, a deadly, toxic gas.  Since these appliances are not vented, carbon monoxide is released into the space being heated.  DO NOT go to sleep with one of these types of appliances in operation.  Death from asphyxiation is a likely result.  Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, and vomiting.  Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning should be evacuated to the outdoors as quickly as possible while awaiting ambulance service.  Moreover, if you have to use a portable generator because of a power outage, remember, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is still present if the generator is operating inside the home or garage.  If using a small electric heater, a through cleaning is also required.  The main thing to remember when using space heaters, whether fuel burning or electric, is to keep them far enough away from combustible materials.  The heaters usually come with operating instructions that discuss how far from combustible material the heater can be placed.  However, the operating instructions are usually misplaced, discarded, or lost.  If you can’t remember how far away to place a heater, generally, a three foot distance is usually far enough away to keep most combustible material cool enough to keep it from igniting.  However, if the material feels too warm at a three foot distance, then move the heater back to increase the distance until the material feels cool.  USE COMMON SENSE! 

About R.J. Hill, P.E.
R. J. Hill is the author of two blogs: R.J. Hill Consulting and the Descendants of James Alexander Hill. Mr. Hill is a registered professional (mechanical) engineer with 42 years of experience, 37 years in private practice. Please visit www.rjhill.com to see the kinds of forensic investigations that Mr. Hill performs.

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