The Heating Season Begins…

As autumn progresses, daily temperatures begin to drop.  And so the heating season begins.  It’s that time of year when particular attention should be paid to making sure that your furnace is in good operating condition.  This means that the blower motor and burners should be thoroughly cleaned, old filters should be replaced, and the cyclic operation tested to make sure that everything works properly.  The cyclic operation is tested simply by turning up your thermostat to a temperature above the ambient where the burners should ignite and the blower motor should begin circulating air.  When the thermostat is turned down to a temperature below the ambient, the burners should turn off and the blower motor should also stop after a few minutes.  If you furnace is in a closet, make sure that anything stored in the closet that is combustible is removed and stored elsewhere or discarded.  If you will be using a gas logs unit, be sure that the burner and logs are free from dust and lint before using.  In addition, be sure that the unit is properly ventilated, your chimney damper is open or you have a window open to draw in air with a non-vented appliance.  Gas ranges are NOT intended to be used as heating appliances – please do not light all burners and keep it going indefinitely.  Carbon Monoxide can fill an enclosed room and become deadly.  Electric furnaces do not have this problem because they are not gas burning appliances.  However, heat can eventually cause wiring insulation to become brittle and short circuits can occur, leading to fires in homes and businesses.  When the heating demand is increased on boiler applications, pumps should be checked to make that water flow is not restricted and that all safety devices are operational.  Similarly, in geothermal applications water flow is critical in heat transfer between the heat source and the heat sink.  It is imperative that all piping, pumps and controls be inspected to assure proper operation and the prevention of loss due to fire.  Lastly, if you don’t know how to service your heating equipment, call a qualified service company!

Advertisements

Fires and Appliance Safety

The weather has definitely gotten colder and heating systems are being put to the test. There are different kinds of systems; electric resistance, gas-fired forced air, hot water, and steam to name a few.  Regardless of the type of system, the potential for accidental fire is part of all heating systems.   During this time of year, it not uncommon for problems to develop which, when left unattended, can result in significant damage to homes and businesses.  For example, furnaces, both gas and electric, should be cleaned at least once per year; at the beginning of the heating season.  Some people think that just because they change their air filters every once-in-awhile maintenance is complete.  NOT SO!  Depending on the efficiency of the filter in use, some dust particles will pass through the filter media and accumulate on blower blades, motors, and heat exchanger surfaces.  The burning smell often detected when the furnace is first started is the result of dust accumulation.  If the furnace is never cleaned, dust accumulation can ignite and spread outside of ductwork.  Similarly, if the controls area is never cleaned, burners can become clogged resulting in poor combustion and sometimes, delayed ignition.  Delayed ignition of gas/air mixtures can become explosive and when ignited, can release a tremendous amount of heat with deadly force.  Poor combustion can also produce carbon monoxide which when inhaled can be deadly, especially to elderly people and young children with respiratory problems.  Similarly, electric heating systems such as heat pumps should be checked for proper operation as well as components that are in good working condition.  One of the biggest problems that should be guarded against is the wiring insulation that becomes brittle with age and cracks.  Exposure of conductors can result in short circuiting leading to a fire which can then spread to the structure.  Just because a circuit is protected with a circuit breaker doesn’t mean that a fire can never develop.  Circuit breakers are current limiting devices NOT thermal limiting devices.  Heat exchange coils, motor, fans, and blowers in heat pumps should also be kept clean.  Heat pumps come in different configurations such as air to air, air to water, and air to ground.  In the last two configurations, a fluid such as water or glycol is circulated to transfer heat to or from the heat pump.  In order to do so, a pump is used to circulate the fluid and must also be serviced at certain times.  Failure to do so can result in pump motor burnouts that could result in fire.  Remember, the pump and its motor are usually two separate components unless intentionally manufactured as a single unit.  Lastly, there is not much that can be done with hot and steam boilers except to make sure that the wiring is in good condition, stack temperature is not excessive, and piping is also in good condition.  Also, remember that piping can also be a source of ignition.  Hot piping can ignite combustibles if contact is maintained long enough.  Maintenance is the key to preventing fires in heating equipment.

It’s Wintertime!!!

 

Now that Christmas is over and the unusually warm weather sweeping the country is gone, it is time to take some precautions against the effects of cold weather.  Actually, it’s past time.  As silly as it sounds, having your furnace or chimney checked and prepared for winter is something that should have been done in the fall, while the weather was comfortable.  If you’ve procrastinated and put off doing what should have been done months ago, then you might have somewhat of an uphill struggle depending on your part of the country.  In any case, gas and oil furnaces and chimneys should be checked to make sure that carbon monoxide won’t be a problem.  Electric furnaces should also be checked to make sure that all high voltage wiring is in good condition and won’t be a problem later on.  All heating equipment should be cleaned and the air filters replaced at least on a yearly basis.  In addition, gas piping should be inspected for leaks.  Fires and explosions from leaking gas lines seem to be making headlines more often these days.  If you smell gas and know where to turn the main gas valve off – DO IT; then call the gas utility company and report the problem.  Otherwise get out of your building, get a safe distance away, such as across the street or further if need be; call the gas utility and report a problem.  Lastly, don’t hesitate to call 911 and request fire department assistance.  Remember, it’s better to have the fire department on the scene and prepared for an emergency if nothing happens rather than not have emergency assistance if a fire or explosion occurs.  At this time of year, many people will also use portable kerosene and oil filled electric heaters.  These types of heaters must be used with an abundance of caution.  These heaters are typically used inside homes and small spaces.  These heaters also have strict distance requirements and must be kept away from combustible material.  Moreover, small children must be kept away from these heaters while in operation because of the potential burn hazard.  Furthermore, if heat tapes are in use, be sure they are in good condition and are heating water lines as intended.  Be sure that the tapes or wraps are not in contact with combustible material.  If using pipe insulation, be sure that the insulation covers all exposed piping that is subjected to subfreezing temperatures.  Moreover, if your house is on a crawlspace, don’t forget to close the vents on the exterior sides as leaving them open will cause the interior to lose heat and the HVAC unit to run longer than necessary.

Christmas and Safety

Christmas is fast approaching and so is winter. Although it is cold in many parts of the country not everyone has begun using their heating appliances on a regular basis. Instead, every year people resort to using small free-standing heaters to warm a room. From a fire investigation standpoint, I’ve already encountered two instances where small space heaters have been suspected as being the cause of a fire. Small space heaters are not necessarily defective and inherently dangerous if used properly. If the instructions say to keep the unit a certain distance away from combustible material, then, it is imperative that the minimum distance be maintained. The trouble is that consumers have a tendency to forget about that distance. Even more troubling is the fact that consumers will operate a small heater all night and unattended when that is clearly not the manufacturer’s intention. Remember that warm spot on the corner of the sofa that was created when the heater was turned on? After several hours, that warm spot can turn into a hot spot and then a point of ignition; all because the heater should not have been left on. That scenario prompts a question: can the heater be left on all night if the heater is sufficiently far away from all combustible material? The short answer is no. Anything that could knock the heater over might cause a fire. Most small heaters are equipped with a tip switch that turns the heater off in the event that the unit is tipped over. However, even though the power is off, that doesn’t mean that whatever the heater is resting on won’t ignite because of the residual heat emitted by the heater until it cools. The same rules apply to the use of kerosene heaters. In the case of kerosene heaters however, there is a steady production of carbon monoxide as the kerosene is burned. People with breathing difficulties can be severely affected. If a unit is allowed to burn all night, the risk that occurs is that there will come a point where the kerosene level will be low enough to produce soot instead of heat. So, in either case, whether using an electric or kerosene heater, it is best not leave them on and unattended during the night.

Hopefully, this reminder will help someone avoid a disastrous holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Linked to Keyless Ignition Fobs

It seems that the driving public now has another problem to worry about. You know those cars that don’t have a key anymore and all you have to do is push a button to start the  engines?  Well, those same cars that have keyless ignitions are now being blamed for at least 3 deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning.  If you’ve come across the story, you know that one of the deaths occurred in New York and the other two in Florida.  In each case the  drivers did not shut off their engines after arriving home and parking their cars in their garages. Now, how in the world does this  happen?  Apparently, the keyless ignition (called a fob) is  supposed  to shut  off the engines after a specified time period of inactivity.  But, the engines did not shut down and the homes filled with carbon monoxide killing three people and seriously injuring a fourth person. Should the drivers have been responsible for shutting down their engines? Are these deaths the direct result of negligence on the part of the drivers?  Certainly, drivers are responsible for the operation of their vehicles.  But what happens when that responsibility is taken away from them?  What happens when you’re supposed to rely on some gadget to do what it’s supposed to do in order to keep you safe?  Think about it for a minute.  The auto makers want us to believe that their cars are safe.  Their ads tell us that for the sake of convenience, safety, or whatever reason, we should trust what we are told and place our lives in their hands.  So, how does someone forget to shut down their engine?  Answer: they depend on their keyless fob to do its job.

%d bloggers like this: