Dateline: Jan. 5, 2006. Two people were found dead inside their southwest Philadelphia home possibly of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the local police, who added, "It appears the two may have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a heater problem."

It's 2006 yet the refrain remains the same.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning continues to make headlines on a daily basis across the United States. The recent tragedy involving the deaths of West Virginia coal miners from CO poisoning has once again brought this killer to the national spotlight. Let's hope the spotlight doesn't dim anytime soon.

I have always contended that it would take major national catastrophic events involving CO poisoning to wake the general public up to the dangers of CO. It is unfortunate that it takes tragedy to cause reaction. It should be the other way around - tragedy should be avoided by preventive action.


The general public has the ability to effect changes if they are informed. That's why the Internet and the era of rapid news assimilation and broadcast is so important to educating homeowners on the importance of servicing/maintaining heating equipment and keeping them and their venting paths in proper working order.

Homeowners have been injured or killed by CO produced by an appliance that had "allegedly" recently been serviced and cleaned by a technician. The failure of the technician to check for incomplete combustion or venting of the appliance has often been the root cause of such a CO incident.

Very often, such as in the Philadelphia example, police or fire officials are quoted (or misquoted) as saying the CO was caused by a "heater problem." When in fact, the heater may have been operating properly but the flue gases could have been improperly vented, thanks to a blocked chimney or leaky ductwork.

If Mr. or Mrs. Homeowner are aware of these real causes of CO, they may demand the technician check for a blocked chimney or a leaking flue vent. They shouldn't be satisfied that an appliance is operating correctly, they need to see the whole picture - and demand that the technician see the whole picture, too.


Would you prefer to have a crew of reactive technicians or a crew of active ones? Would it be better to get a phone call from a homeowner or worse yet, from a police or fire department person with the news that people have gotten sick in a home where your technician recently inspected and cleaned an appliance, or would you rather have your technicians enter each customer's home with a combustion analyzer and do a thorough check of the entire heating system?

In an age of litigious-crazed consumers, why would any service company open themselves up to possible lawsuits and the resulting bad publicity when something as simple as a hand-held tester can alert the technician to higher-than-acceptable levels of CO? I shake my head in wonder when something so simple and so vital can be so ignored by HVAC contractors.

Today's informed consumers are becoming more aware of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues. I'm not just speaking about mold and dust mites. I'm speaking of high or low humidity, airflow velocity and cubic feet per minute (CFM), and fresh airflow, to name a few topics. CO ranks right up at or near the top of any IAQ issue.

With the heating season upon us, take stock of how your company is educating your technicians. If all of your techs don't test for CO, start now. If your techs don't know how to test for CO, sign them up for training (ask me for resources). And another thing, if your competitors lack the proper training in combustion analysis don't you think it best to leap ahead of them and become the expert in your market?

Test and retest. Keep your customers safe and your reputation intact.

John R. Hall, Business Management Editor: 734-464-1970; 734-786-1390 (fax);

Publication date: 01/16/2006