Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a killer - plain and simple. The HVACR industry needs to step up its efforts to bring this message to the public in a clear, concise, and convincing manner. It is not just good business - it is a solemn responsibility. Contractors ensure the indoor comfort of their customers, and this means ensuring their safety, too.

I can go on and on about our responsibility as an industry to promote testing of combustion equipment and the importance of proper care and maintenance of said equipment. You know it, and you have told me to keep the message in front of our trade. I am preaching to the choir. You know the importance of testing and maintaining HVACR equipment - but do your customers?

And I'll take that question one step further - do your techs know the importance of testing and maintenance?

It seems like a no-brainer, but it isn't that simple. On a recent service call, Vince DiFilippo, a contractor consultant for The News, was alerted to a potentially lethal CO leak by the alarm on his portable CO monitor. DiFilippo and his techs carry CO monitors at all times, but, sadly, this practice is not universal.

Having a CO monitor in a pocket or attached to a belt should be automatic - like wearing a belt or a pair of suspenders. It is imperative that techs wear CO monitors while servicing equipment, especially in the aftermath of extreme weather conditions.

Improper Venting

One of the problems that can result from adverse weather conditions - such as a heavy snowfall or snowdrifts piled high by wind - is the accumulation of snow or ice around the exhaust vent of a building causing a blockage.

In late January in Plymouth, Mass., a 10-year-old girl died from CO poisoning several days after a fierce snowstorm caused a pile of snow to block the exhaust vent for the furnace in her family home. The local fire chief, licensing authorities, and industry experts were expected to convene to discuss stronger safeguards in home heating systems.

But I don't know how much progress can be made in safeguarding heating systems if there is ignorance on the part of homeowners about the causes and effects of improper venting. Safeguards can be rendered ineffective if the homeowner isn't aware of the importance of cleaning vents, removing obstacles that might cause a blockage, or setting up routine maintenance checks.

Emergency Heat Sources

Blocked vents aren't the only danger homeowners need to be aware of during poor weather conditions. They need to be aware of the dangers of alternative heat sources in the event the home loses electrical power.

Last December in Columbus, Ohio, two people were found dead in their apartment, victims of CO poisoning. The victims had been using a power generator to keep the equipment in their home running. Unfortunately, the buildup of exhaust fumes from the generator elevated the CO levels to 10 times the acceptable level.

In this case, an exterior blockage of the vent didn't cause the problem; improper interior venting was the cause. The advice given by a local Columbus doctor was to place the generator outside and vent the fumes away from the home. That is all well and good, but the advice often falls on deaf ears.

The lessons learned here can be relayed from HVACR contractors to their customers. Educate your customers on the origins and dangers of CO - and don't forget to put a CO monitor in the pocket of each of your techs.

If you really want a reality check, sign up for "carbon monoxide poisoning" alerts with a Web search engine such as Google. You'll see stories about people dying every day.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

Publication date: 02/14/2005