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Inspecting Heating Systems & Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning has been on the rise in recent years, and it stems in large part from the home’s heating system. At first glance, modern heating systems may seem the same as those that have been used safely for years. However, there are some key differences that make today’s homes more susceptible to carbon monoxide buildup. As a home inspector, it is important to understand heating systems, what causes toxic gases to be present in the home, and how to prevent it.

In a nutshell, toxic gases in the home can be attributed to the following common situations:

  • Today’s houses are more air-tight.  Homeowners are aware of the cost of heating drafty homes and take steps to seal up windows, doors and other areas of air-infiltration.  Consequently, there is less fresh air coming into a home and not as many pathways for stale or polluted air to leave it.  In addition, when furnaces and boilers are starved for of the oxygen needed to burn fuels completely, carbon monoxide is produced.
  • Manufacturers have designed new, high technology heating appliances with greater efficiency to help us save money, conserve natural resources and decrease environmental pollution.  However, the new breed of high efficiency gas and oil furnaces- when vented into existing chimney flues- often do not perform at an optimum level.  The difference in performance creates conditions that allow toxic gases to enter living spaces more easily.

The above conditions point out a number of older, ongoing problems that still require detection by a professional home inspector as well as correction in order to prevent toxic gases from filtering into the house.  These include damaged or deteriorating flue liners, soot build-up, debris clogging the passageway, and animal or bird nests obstructing chimney flues. 

What can you tell your home inspection clients about preventing these problems from arising? AHIT recommends that heating systems be tuned-up on an annual basis by a qualified HVAC contractor and that chimneys/flues be evaluated by a Certified Chimney Sweeper to ensure the entire system is operating properly and safely.

Reference material provided by the CSIA.


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