Preventing carbon monoxide buildup

Home Work

September 27, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

IT'S A GRIM but regular event of the winter heating season: families endangered, people made ill and even, sometimes, lives lost. It's the result of excess carbon monoxide, which can build up in closed-up houses where the heat comes from a furnace or stove that burns fossil fuel.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless byproduct of burning wood, gas, oil or coal. Normally, it is dispersed by vents through chimneys. However, when the vents get blocked, the gas can back up. It's heavier than air, so it will pool in low places first. But if the problem is not corrected, the gas can pervade a house in levels lethal enough to kill.

It's a problem that's easily prevented, however, with regular maintenance. We've mentioned before how important it is to check out your heating system before the cold season begins to make sure the equipment is working properly.

It's also important to make sure the vents and chimneys are clear.

Among tips for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning are these from the Chimney Safety Institute of America, which represents the venerable profession of chimney sweeping:

Have equipment checked to make sure all connections are tight and all pipes, vents and chimneys are free of obstacles; chimney caps are secure and unobstructed; flues are in good condition and free of debris; that furnaces and stoves are drafting properly.

Check your home for warning signs of carbon monoxide problems such as moisture on windows, high humidity odor, or black streaks on walls and around registers or baseboard radiators.

Install an approved carbon monoxide detector that can warn you if carbon monoxide levels begin to climb.

For copies of brochures on carbon monoxide and chimney safety, call 800-536-0118. For a list of certified chimney sweeps in your area, check out the CSIA Web site at, or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Chimney Safety Institute of America, 8752 Robbins Road, Indianapolis, Ind. 46268.

A woman's touch

Karen Dale Dustman wants to fill in a common gap in the education of women: a lack of knowledge about how to do simple home repairs. Dustman, a lawyer who's also a builder, real estate investor, landlord and free-lance writer, says women "don't lack brainpower or willpower" to do home repairs -- they simply weren't taught these skills when they were younger.

Now with more than 6.5 million households headed by women under 45 (according to Hardware Age), it's more important than ever to gain those skills. Dustman has written "The Woman's Fix-It Book: Incredibly Simple Weekend Projects and Everyday Home Repair" (Chandler House Press, 1998, $14.95) to help women master the art of installing a dimmer switch, fixing a dripping faucet, changing door locks, installing blinds or valences, patching holes in walls and doors and checking for radon, lead paint and water quality, among dozens of other things.

The book includes tips and "cautions and caveats" along with basic information about how things work, why they malfunction and how to fix them.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun. If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at

Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.