Carbon monoxide risk: unblock outside vents after big snowstorm

Feb 23, 2023, 6:00 PM
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A maintenance worker doing a routine check on Jan. 18 spotted the issue with the natural gas furnace emitting high levels of carbon monoxide. The building was quickly evacuated. (screen shot KSL TV)
(screen shot KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Snowdrifts piling up in front of the exterior vents of your house can pose a carbon monoxide-poisoning risk.

Mike Wilson, marketing director at Any Hour Services, explains causes and dangers of carbon monoxide building up in homes and shares possible solutions.

If you have an appliance in your basement, it probably vents low to the ground outside, which is normally not a problem, he said.

“Unless we have a storm like we did yesterday [Wednesday], where it’s lots of snow really quickly, and the wind happens to be blowing in just the right direction to make it actually pile up and cover it [the vent]. Whenever that is happening, you definitely want to be aware of where your appliance vents outside” Wilson said.

High-efficiency equipment, such as furnaces and tankless water heaters, also vent out near the ground. They have a safety mechanism, such as a vacuum switch or an induction fan, and will automatically shut down when not venting, Wilson said.

Carbon-monoxide detector

A major snowstorm is a helpful reminder to have a carbon-monoxide detector installed and also check the batteries in the detector to make sure they’re charged.

“Now if you happen to have a vent up high on the on the roof, and it gets covered and it is feeding a standard water heater, it’s possible that if that gets blocked, you could have CO [carbon monoxide] leaking into the house.

“That just goes back to why it’s so important to make sure that you have some kind of CO detector in the house, whether it’s the kind that tie in with your smoke detectors and can alert the whole home or it’s a plug-in down there in the equipment room to make sure that you’re getting notified whenever there are abnormally high levels of CO in the home,” Wilson said.

Know where your vents are

Wilson encouraged homeowners to walk the exterior of their homes to familiarize themselves with the various vents around the property.

“If you go into your equipment room in the basement, sometimes you’ll see like an 8- to 10-inch pipe bringing fresh air into the house. That’s actually combustion air. Those gas appliances need that combustion air to work properly. And if that is bringing fresh air in low to the ground and you have snow drifts that pile up on it, you’re going to want to clear the snow away from it as well,” Wilson said.

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Carbon monoxide risk: unblock outside vents after big snowstorm