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Inspect Home Furnace System For Hazards, Carbon Monoxide

Release Date: November 14, 1990

Government safety experts are urging homeowners to have central heating systems inspected now to correct any hazards or problems before the brunt of the winter heating season.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a qualified heating contractor should inspect the home heating system annually. Checks should be made of the furnace or boiler, and its electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls and automatic safety switches.

CPSC noted that while chimneys and flues are not normally checked by heating contractors, consumers should ask them to include the venting systems in their inspection. Of concern are possible blockages caused by mortar and other material dislodged from chimney walls, and bird nests and debris which prevent toxic gases from escaping. Chimneys and flues should be clear at all times to allow for the release of toxic flue gases, especially carbon monoxide. The contractor should also check flues and flue connectors for tight, secure fittings, and signs of rust or cracks that could allow toxic gases to enter the home.

Consumers should be alert to carbon monoxide (CO) gas in the home, CPSC added. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. People exposed to harmful levels of the gas often show symptoms similar to flu-like illnesses, including dizziness, fatigue, headaches, irregular breathing and nausea.

CPSC estimates that there were 57 carbon monoxide deaths in 1986 from gas-fired furnaces, and 14 involving oil-fueled furnaces. The agency said inspection of home heating systems is important to reduce the risk of death.

Chimney inspections are especially important where oil or coal heating systems have been converted to gas. After the conversion, accumulated soot and debris in the chimney could block the escape of carbon monoxide fumes and cause the toxic gases to enter the home.

CPSC said a chimney sweep should be summoned to clean the chimney if the fall inspection reveals an accumulation of soot on chimney walls. Chimneys should be checked and cleaned annually until no additional soot is found. Homeowners converting to gas from oil should have the chimney inspected at the time of the conversion, then yearly thereafter.

The CPSC is the Federal agency responsible for product safety, and is issuing this warning as part of its mission to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury and death associated with consumer products. Some 15,000 products fall within the Commission's jurisdiction and each year these products are involved in an estimated 30 million injuries and 22,000 deaths.

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About the U.S. CPSC
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

Federal law prohibits any person from selling products subject to a Commission ordered recall or a voluntary recall undertaken in consultation with the CPSC.

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