Within the last 24-hours, the Elgin Fire Department has seen an increase in the number of carbon monoxide incidents and detector activations because of snow accumulation and buildup.
These types of incidents are a common problem when there are high snow drifts that block furnace vents and air intakes in some homes – predominantly homes that have newer high-efficiency furnaces. These systems typically vent through the sill plate of a home, close to ground level through white PVC piping (see photo). Drifting snow has the potential to block these vents, causing the furnace or water heater to stop operating. Some newer high-efficiency furnaces have automatic shut-offs that shut down a furnace when the vents are blocked, but many furnaces don’t. If they fail to shut down, carbon monoxide may back up in a home.
After any snowfall it is important to inspect the area around the furnace and hot water heater vents to ensure that snow and ice are not blocking the safe operation of these fuel-burning devices. Vents and intake pipes should have a 3 foot clear of snow, shrubs or other obstructions. Water heaters and dryer vents should also be cleared of snow to prevent possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
State law requires that all residential occupancies have carbon monoxide detectors installed by the property owner. More information regarding state statute requirements can be found at: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/94/094-0741.htm.
Do not run generators in the home, garage or other enclosed spaces or use natural gas appliances as heating devices as carbon monoxide can rise to dangerous, if not fatal, levels. If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, immediately evacuate to a safe location and call 911. Information regarding carbon monoxide poisoning can be found at the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website at: http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/hb/hbcarbon.htm.
Heavy and drifting snows also have potential to damage gas meters, creating the possibility of natural gas leaks. If your home has an outside natural gas meter, check it routinely for any accumulation of ice or snow (see photo above). A plugged regulator vent on a natural gas meter can lead to a possible buildup of natural gas inside a building and/or prevent the meter from operating properly, stopping the flow of natural gas. Homeowners need to gently remove snow or ice from a natural gas meter and any associated piping. Carefully shovel around a meter and move snow away from it. Avoid using a snow blower near a meter. If you suspect a natural gas leak, leave your home immediately and when you are a safe distance away call 911. Information regarding natural gas safety can be found at Nicor’s website at: http://www.nicor.com/nsr/safetynotice2010.pdf.