When snow falls here in Maine, you probably spend a lot of time shoveling and salting your front walkway so no one in your home trips and falls. But one of the most important things you can do to keep your family safe after a snowfall is actually done on the side of your home: clearing your heating vents.
Whether it uses heating oil or propane gas, your home heating system has an exhaust (or vent) pipe; if you have a newer home, it will also often have an air intake pipe. In an older home, your vent pipe is often up a chimney, where it is far less likely to be blocked by snow or other debris. But in newer houses, a vent or intake pipe for your furnace (or direct vent space heater) will often feed directly through a side exterior wall, where it can easily be blocked by piled or snow.
To understand why this is so dangerous, it’s important to know a few heating system basics.
A furnace or boiler needs three things to work – fuel, a spark, and oxygen; your furnace itself provides the first two. In an older home, a boiler or furnace would often get enough oxygen from its surroundings to keep a furnace ignited – but in newer, more airtight buildings, that oxygen is harder to come by. To keep a flame ignited, oxygen must be drawn in from outside the house; that’s what the air-intake pipe is for.
Once your furnace has enough oxygen, your heating system will ignite, producing two things: heat and carbon monoxide (CO). The heat, of course, is what you want; carbon monoxide is another matter.
In a properly functioning heating system, carbon monoxide (CO) is harmlessly vented from the exhaust pipe. But if that pipe is blocked (by snow, for example), that CO can build up inside your home, eventually causing dangerous or potentially even deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. If the air-intake pipe is blocked, the consequences are less dire, but still problematic: starved of oxygen, your heating system will stall or shut down as a safety measure; in many cases – especially if your equipment is powered by propane – you will need to call a professional to restart your system.
The bottom line: it is critical to keep your air vents clear when your heating equipment is in use. But how do you do it?
Stay safe this winter – contact us any time if you have any questions or concerns about heating system safety in your Maine home!