Thank you, Maureen, for this opportunity to share my story with your readers and my fellow Ward 1 residents.
Be careful walking, because you might slip. Be careful shoveling, because you may strain your heart and back. These are the winter risks most of us are familiar with. But there are other, deadlier risks that snowy weather presents that we tend to ignore. I know I did. And it almost cost lives.
I saw, and even shared, the alerts going around from the Fire Chief and others about blocked vents. And I saw the horrible news of the young boy who died while trying to warm himself up in the car that he hadn't completely finished digging out of the snow -- the tail pipe exhaust wasn't venting properly and the boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning. But I didn't walk to the side of my house and check my own furnace exhaust until it might have been almost too late.
Do You Know Where Your Furnace and Dryer Vents Are?
We own a condo in a four-unit building. Our unit sits on the top two floors of one half of the building. Like most, our water heater and furnace are in the basement. But because there's a unit in-between us and our heat, getting it up to us, and getting the exhaust out of the house, is challenging.
We installed a new furnace about four years ago -- long enough ago that I don't remember the reason why they moved the exhaust vent from the old chimney to the side of the house (I remember it seemed to be a legitimate reason though), but recent enough that its placement hadn't been tested by big snow piles.
Until this weekend. When I noticed that the furnace was pushing out cold air. When I went downstairs to investigate, I smelled a very small amount of gas -- not enough to cause me to go running, for sure. When I opened the cover, I saw water dripping from the wide PVC pipe that vented the combusted air from the furnace and knew immediately what the problem was. I turned the system off, ran to the side, started digging, and snapped this picture.
We were lucky. My wife noticed the cold air, as did I. The new furnace had a safety system in place that must have cut off the heat when it detected a backup of unvented but combusted gas.
We were about to head out to meet friends for dinner, while my wife's mom was going to stay home to relax. If we had an old furnace, we might all be dead now, or I could have come home to a dead mother-in-law. The possibilities terrify me.
Take a moment to check the side of your house and make sure all of your vents are clear. Don't try to warm up in a running car in a snow storm. Don't use generators or any other combustible heat source inside.
Watching someone slip on ice brings out the worst in us -- I know I've uttered a chuckle once or twice watching someone try to recover. But these dangers are no laughing matter. Please be safe this winter!
- Todd V.