Why it is that building codes require an
exhaust flue on gas hot water heaters yet there are no venting
requirements for the gas range or ovens in the kitchen? Actually, gas
ovens were installed with flues up until the 1950s. Now gas ovens and
ranges are allowed to produce up to 800 ppm carbon monoxide without
flues.2 There are no limits on the carbon monoxide emissions allowed
from gas dryers or gas fireplaces. Depending on what fireplaces are
burning, they may release 1000's of ppm carbon monoxide and other
In a study of 47,000 chemically sensitive patients, the most important
sources of indoor air pollution responsible for generating illness were
the gas stove, the improperly vented water heater, and the furnace.1
Proper ventilation for hot water heaters, furnaces and fireplaces means
replacing them with sealed combustion type units. A
forced-exhaust option is also desired. This has a fan that forces
exhaust to the outdoors. You may not be able to find sealed-combustion
type systems at the local hardware store. They are usually special
order. The gas fireplaces that are made to look like real fire places
appear to be sealed combustion but are not. They have been found to
Placing a special order for a sealed combustion type hot water heater
presents an opportunity to order on-demand type water heaters. They are
common in European countries. They take up less space (literally fit
into a small closet) and heat water instantly. You can take a shower
forever. On demand water heaters can be ordered either gas or electric.
Maintain Gas Stoves
The flame on stove burners should
be blue. Yellow indicates a problem. A persistent yellow-tipped flame
means there is not enough oxygen and will means an increased amount of
carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. A poorly adjusted gas stove can give
off as much as thirty times more carbon monoxide and formaldehyde than a
properly working one. Newer, pilot-less igniter type stoves are
preferred to stoves with pilots that are continuously lit.
Ventilate and Isolate
- Open a window or turn on the kitchen
exhaust hood when cooking with gas.
- When building a new home, design to
isolate gas appliances from the living space or not use gas at all.
The garage is not isolated. Garages are attached to the house. Gas
can be drawn into homes from garages. Put the hot water in a shed
attached to the home.
Carbon Monoxide Detection
Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed near each gas furnace and
in hot water heater closets. Carbon monoxide is just the tip of the ice
burg in term of the toxic ingredients produced by burning gas. Consider
replacing gas appliances with electric ones or using sealed combustion
type appliances and fireplaces regardless of what the carbon monoxide
Check for Gas Leaks
Every six months check for small
gas leaks. Particularly check the red dial that controls the pilot light
on water heaters. Most of these leak, including new ones. If you have a
home-warranty program replacement of leaky valves is often covered.
Usually it is cheaper for the insurance company to give you a new hot
water heater than replace a leaky controller. The plumber should use a
Tiff combustible gas or equivalent type meter. This is more accurate
than using soap suds like plumbers in the old days used to detect gas
leaks. Leaks are most common at pipe fittings where flex hoses connect
gas pipes to appliances. Often you donít need a meter to detect a leak Ė
you can smell it!
Open the Garage Door
Garages used to not be attached
to the home. It must have been common sense that itís not healthy to
attach the garage to the house. Engines in motor vehicles have a
catalytic converter that keeps carbon monoxide emissions under 100 ppm
but in the minute or two it takes warm up while the car is still in the
garage they release 5,000 to 15,000 ppm carbon monoxide. Even starting a
car in a garage and driving it out within one minute can leave dangerous
levels of carbon monoxide behind. This stays in the garage after the car
leaves and the door is closed, after which it gradually migrates into
the house, raising levels in rooms adjacent and above the garage.
If you need to idle the car in the garage, install an exhaust fan in the
garage that is connected to a timer that turns the fan on when the
garage door is opened and turns it off 30 minutes after the garage door
Alternatives to Gas - Replace Gas with
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Clean Air Guide recommends
replacing gas appliances (gas water heaters, furnaces, space heaters and
cook stoves) with electrical appliances.3 According to their
studies, ventilating appliances did not seem to reduce health symptoms.
Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home, reports that many of
her clients who do everything she recommends except remove gas from
their homes have their symptoms from environmental sources remain. But
almost as soon as they turn off gas appliances they start to feel better4.
Dr. Alfred Zamm, author of Why your House May Endanger your Health,
reports that a great many women have become sensitive to the fumes from
gas stoves and when the gas range is replaced with an electric one,
symptoms such as depression often disappear5.
- Cook with portable electrical
units until gas stoves can be replaced with electric.
- Replace gas hot water heaters with
electric. Consider an on-demand type system.
Replacing gas with electric may not seem
ecologically responsible. We have been told that electric power is not
environmentally friendly. Actually, using gas generated electric power
from the utility company may be more environmentally friendly than
burning your own gas. Commercial power generating stations utilize
technology that increases the energy efficiency of electric generation
systems. You can install a timer on an electric hot water heater that
will save you money by having it on only during times of peak usage. You
canít put a timer on a gas heater.
One disadvantage to using electric appliances in place of gas may be
that electric appliances produce an electromagnetic field. Exposure to
high levels of electro-magnetic fields can affect you. However, most
people donít spend a lot of time near hot water heaters and stoves. The
electric field from a gas range is not an issue because ranges use 220 V
wiring. There is a magnetic field in front of an electric range when it
is turned on. But overall, an electric range is probably a lesser health
hazard than breathing gas fumes.
If you have a gas heater built into the wall of the room consider
shutting it off and using a potable, electric space heater. The radiant
style ones that look like old radiant water heaters are very efficient
and comfortable. Because they radiate heat instead of heating the air
they provide better heating and comfort in the room than gas heaters.
Contrary to popular belief, these do not require a great deal of
electrical energy compared to that required by gas heaters. Your
electric bill will probably not be much more than the gas bill and
youíll be more comfortable.