This Week’s Subject: Gas Appliances and Carbon Monoxide

Question: Joe, if natural gas is safe and clean, how do gas appliances cause carbon monoxide?

Answer: When a gas appliance (e.g., furnace, water heater, range) is producing yellow flames, it’s not operating efficiently or not vented properly. When something obstructs the flame or there’s a lack of sufficient oxygen supplied, the result is incomplete combustion. This can produce carbon monoxide.

Examples: In a furnace, when a rust patch has fallen onto a burner head, this causes the flame to impinge on the heat exchanger and burn yellow. All appliance burners should produce blue flames, which indicate adequate combustion air and make-up air for safe, efficient operation.

Sometimes poor venting, not the appliance itself, is the problem. Examples are improper installation, cracked or rusted-through vent pipes, loose bricks blocking a chimney, or a blocked flue pipe due to a bird’s nest. When combustion byproducts cannot vent properly, carbon monoxide spills back into the living space and creates a dangerous situation.

Tip: Ensure that a qualified professional checks all natural gas appliances for proper operation and venting. This includes a thorough visual inspection of the condition of vent piping. A good cleaning and proper burner air adjustment can correct some deficiencies. A carbon monoxide (CO) detector should be installed on every floor of your home for safety. Remember, carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes.


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