Earlier this month, a tragic story appeared on the news: an Ohio family of four, along with their three dogs, were killed by Carbon Monoxide poisoning:
These deaths were preventable, if only the family had had a carbon monoxide detector installed. According to the police statement, there were no such detectors installed. The source of the colorless, odorless gas was found to be the recently-installed tankless water heater. The water heater was installed by a family member, the police said, and there was no record of a permit for the work.
Here’s Proof that Inspections Save Lives
This is one of the big reasons why we are so insistent on obtaining the proper permits, and having the work inspected for safety. We recently encountered a water heater that had been installed incorrectly, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at it.
Looks like a perfectly normal installation for a natural gas water heater, with the vent connector entering the chimney, where it will go into its own flue to be exhausted out of the top. As I do with all accessible fireplace ash pits, I opened the ash cleanout door (just visible behind the blue cooler) and stuck my camera in to take a picture. And this is what I found.
See the silver pipe (right arrow)? It is supposed to connect to that hole (left arrow) which leads to the chimney flue. Only, there is no connector. The water heater was venting directly into the chimney under the fireplace, where the exhaust fumes (which contain carbon monoxide) could easily find their way through the ash dump door (where the gas line is going) and into the living space. Oh, and the plywood form underneath the hearth was still in place, and you can see that it has blackened areas where it’s been exposed to heat.
In this case, I showed my pictures to the buyer’s agent, and asked that she contact the listing agent to make sure the homeowners knew of the very real danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Knowing that my inspection could have saved a family’s life is one of the biggest rewards I could ever hope for!