Healthy Indoor Air in Mohawk Homes
What you should know about combustion appliances and indoor air pollution:
Hazards may be associated with almost all types of appliances. Combustion appliances are those which burn fuels for warmth, cooking, or decorative purposes. Typical fuels are gas, both natural and liquefied petroleum (LP), kerosene, oil, coal, and wood. Examples of the appliances are space heaters, ranges, ovens, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers. These appliances are usually safe. However, under certain conditions, these appliances can produce combustion pollutants that can damage your health, or even kill you.
Should I be concerned about indoor air pollution?
Yes. Studies have shown that the air in our homes can be even more polluted than the outdoor air in big cities. Because people spend a lot of time indoors, the quality of the air indoors can affect their health. Infants, young children and the elderly are a group shown to be more susceptible to pollutants. People with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular illness or immune system diseases are also more susceptible than others to pollutants.
Many factors determine whether pollutants in your home will affect your health. They include the presence, use and condition of pollutant sources, the level of pollutants both indoors and out, the amount of ventilation in your home, and your overall health.
Most homes have more than one source of indoor air pollution. For example, pollutants come from tobacco smoke, building materials, decorating products, home furnishings, and activities such as cooking, heating, cooling and cleaning. Living in areas with high outdoor levels of pollutants usually results in high indoor levels. Combustion pollutants are one category of indoor air pollutants.
What are combustion pollutants?
Combustion pollutants are gases or particles that come from burning materials. Some of the common pollutants produced from burning these fuels are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles and sulfur dioxide. Particles can have hazardous chemicals attached to them. Other pollutants that can be produced by some appliances are unburned hydrocarbons and aldehydes.
Combustion always produces water vapor. Water vapor is not usually considered a pollutant, but it can act as one. It can result in high humidity and wet surfaces. These conditions encourage the growth of biological pollutants such as house dust mites, molds and bacteria.
Combustion pollutants found indoors include: outdoor air, tobacco smoke, exhaust from car and lawn mower internal combustion engines, and some hobby activities such as welding, woodburning and soldering. Combustion pollutants can also come from vented or unvented combustion appliances. These appliances include space heaters, gas ranges and ovens, furnaces, gas water heaters, gas clothes dryers, wood or coal-burning stoves and fireplaces. As a group these are called "combustion appliances."
What is a vented appliance? What is an unvented appliance?
Vented appliances are appliances designed to be used with a duct, chimney, pipe, or other device that carry the combustion pollutants outside the home. These appliances can release large amounts of pollutants directly into your home, if a vent is not properly installed, or is blocked or leaking.
Unvented appliances do not vent to the outside, so they release combustion pollutants directly into the home.
Look at the box below for typical appliances problems that cause the release of pollutants in your home. Many of these problems are hard for a homeowner to identify. A professional is needed.
What are the health effects of combustion pollutants?
The health effects of combustion pollutants range from headaches and breathing difficulties to death. The health effects may show up immediately after exposure or occur after being exposed to the pollutants for a long time. The effects depend upon the type and amount of pollutants and the length of time of exposure to them. They also depend upon several factors related to the exposed person. These include the age and any existing health problems. There are still some questions about the level of pollutants or the period of exposure needed to product specific health effects. Further studies to better define the release of pollutants from combustion appliances and their health effects are needed.
The sections below discuss health problems associated with some common combustion pollutants. These pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles and sulfur dioxide. Even if you are healthy, high levels of carbon monoxide can kill you within a short time. The health effects of the other pollutants are generally more subtle and are more likely to affect susceptible people. It is always a good idea to reduce exposure to combustion pollutants by using and maintaining combustion appliances properly.
•Choose vented appliances whenever possible.
•Only buy combustion appliances that have been tested and certified to meet current safety standards.
• All currently manufactured vented gas heaters are required by industry safety standards to have a safety shut-off device.
• Check your local and state building codes and fire ordinances to see if you can use an invented space heater, if you consider purchasing one.
• If you must replace an unvented gas space heater with another, make it a new one.
• Consider buying gas appliances that have electronic ignitions rather than pilot lights.
• Buy appliances that are the correct size for the area you want to heat.
•Talk to your dealer to determine the type and size of appliance you will need.
•All new woodstoves are EPA-certified to limit the amounts of pollutants released into the outdoor air.
•Your should have your appliances professionally installed.
•To reduce indoor air pollution, a good supply of fresh outdoor air is needed. Keep doors open to the rest of the house from the room where you are using an unvented gas space heater or kerosene heater, and crack open a window.
•Use a hood fan, if you are using a range.
•Make sure that your vented appliance has the vent connected and that nothing is blocking it.
•Open the stove's damper when adding wood.
•Read and follow the instructions for all appliances so you understand how they work.
•Always use the correct fuel for the appliance.
•Never use a range, oven or dryer to heat your home.
• Never use an unvented combustion heater overnight or in a room where you are sleeping.
• Never ignore a safety device when it shuts off an appliance. It means that something is wrong.
• Never ignore the smell of fuel.
Inspection and Maintenance
•Have your combustion appliance regularly inspected and maintained to reduce your exposure to pollutants.
•Have chimneys and vents inspected when installing or changing vented heating appliances.
Information reprinted from Combustion Appliances and Indoor Air Pollution, Consumer Product Safety Commission, US EPA, and the American Lung Association.