Furnaces and other heating systems: broken HVAC equipment can create dangerous conditions

Although winter officially began on December 21; temperatures across the country have dipped into the well into the 20s before the winter season began. In some parts of the country like Minneapolis, MN and the Twin Cities area, the temperature has plummeted to 32 degrees below zero. At these low temperatures, all manner of HVAC equipment, including furnaces and boilers, have struggled to keep the interior of the home at a comfortable level.

The young and old are much more susceptible to injury and hypothermia than other people, but with freezing temperatures every person must take precautions. People cannot survive for more than a few minutes when exposed to these harsh temperatures outside. When home heating fails, a home’s interior temperature will begin to drop dramatically, even with the newest, most efficient insulation.

Fortunately, there are HVAC companies that will respond in emergency situations, but in a highly populated area like Minneapolis, there is bound to be a shortage of experienced and qualified service technicians. Even when a heating and air conditioning repair service can respond immediately, depending on the cause of residential heating equipment failure, some parts may not be immediately available.

Due to the risks of dangerously freezing temperatures, all homeowners should have at least two space heaters for backup when an emergency situation arises. There are a variety of space heaters on the market; Oil, propane, natural gas, and electric heaters are all available, with electric heaters being the most common.

There are several safety precautions a homeowner should take before using any space heater, but electric heaters present different potential hazards than gas or oil heaters. Electric heaters reach much higher temperatures and are therefore associated with accidental fires, although all electric heaters currently sold have automatic shutoffs in case they are tipped over. Any piece of equipment that uses natural gas, oil, or kerosene should be vented to the outside for safety, as the use of these types of fuel-powered appliances will generate carbon monoxide.

As of 2004, carbon monoxide poisoning has been attributed to an estimated 15,000 hospital visits and 500 deaths each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not surprisingly, the highest rate of carbon monoxide poisoning is found in the elderly, over 65, and during the month of January.

The above statistics have almost certainly increased as the elderly population increases and winter temperatures are getting colder. The smartest course of action to take is preventative maintenance. It is crucial that the homeowner have the heating system inspected before any serious problems develop. An experienced technician can often uncover a small problem before it escalates into a much larger and more expensive catastrophe. With your furnace, heat pump, or other main heating system in good working order, the need and risk of using a space heater will be much less.

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