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The arrival of winter throughout the entire country signals the return of the winter heating season and all of its associated hazards. There are countless thousands of space heating appliances operating to heat our homes and businesses, from old pot bellied wood stoves to the latest high-tech efficiency natural gas fueled furnaces. Regardless of their age and design, all heating appliances that consume a fuel of some sort (wood, pellets, coal, oil, propane or natural gas) can present a carbon monoxide or fire hazard.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas produced by the incomplete burning of any fuel. This gas can be produced if there is not enough ventilation provided to a fuel burning appliance or if the appliance is damaged or not properly maintained. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurs when the CO gas in the air displaces the oxygen in a person's blood stream. CO poisoning can cause effects running from minor headaches and nausea to brain damage and death. The generation of CO gas can be reduced or eliminated by making sure that any fuel burning appliance is properly installed and maintained. An annual check of any major heating appliance, which can usually be scheduled through your fuel burning appliances is properly installed and maintained. An annual check of any major heating appliance, which can usually be scheduled through your fuel supplier, is just good common sense. The installation of an inexpensive CO detector in the area of home's bedrooms can add additional peace of mind.

Fires associated with heating appliances also tend to increase during the winter season. While there is an observed increase in failures on all types of appliances, wood or solid fuel burning heaters and fireplaces make up the majority of residential heating fire causes seen at this time of year. CO poisoning does not typically occur with the use of wood burning appliances as there is usually sufficient smoke discharged along with the CO gas to indicate that there is a problem with the unit.

Maintenance and cleaning of any wood burning appliance/fireplace is critical to continued safe operation of the heating source. As wood is burned, it generates soot, creosote and other combustion by-products that can remain in the appliance's chimney or vent. These materials can build up and cause the breakdown to he chimney material and are prone to igniting themselves and causing destructive chimney fires. The easiest way to avoid these problems is to have any chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year (preferably just before the start of the heating season in September or October). If the appliance is used as the primary source of heating or is used on a regular basis, additional cleaning may be necessary.

Unwanted fires associated with wood burning appliances can also occur as the result of incorrect installation. While there are provincial Codes and industry Standards that mandate how to build a safe appliance and how to install it correctly, many wood burning units are installed in unsafe manners.

Of even greater concern, most of the typical defects in manufacturing or installation may not be readily visible even to experts in the field. Many fire causing failures can also take years to occur after installation of the appliance. A typical example of this is when a fireplace chimney is placed too close to wood members in a house. It may take several heating seasons for the wood to decompose or pyrolyze enough for it to finally ignite.

The best way to minimize any fire hazards associated with fuel burning heating appliances is to make certain that the unit and its chimney/venting are installed in compliance with applicable Codes/Standards and to have the entire system maintained and cleaned on a regular basis. While most fire hazards can not be completely eliminated, the installation of smoke detectors in a house can help reduce the severity and possible implications of a fire if one does unfortunately occur.

Walters Forensic Engineering has extensive investigative and litigation experience in the field of fuel burning appliances and the manners in which they can fail and become hazardous. We can offer a free initial consultation on any fire or CO poisoning loss that you may become involved with.

The information contained in this web site is intended for marketing purposes only. It is not all-inclusive, and does not fully describe the many and varied services that the company provides, nor does it completely describe the education, training, skills, or expertise of our staff.


Walters Forensic Engineering | 277 Wellington Street West, Suite 800 | Toronto, ON M5V 3H2
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