Staying safe and warm this winter

HOUGHTON – For quite some time Julie Cischke had been having headaches in her Houghton home and really didn’t think anything about it, but after receiving a postcard in the mail offering a free furnace inspection, she found out carbon monoxide very likely was the cause of her headaches.

Cischke said the inspection of her boiler heating system was done by Blue Terra Energy of Hancock, and the person who did it immediately found the problem.

“The first thing they found was high levels of carbon monoxide,” she said.

The high levels of carbon monoxide from the system were most likely causing her headaches, Cischke said.

Although her house had a carbon monoxide detector, Cischke said she found from the representative of Blue Terra Energy those devices don’t indicate CO levels are rising. The alarm goes off when the levels are dangerous and residents should leave the dwelling.

The inspection of her boiler found, also, it wasn’t burning efficiently, and flames were shooting out of it.

“It was significantly dangerous between the flames and the carbon monoxide,” she said. “They said shut it off.”

Her family left for Florida today, and Cischke said Friday if the problems with the boiler hadn’t been found before they left, the situation could have turned very bad, possibly with the burning down of the house.

David Camps of Blue Terra, which is an energy management services company, said for the Cischkes the problem was found just in time.

“This could have been a sad Christmas story,” he said.

Although the heating season locally started about three months ago, Camps said it would still be a good idea for homeowners who haven’t done so to have an inspection of their heating systems, which create heat through burning combustibles, including boilers, gas furnaces, and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, as well as all gas-powered appliances.

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health website: “Warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but not a fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to coma and in extreme cases death. There were 934 individuals unintentionally poisoned by carbon monoxide in 2011, including 22 who died from the exposure. The three leading causes of exposure were: faulty furnaces or water heaters (23 percent), generators (10.5 percent) and vehicles (10.3 percent).”

Camps said locally, there were recently two incidences of CO poisoning, with one death and five hospitalizations.

“It’s the leading cause of accidental poisoning in the United States,” he said.

Camps said the Cischke boiler heating system was in such bad shape, the boiler, pipes and vents had to be replaced.

A heating system tune-up involves checking efficiency, which includes how well it’s venting waste products from the combustion, which includes CO.

Besides having an inspection of their combustion heating systems, Camps said home owners should put CO detectors on each floor and in the garage.

The average life of a gas boiler is 18 to 20 years, Camps said, but they can last longer.

“They’ll go 40 years if you maintain them,” he said.

Gas furnaces can last long, also, if their filters are changed regularly, Camps said.

Cischke said now that her family knows about possible problems with their boiler heating system, they’ll make certain the system is well-maintained.

“We will be very diligent every year,” she said.