Time for furnace tune-ups is here. Soon you will be taking the first no-heat calls of this heating season. No doubt you will be inspecting equipment for safety concerns that affect the customer. Don’t forget to pay attention to your own personal safety. Gas leaks, leaky vent systems, incorrect combustion, and lack of combustion air can all create immediate hazards to the service tech working on the system. There are pro-active steps you can take to stay safe while working on gas fired equipment.
If there are existing gas leaks it is possible that a combustible atmosphere exists in the space. Ideally, you want to check the air in the space for combustible gas before entering. You can use an electronic combustible gas detector for this. Many techs now use these to check for gas leaks, so you might already have the tool. Just turn it on and let it sample the air in the room as you enter. There are also personal detectors which you can wear to monitor the conditions wherever you are. If you do detect combustible gas in the room, do NOT turn on or off any electrical switches and leave the room. Shut off the gas outside and ventilate the room before continuing. You will have to turn the gas back on to find the leak, but you can ventilate the room and start with a safe atmosphere while you are doing it.
Negative room pressure, incorrect or leaky gas venting, and lack of combustion air can all contribute to a build-up of carbon monoxide in the room. You can’t smell or see carbon monoxide, so it is especially dangerous. Again, you should test the atmosphere in the room. There are electronic detectors made to check for carbon monoxide in the air, and some are made to wear to monitor the air continuously. If the monitor indicates a build-up of CO in the room, you should shut off the gas outside the room and ventilate the room. Once the room is cleared of CO you can start to look for the cause. Before turning the gas back on make sure to check for obvious things such as blocked combustion air intakes or compromised gas vents. After restarting the furnace you should check the flame color and test the flue for proper operation. Also be sure to check the flue gasses for CO.
Gas Ignition Problems
When observing a gas furnace light, you should never place your face directly in front of the furnace. If there is a delayed ignition or flame roll-out you can be inside the fire-ball. I have made that mistake. It was over before I knew what happened. For a second all I could see was yellow because my head was in the fireball that came out of the furnace. Luckily it just singed my eyebrows a bit and gave my face a slight burn similar to a sunburn. Afterwards I worked out what had happened: a leaky gas valve had allowed a build-up of gas prior to turning the furnace on. Had my face been off to the side I would not have been in the flames when they came out.
Don’t leave your personal safety to chance.
Take steps to detect and avoid possible personal safety hazards. It is an inconvenience to the customer to have to call 911.