LIHEAP Success Story

LIHEAP Success Story

Reported by Brian Lutzow, Field Supervisor of Weatherization Services

Redwood Community Action Agency

Humboldt/Modoc, California

April 2018

Client: Ms. Susan Jones

Rio Dell, CA

On Thursday, April 5, 2018, I arrived at Ms. Jones’ home at about three o’clock in the afternoon to assess her home and zeroed out my Monoxer outside of the house in preparation of performing the combustion appliance safety testing. I noticed that the front door and a few of her windows were open even though it was a cold and rainy day.

The Monoxor is a portable hand-held carbon monoxide (CO) analyzer for use in residential and light commercial applications. It is used to detect and display concentrations of CO gas between 0 and 2,000 ppm. The analyzer is used to test for CO in both ambient room air and in the flue gas stream of natural gas, propane, kerosene and fuel oil fired furnaces, water heaters, and cookstoves. We test the ambient air only for CO in homes heated by wood stoves and pellet stoves.

Despite the open door and windows, I got a carbon monoxide reading of the ambient air inside the house of 6 parts per million (ppm). A normal house should have zero ppm carbon monoxide present. As I walked through the home and entered the laundry room, the reading jumped to 12 ppm for carbon monoxide present in the air.

The water heater was cycling on with the gas actively heating the water inside the tank when I entered the room. I took a reading of the exhaust at the draft hood and it only took a few seconds to max out my Monoxor at 2,000 ppm of carbon monoxide present. I immediately shut off the gas to it and asked the client if she has been feeling sick, tired, or dizzy. She said that had been feeling all of those symptoms. I then asked her to step outside.

I opened all the windows and doors to air out her home and to release the carbon monoxide being emitted by the water heater. I did not want to leave her outside too long because of the stormy weather as she is a senior and has health problems. It took about five minutes to get the ambient air reading for carbon monoxide back to zero ppm. When I had Ms. Jones come back into the house, I told her about the carbon monoxide test results and she told me that in the last year she has been continuously sick. She said that she had a constant headache and always felt sick and extremely tired. She told me that she had been diagnosed with: pneumonia numerous times, the flu, and bronchitis. She said that she had been put on oxygen in addition to having to receive breathing treatments. Ms. Jones also told me that her four years old granddaughter had come to spend the night the previous night and, within two hours, she was feeling very sick. Ms. Jones then called her son and had him come back to take her home.

I called PG&E about the situation and they said they would be right out. I went back to see what could be causing the problem since the water heater looked fairly new and the furnace was located under the house. I found that the combustion air vents on the water heater were plugged up with lint and dust. In addition, the burner was rusted and corroded through in sections and was back drafting because of a lack of sufficient combustion air supply from the vents. PG&E arrived and the gas service person fired the water heater back up and immediately shut it back down after doing her own tests. She agreed with my conclusions and Monoxor readings.  She immediately capped the gas line and red-tagged the appliance as a dangerous appliance that should not be used until repaired or replaced. I called my Executive Director, Val Martinez, to get permission for the sole source the replacement of the water heater because the client was elderly, disabled and regularly took care of her small grandkids in her home. She gave me authorization to call an HVAC contractor and arrange for immediate service.

On the Monday, April 9, 2018, I went back to do a follow-up combustion appliance safety test on the new water heater which passed the tests. The new unit was drafting well and the Monoxor test revealed that the ambient air was at zero for carbon monoxide. The client told me that she went to the doctor that morning and had her blood drawn to check for carbon monoxide poisoning and that it came back positive. She said that according to the nurse, her blood level was 6.5%. A normal adult’s COHb level, for a non-smoker, is <1.5%.

Ms. Jones told me that for the last few days she had been feeling much better, her headaches were gone and that she was not feeling tired anymore. I put my hand up to give her a high five. Instead of high fiving me she took my hand and put it on her cheek and, as her eyes began to tear up, she said, “You’re an angel. You saved my life and I am so thankful for programs like yours.”    

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