By Robert P. Dwyer,
CO Training Authority
It's easy for me to fit into the green current. i am one of the many fortunate thousands of technicians influenced by the continuing, U.S. Department of energy-funded, energy-conservation training and implementation program. this program's mission is to save energy in the homes of low-income, elderly and disabled people and to encompass every county in every state.
This DOE-influenced green army, among many practices, measures for carbon monoxide in every home and building it enters, and usually at each appliance that has the potential to generate CO. these technicians efficiently measure the building's pressures and can determine if common Category I appliances have to compete with air flows and pressures that are moving in the opposite direction of their exhaust. they then may prescribe a remedy to lower levels of CO emissions or suggest replacement with higher efficiency, direct-vented equipment.
Reducing levels of carbon monoxide in combustion equipment of all sizes helps to conserve energy by allowing whatever fuel is used to heat more cleanly and efficiently. Combustion analysis requires technicians to test, measure and monitor emissions.
Carbon monoxide safety practices are intertwined with energy conservation practices. energy conservation is not a fad. energy conservation is good for
the environment, good for everybody everywhere. energy conservation is work. energy conservation is green. there is a lot of green talk and there are many shades of green. Green is doing the right stuff right and requires continuing education.
As strong as all the talk is about green, it may be transparent. you can see through the transparencies when you really scrutinize them and get around all the posturing around shades of green. if you install or service equipment that is rated as "supreme green" and you do not have supporting test data proving its "greenness" when it was manufactured or when it was serviced, it is only transparently green. if you don't test, you don't know!
I've also been fortunate to work in the technical training department of a U.S. manufacturer of combustion and environmental analyzers. Our classes include strategies to maximize fuel savings, as well as safety practices and methods to reduce emissions while using our technology. We interact with HVACr technicians, equipment manufacturers, wholesalers, professional associations and their members, instructors and trainers, fire and emergency responders, civic groups and those who may be classified as "others."
During this interaction with service providers we find many more (but still not many) have begun using electronic test instruments that measure CO in air and flue gases. some use combustion analyzers that also measure oxygen and temperature in flue gases to calculate combustion efficiency and diagnose problems. ironically, it seems the people in the HVAC-related lines of work who are conducting these tests are not always the installing or servicing technicians but perhaps an "other" — a home inspector, gas utility company technician, an indoor air quality inspector or energy auditor.
Those who are performing the tests are finding some disturbing conditions: Most equipment has not been tested when installed or last serviced unless the testing technician's company, such as the gas utility, did it.
It is important to keep in mind that the culture of heating contractors has a long tradition of "eyeballing" flames and listening to the sounds of equipment operation to verify performance. educationally, gas technicians were taught to measure draft with a lit match. there is also a "rule of thumb" that says new equipment doesn't need testing because it is new.
As a result, the words "tune-up," "maintenance" or "warranties" can result in a variety of responses. A warranty does not provide for correct installation. Where is the measurable proof of correctness prescribed if it's not enforced? Who's responsible for approving installations without testing? Perhaps to the consumer it‘s the assumption that the warranty and the inspector's tag mean the equipment must have been installed properly.
All furnaces and boilers, whether fueled by natural gas, propane or fuel oil, have been manufactured to operate within a specific set of measurable parameters. those parameters include measurements of fuel pressure and stack temperature, heat exchanger and vent pressure, ducted air or water delivery temperatures and pressures, electrical component amperages or voltages. those measurements are required to verify performance.
The green activity is completed by proving these systems operate without interfering with or interference from other building components, such as exhaust fans or other combustion appliances, that could adversely affect indoor air quality, safety or efficiency. the installation instructions for all combustion equipment is very specific to fuel pipe sizing, orifice or nozzle sizing, vent connector and chimney sizing, distances from combustibles, combustion air requirements, duct sizing and installations. these criteria are specified in the form of charts, graphs, tables or other specific mechanisms that can be referenced and confirmed, including your local mechanical and fuel gas code.
Is it measurable? Did it get measured? Are we professionals or are we just guessing or letting others guess? Are we doing the right stuff right?
Bob Dwyer is the director of Bacharach Inc.'s Institute of Technical Training and has taught CO and combustion safety to heating technicians in classes approved by the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association. He is co-author of the textbook, "Carbon Monoxide, a Clear and Present Danger." He has chaired the Combustion Safety Training Committee in Montana, and he is the liaison member for Bacharach Inc. with the Green Mechanical Council.