The most important health risk with your furnace is CO2 poisoning. Because we burn gas for heat, the byproduct is carbon monoxide or CO2. We cannot see or smell this gas, and by breathing in too much of this byproduct, it will attach itself to our red blood cells and not allow our organs (brain, heart, lungs, etc.) to receive enough oxygen. Without oxygen, our organs can be damaged and begin to die. Steps need to be taken prior to turning on the furnace for the cold season.
Each year, your furnace should be checked by a qualified technician. They can check your furnace, making sure it is working properly and all the ducts that would vent out CO2 gas are unobstructed. Also, it is a good idea to have a CO2 detector within your home; one close to the furnace and another one within the living area. These devices are sensitive to and will alarm when they detect dangerous levels of CO2 in the air. These detectors cost about $10/each; worth the money when compared to a human life.
Homes that are warmer can dry out the moist areas of our body, like the nose, mouth and even eyes. You may find yourself drinking more during cold weather to counter act this dryness.
If you must have your home warmer, place a pan of plain water by the heating ducts within the living space. This will add some moisture to the air and relieve the dryness you may feel. Also, you can ask the furnace technician about a humidifier that can be attached to the furnace, or you can buy a free standing one you can have within the living space. These can also assist in keeping moisture in the air of your home. If you do not need to have your home extra warm, turn down the thermostat to a level that is still comfortable.
The next risk in keeping your thermostat warmer is to your wallet! Increasing the temperature within your home will burn more gas, which will cost you more money. If you have a health condition where you are sensitive to cold weather or very young children, then money is no object when it comes to comfort. Other than that, keep the thermostat in a comfortable zone that feels right.
Programmable thermostats can take the guess work out of remembering to turn the thermostat down during the hours you sleep or are away from the home. While you are all snug in your bed, under blankets, you can save some money by turning down the thermostat. Also, when you are away from home, why keep the home fires burning, when no one will be there to enjoy the warmth? A programmable thermostat can be set to turn down the houses' internal temperature while you are away or snug in your bed, and return the temperature to warm and cozy prior to your return or rising.
Have a safe and happy winter season!
– Yvonne Askew, RN
Yvonne Askew is a Registered Nurse and a Corporate Educator for Catholic Health. She has a Master's Degree in Nursing Education. She is a Faith Community Nurse, the 2012-2013 President of the Parish Nurse Ministries of New York, Inc., and the Faith/Health coordinator for the Buffalo District A.M.E. Zion Churches.
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