Montana State University

Precautions ensure your health in homes where natural gas fuels appliances

November 25, 2008 -- By Mike Vogel MSU Extension housing and environmental health specialist

Mike Vogel outside of MSU's Taylor Hall. MSU photo by Stephen Hunts   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Most people's homes have a furnace, water heater, clothes dryer or cook stove that use propane or natural gas for fuel. While these appliances are safe, consumers need to take precautions to assure they remain that way.

Among the most serious results of an improperly maintained appliance is inadequate combustion and carbon monoxide production. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless deadly gas. In very tight homes, carbon monoxide and other combustion gases can actually be drawn back down the chimney and into the house if gas appliances are not installed correctly and routinely maintained. This backflow of gases is referred to as back drafting.

To detect carbon monoxide, install at least two carbon monoxide detectors; one located in the room where gas appliances are located and another near sleeping areas. These devices may be available at your local building supply or hardware store. Carbon monoxide detectors are available that alert occupants by a beep or siren as well as those with a digital read-out. The digital type alerts occupants even at extremely low levels of carbon monoxide build-up.

When it comes to gas appliance repairs, leave the maintenance to professionals. Have your gas and propane equipment annually inspected and maintained, and never use unvented gas or kerosene heaters in a living space.

The same goes for moving gas appliances or pipes. If a combustion appliance and connections are to be relocated or replaced, seek the services of the gas fuel provider or a professional serviceman. Make sure the maintenance includes inspection for blocked or clogged chimney openings, blocked off crawl-space or mobile home opening where fresh air is supplied for the gas appliance, dirty filters, pilot lights and cook-top vents.

Basically, have a professional check all combustion appliances for carbon monoxide build-up and gas leaks.

Although unvented heaters are approved for use in some situations, they must be specifically designed and professionally installed for interior use.

Some of the things you can do for yourself is to monthly clean or change furnace filters, regularly clean oven and range gas orifices, restricted duct work and intake air-flow vents and lint-clogged dryer vents, all of which can alter the performance of gas appliances. Keep combustion appliances clean from lint, dust, oil and grease.

Before reducing household leaks by caulking, weather‐stripping, etc., first correct any problems associated with combustion systems.

For more information, contact heating contractors, Human Resources Development Council, or the local MSU Extension office. MSU Extension has 15 publications pertaining to home energy which can be ordered through your local MSU Extension office or by going to the Extension Web at: For low-income weatherization inquiries, contact HRDC (800) 332-2272.

Contact: Mike Vogel, (406) 994-3451 or