Chronic carbon-monoxide poisoning?

Last Wednesday we had a plumber out to check the gas fixtures at our house. And he immediately condemned our heater…claiming that it was malfunctioning so badly that we were being exposed to noxious gasses and it was probably making us quite sick.

Well, as it turned out, we HAD been sick for the past three weeks, with shocking coughs, breathing issues, headaches yada yada. All five of us had been feeling extremely poorly but didn’t quite know what the issue was. A cold we normally shake off in a few days, a 'flu would have had us much sicker.

The space that the heater was meant to heat was vast…around 15m x 6m, a large open-plan living area. Is it really possible that we could have had symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning given the area the heater covered, or was our plumber just ‘plumbing’ for the opportunity to install a new heater?

For the record, the old heater was disconnected on Friday and a new one was installed today. And today is the first time I have NOT been coughing my guts up!

Poisoned or coincidence?

You need more evidence than the clear improvement in your health, after your own admission everyone in your household was down with unclear symptoms?

But you instead suspect you’re being upsold merchandise? Wow! Tough crowd.

I’d be dancing a jig, and thanking the stars someone came by to sort it out before my family was seriously injured!

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. I’m glad to hear you’re all fine and you got it fixed!

Yah, I’d say that I’d put my money on carbon monoxide poisoning. You’re lucky it was a large area - had it been smaller, some or all of you could be dead.
Most tradies are middlin’ honest, really; they trade on their reputation, and if they get a bad rep, they get fewer jobs.

Please consider a Carbon Monoxide detector, cheap and highly recommended.

Why was the plumber inspecting your heating system?

In Australia, the term “plumbers” covers both the water-pipes-fixing-guys and the HVAC guys. Usually you know which one from context.

Yah, I don’t get it either.

Because plumbers don’t just do water pipes; they do all kinds of pipes, including heating systems. Light too, back when it was gaslight.

In the States, the term “plumber” is used strictly for the water-pipes-fixing-guys - at any rate, I’ve never heard it used any other way there.

This. Absolutely. If you had had one, you could have eliminated several weeks of several people feeling “extremely poor”, and possibly staved off dying at some point. Depending on how severe the CO problem is, the first symptom is sometimes simply waking up dead. Short of that, it can make you so stupid that you don’t know what to do, and then you die. I read a story years ago of a couple that were suffering from acute CO poisoning. The husband said he realized that something was wrong, and they needed to get out of their house, but his brain was so CO-addled that he couldn’t remember how to use a doorknob. They did eventually get out, but not everyone is so fortunate. Seems like every winter there’s a family somewhere in the US that dies after they fire up a portable generator to get through a power outage. Either they put it in their garage (theft of portable generators left outdoors is a problem), or they put it very close to their house and the exhaust infiltrates into the living space. Maybe you’re smart enough not to do that, but maybe your neighbor isn’t, and he ends up wafting his generator exhaust toward your home. Or your gas-fired water heater malfunctions, or the burner on your furnace cracks. No warning unless you have a CO detector.

Note that CO detectors don’t last forever, so don’t be shocked if, some years after being put into service, it starts demanding replacement.

This. I remember seeing reports from my local Fire Brigade. The internal ones, not the press statements. (The Fire Brigade were the ones who went in because they had breathing apparatus.)


You were displaying classic symptoms of CO poisoning. Be thankful you’re alive.

And get a CO monitor.

No, it’s not. When I replaced my electric stove with a gas one, I called a plumber to set up the new gas line.

It sounds quite likely the heater was the problem. A relatively easy way to confirm it would’ve been to have at least a couple family members get blood tested for carboxyhemoglobin levels to confirm CO poisoning. This sort of testing (there is also a noninvasive CO breath test) is routinely done at hospital emergency departments.

Yep. Plumbers put in gas lines as well. I don’t think I’d have one do ductwork, but putting in a new furnace or hot water heater is well within their purview.

You narrowly escaped death or something almost as bad; and yes please do go get a CO detector or several.

Fun fact: up until 1986, Britain still used canaries for CO detection in coal mines.