Can something besides CO2 cause illness?

alisandeNovember 30, 2007

I don't know whether I need a doctor or a home inspector. This week I started waking up feeling headachy, blurry-headed, brain-fogged and very tired. Kind of like a hangover, except I haven't been drinking. It started with a bad headache on Monday. I haven't had a significant headache in years. On Tuesday I was out of the house all day and felt fine. Got home early evening, and within an hour or so I had a headache and felt lousy. By the time I went to sleep that night, the headache was gone. But it woke me up around 4:00 a.m. and I felt bad all day Wednesday.

Yesterday and today the headache wasn't as bad....just low level, like my energy. Everything seems like such an effort. But when I'm outside walking the dogs I feel better.

Hmmm....maybe I should add "psychiatrist" to "doctor" and "home inspector."

I have a CO2 monitor, and it reads zero. The test button seems to work. Could anything else from the oil burner cause my symptoms? Thanks!

Susan

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
baymee

With oil, you get a strong warning of a blocked chimney, furnace, before you are overcome with CO. The smell will drive you out of your house.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 5:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

You don't have a CO2 detector, as that is carbon dioxide. You have a CO detector, carbon monoxide, but that's a technicality.

Now, let's hear more about your symptoms/problem. It doesn't sound all that unfamiliar. I want to get some information from you, rather than putting things into your head.

Tell us about our furnace. How old is it? Hot air, water? Also, a bit about the house.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 5:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alisande

Monoxide, yes! My late DH, a chemical engineer, wouldn't have let me make that mistake. :-)

The furnace is hot air, and it was new in 2003. The house is old--maybe 1850. Two-story farmhouse. Most of the walls are the original double-plank (hemlock) construction. No heating ducts connected upstairs, but my bedroom gets some heat through a vent in the floor.

Not sure what I can add to my symptoms other than I really feel bleary. Yawning a lot. Can't resist a bed, if only for a few minutes. Hard to think clearly. I'm a writer, but I don't dare work on anything creative in this shape. It feels really abnormal. Oh, yeah--my digestion is weird, but that goes back to the summer. I did see a doctor for that, and he thought I might have a parasite but tests didn't confirm it.

I have to go out tonight. I'll be interested to see how I feel in someone else's house.

Thanks!

Susan

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 5:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

Well, the situation is very much like mine ... was.

I've got an old (circa 1884) double plank house. I've got oil hot air heat. I believe I can say, "that I was feeling much like you describe".

In an effort to diagnose the situation, I had the furnace checked. While I didn't smell anything, as baymee suggests will happen, I wondered. I had done quite a few things to change the house, such as adding foam insulation to the field stone basement walls, adding a wood burner to the basement area of a new addition, and some other things, which now escape me. Plus, I was spending quite a lot of time in the basement working on projects.

My HVAC guy suspected a cracked heat exchanger and suggested putting a smoke bomb in the furnace fire box, which showed nothing at all. However, when we started the hot air blower, air came out of the firebox inspection door. I pulled the furnace out, as it was over 20 years old. After I got it out, the crack in the heat exchanger could be seen.

I never really smelled any oil smell, but the air may have seemed a "little sick". I did have a CO detector, which showed nothing. I'm not sure if I was getting CO or burning the house air and evacuating it up the chimney.

One of the strangest things was, when I took the furnace to the scarp yard, there was another, exactly like it, laying there, with an almost identical crack.

Bottom line: I would have the furnace checked.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 6:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

I just noticed, "my digestion is weird, but that goes back to the summer ... parasites". I'd like to discuss this further with you. Perhaps, through personal email. My address can be found in my profile.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 6:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mr_havac

"My HVAC guy suspected a cracked heat exchanger and suggested putting a smoke bomb in the furnace fire box, which showed nothing at all. However, when we started the hot air blower, air came out of the firebox inspection door."
I don't think your HVAC guy performed the smoke test properly. Either that or you just didn't describe the details of the test. When I do s smoke test I let the furnace run for at least 15 minutes before I shut it down and drop in the smoke bomb. The furnace could have a hair line crack that hardly lets any combustion gasses into the living space UNTIL the furnace has been running for a while. Once the metal heat exchanger gets hot it expands a little so in effect that little hair line crack is now a decent size gap which can close off again when it cools down. I've found several cracked heat exchangers in my time by performing a test this way when other people missed it because they did a cold heat exchanger test.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 10:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

We did the test in the spring or summer, as I recall. He did do it on a cold furnace, however it seemed to present itself quickly, while running the blower. ??

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 10:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
fsq4cw

I would probably put my money on your symptoms coming from a malfunctioning heating system but have you renovated recently or brought anything into your home that might be out-gassing and causing a reaction due to a chemical sensitivity? Have you had any water damage that may have caused mould or mildew? Has your home been tested for Radon gas?

This does sound serious. I do encourage you to get to the bottom of it  quickly! You could ask your local fire department to do a check of your air quality. They wonÂt check for everything, but itÂs a start and should be at no cost to you.

SR

Here is a link that might be useful: CMHC -Indoor Air Quality

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 12:29AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alisande

SR, when I read your post I couldn't think of anything I've brought into the house recently. But I missed a rather glaring suspect.

I felt okay at my friend's house last evening. Came home, had a good night's sleep, and woke up feeling pretty good. My server was down, so I spent some time on the phone about that. Later I started feeling lousy again. In between the phone calls and feeling bad I did two things: I ate breakfast (I still haven't ruled out my stomach as the culprit) and I turned on the new heater under my desk.

I strongly suspect the heater. It's a Holmes ceramic 1Touch heater (pic below), and I bought it a few weeks ago to keep my feet and legs warm under my desk. But I haven't been all that happy with it because it blows air up into my face. I don't leave it on all the time, but I have been leaving it plugged in. The red light is on all the time. When the heater's running it definitely has a faint odor. Waddya think?

Tmajor, I emailed you. With any luck, it might actually arrive in your inbox. :-)

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 12:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alisande

I meant to add that my oil burner had its yearly inspection in October.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 12:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tinmantu

Any ozone generators in the house?...Some people have those around here to take care of odors. I can pick up the smell of one up as soon as I walk in the door. Not good in a tight house.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 4:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
don21

If she has an 1850's house which could be described as 'tight' then it's a true rarity - Most old houses leak air like a sieve . . . . even after you spend many hundreds of dollars trying to make them not

Don

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 11:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

My old 1884, double plank house, seemed to be tighter than a drum! I've laid in bed, on the second floor, with the window open, and as soon as the oil burner kicked on, in the basement, the window curtain would suck in ... instantaneously! Plus, there was a basement drain, open to daylight. ??

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 11:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
pjb999

If there's a register under the curtain, the movement of the curtain is probably just due to that - if the furnace is drawing air in round the window when it kicks in, then maybe there is not enough fresh air coming into the house, there should be a mandatory vent pulling air in from outside for the combustion.

As for the electric heater, it's possible there's a coating or some such doing that to you, the other possible issue I can think of is oxides of nitrogen which are byproducts of incomplete combustion, although I've only ever encountered it with unflued gas heaters in warmer climates. Not sure if you would find the issue with an oil furnace.

But, like I say, maybe not enough fresh air, or, try going without the electric heater for a bit.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 1:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

"If there's a register under the curtain, the movement of the curtain is probably just due to that - if the furnace is drawing air in round the window when it kicks in, then maybe there is not enough fresh air coming into the house, there should be a mandatory vent pulling air in from outside for the combustion."

In my case, regarding the curtain, there is no vent near the window or even on the second floor. The curtain sucked in as soon as the burner ignited, long before the air blower started. The combustion air was being pulled through two floors, instantaneously! But not through any "other" infiltration. .. or not enough.

When I installed the new furnace, I also installed a Field Controls CAS-3, combustion air source (from the outside).

My point was, "not all of the old houses are that loose and drafty", apparently.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 8:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mr_havac

"and as soon as the oil burner kicked on, in the basement, the window curtain would suck in .."
GOOD LORD! YOU MUST HAVE AN INDUSTRIAL POWERFLAME BURNER IN YOUR BASEMENT! Either you live in a very huge house or somebody oversized your system! :-)

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 9:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mike13

Do you wear contact lenses? With the furnace running the indoor air could become quite dry causing the lenses to dry out. That does cause headaches for some people, causing you not to sleep, which then could cause the other problems you refer to.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 11:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alisande

I no longer wear contacts. But my sleep has been interrupted at times recently because of dog issues.

That said, I feel noticeably better since unplugging the ceramic heater and moving it out of here. Fingers crossed.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 11:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vstech

* Posted by tmajor (My Page) on
Sun, Dec 2, 07 at 8:58
"In my case, regarding the curtain, there is no vent near the window or even on the second floor. The curtain sucked in as soon as the burner ignited, long before the air blower started. The combustion air was being pulled through two floors, instantaneously! But not through any "other" infiltration. .. or not enough.

When I installed the new furnace, I also installed a Field Controls CAS-3, combustion air source (from the outside). "

Hmm, something is wrong with your "combustion air source"
it the curtains are being drawn in, then it's not working properly.

OP
humidity loss can cause the problems you are describing. either get a humidity sensor, or add a large pot of boiling water to your house, and see if the conditions improve.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 11:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tmajor

"and as soon as the oil burner kicked on, in the basement, the window curtain would suck in .."

Maybe I should qualify this statement ... It didn't "suck in", like stand out horizontally, it "fluttered in". The thing that amazed me was the lack of time delay and distance from the furnace/burner. I wouldn't have expected any reaction at all, at two floors away.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 11:51AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tinmantu

alisande, read down to about 75% of this page...someone else had similar problems with that heater.

Here is a link that might be useful: Holmes heater discussion

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 1:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alisande

Interesting!! I'm glad I'm not the only one. And another poster farther up on the page reported that her Holmes ceramic heater gave her a stuffy head to the point of a headache.

Until now the only space heaters I've used were the electric (oil-filled) radiators. Haven't had a problem with them.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 1:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brickeyee

The only thing a ceramic heater can burn is left over stuff from manufacturing.
Other than that there is no actual flame, just hot ceramic disks that air is blown over.
Under dusty conditions you might burn some dust that gets to the heating elements.

The most likely cause of smells from electric heaters with open elements is oil left inside the unit from manufacturing on the metal and any dust that has gotten in.
The oil filled units do not have any exposed elements that can get hot enough to 'burn' anything. The element is immersed in the oil contained inside the unit.
All the oil does is increase the thermal mass that is warm.
This allows for greater radiation and convection area from the unit, and allows it to have a steadier temperature.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 3:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
plusfour

I just looked at your post and knew I had to respond. Even though you have a CO detector, I wouldn't trust those with my life. I have done classes on CO detection, and put the detectors in a bag and filled it with CO. Alot of them would not go to an alarm, even though we had over 500 parts per million in the bag. What you need to do is have someone come an do a combustion analysis on your system. They will be able to determine if it is the heating system or not. There could be some conditions other than the heating system causing this. A good hvac contractor should be able to do this test, and give you a printout of what type of by-products your furnace is creating. Remember, if they are not testing, they are just guessing.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2007 at 6:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
baymee

It's almost impossible to get dangerous CO with oil heat and not have plenty of warning from the odor. If you don't smell the odor, I would look somewhere else.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2007 at 8:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ilmbg

I am wondering why you say there is warning with an oil furnace- CO has no odor- there would not have to have a preceding 'bad burn' smell before CO being present??

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 2:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
joeplumb

quote"I am wondering why you say there is warning with an oil furnace- CO has no odor- there would not have to have a preceding 'bad burn' smell before CO being present??"

Because you don't just get CO alone from an oilfired furnace, you get the whole smelly gas hat contains the CO that is leaking into the air stream, and that smell gives you the warning.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 10:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
baymee

It's been almost 4 weeks now. Have you made any determinations as to the problem?

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 11:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alisande

Yes, thanks. It must have been the electric heater. Since removing it from the area I've been feeling fine. I guess I can blame the problem on chemical sensitivity.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 11:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dirkroper

First and most important: FIND OUT IF YOU HAVE A CARBON MONOXIDE PROBLEM!!! (Sorry to shout)

Carbon monoxide is most dangerous when you sleep. You simply don't wake up. When you're awake, you'll feel sick if levels are high enough.

You can get a highly sensitive CO alarm that will begin warning you around 15 PPM from some HVAC pros (I haven't seen them in hardware stores yet). Your HVAC professional should have a very sensitive CO monitor that can be used to help determine if you have a problem.

I've been told that CO is less of an issue with oil burners. I don't know just how much less.

Radon, mentioned above, is not the problem. It doesn't give you any symptons at all. According to EPA though, it can cause lung cancer.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 6:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brickeyee

"I've been told that CO is less of an issue with oil burners. I don't know just how much less."

Oil burns dirty enough in even the best equipment it stinks to high heaven if flue gases get into the living space.
Natural gas and propane can both be burned cleanly enough to produce very little smell while a lot of CO is being produced.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2007 at 11:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
baymee

Oil burns dirty enough in even the best equipment it stinks to high heaven if flue gases get into the living space.

The second half of your statement is mostly true, but upon what do you base the first half of the statement?

Modern flame-retention burners, the Beckett AFG, for one, which can be retrofitted to older boilers, burn with no smoke at all.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2007 at 11:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brickeyee

Smoke is just the visible portion and is easily eliminated.
The 'mix' that is used is very far from pure anything, unlike propane and natural gas.
Go take a snort of the flue gas from even a perfectly operating burner.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2007 at 2:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wallynut

New oil burners like Beckett/ Riello burn exceptionally clean.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 2:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brickeyee

"New oil burners like Beckett/ Riello burn exceptionally clean."

They can only burn as clean as what they start with.
Heating oil is pretty far from a chemically uniform compound.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 10:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
baymee

Don't move to PA, where wood and coal are widely used.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 11:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mechacc1

Do a search for CO Experts alarm and NSI3000 alarm both are low level devices and much more sensitive than the UL approved alarms available through stores.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 12:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
kermit_chem

Um yeah.. lots of things cause illness... CO2 is not one of them.. nontoxic.... :), however carbon monoxide [CO] is an issue (slowly causes a permanent attatchment to heamoglobin (meaning oxygen [O2] cant be absorbed into your blood) causing sleepyness, head aches and death), but from what you've said about the detector CO is not that issue.. [this makes sense as CO reacts readily with O2 to produce CO2].... So the issue is likely to be Nitrogen oxides... When air comes into contact with a very hot surface (200-1000*C) it starts to form Nitrogen monoxide [NO], this further reacts with O2 to form Nitrogen dioxide, NO2, which is toxic.. (the mixture of these oxides is called NOx).. sometimes NO2 is compared (i don't know how accurately) to chlorines toxicity. NOx is not produced from the fuel (oil, gas, wood, whatever), it is produced from the heat, reacting N2 and O2 from the air... The easiest way to stop it is to not use your heater on full, or to vent it, open the windows a crack, (to get cross ventilation)... alternatively, use an electric-oil heater, these will warm up medium-sized rooms, but do not get hot enough to form NOx. A CO gas detector seems like a waste of money?? if it didnt come free with the heater, then you probably got conned into buying it unnecessarily... if CO was an issue the product wouldn't be allowed on the market.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2008 at 11:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
kermit_chem

"Has your home been tested for Radon gas?" How is that relevent??? FYI, Radon is a radioactive, noble (or inert) gas... It is produced from house bricks (from decaying of trace Uranium), HOWEVER, i can assure you that the concentrations are neglectable, lets not worry this woman further with radon nonsense, FURTHERMORE.. I understand that not everyone here has a great understanding of this chemistry, but can we stop recommending quick fixes or suggesting things based on common myths... OZONE?? ozone generators work somewhat in odour ellimination, but they are not great, they make O2 into O3, an irritant... this would also invalidate all the CO claims.. as O3 + CO --> CO2 + O2 ..very quickly. also, gas flames often burn cleaner than oil, but not necessarily... If a high gas flow rate is used you will produce almost all CO and no CO2. likewise if you burn oil slowly you will produce almost all CO2 and no CO... like a candle which burns long chains like Docosane, Octacosane, even triacontane. (usually as branched chain isomers), but the candle can burn extremely cleanly, actually depending on the size of the wick. Hence one cannot create a single rule to determine CO produced based only on fuel. ... also OZONE has a pungent odour... but 9 times out of 10 you are actually smelling the NO2 byproduct produced (it has a pungent, metalic smell) the ozone produced by these things is neglectable.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 12:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
kermit_chem

Also.. (to joeplumb, and baymee). now im getting nitty gritty and precise... If you burn a fuel properly, than you will have no odour (as a direct result from the fuel anyhow).

Normal complete combustion can be expressed as:

1. Hydrocarbon Fuel + oxygen ---> Carbon Dioxide + water

or normal incomplete:

2. HC Fuel + oxygen ---> Carbon dioxide + Carbon monoxide + water

or very incomplete

3. HC Fuel + oxygen ---> Carbon dioxide + Carbon monoxide + carbon (soot) + water

[you can skip this bit, and go to the point if you want]

However oxidisation may also yeild in minute quantities:

Carboxilic Acids, Alkanals (aldehydes), Alkanols (Alcohols), Alkanones (ketones), organic peroxides and poly-cyclic compounds *(particularly in the case of wood and [what im going to call] complex oils [note my definitions for complex oil are for example.. vegetable oils, linseed oils, cyclic turpenes.... kerosene is not a complex oil])* ... Of which polycyclic compounds are most likely to contribute to "smells".

THE POINT>>>>
CO is not linked to the "SMELLY" compounds you refer to in any way... most "smelly" compounds are poly-cyclic or inorganic (and are formed from radcals from imcomplete "incomplete combustion" reacting with the cocktail of organic matter present)... ok.. so CO is undectable by sense of smell (and it is colourless), and it is produced way before you start smelling "stuff".

By the way, both 1. and 2. of those reactions "Burn Clean" they dont produce soot... CO can still be produced by "clean burning" appliances. If anyone is that worried then find a "complete combustion" appliance, which having said that, would be extremely hard to find.

[Extra Info]
In fact CO, CO2 and H2O all don't have any odour or colour, Carbon soot also has no odour but has a black powdery look and a sooty feel, but the "sooty odour" people smell is usually some sort of cyclic compound formed from very incomplete combustion (one of the reasons why xylenes, naphthalenes, toluenes and benzenes burn with such a strong sooty smell)..

    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 1:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
energy_rater_la

"Go take a snort of the flue gas from even a perfectly operating burner. "
LOL!!!

you crack me up brickeyee!!

carry on folks...

    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 8:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brickeyee

Even under laboratory conditions it is tough to get natural gas past about 97% completion, and other fuels are worse.

I worked as a paramedic for a few years, and every CO case we had was INSTANTLY detected when you entered the house.

While the occupants may not have noticed the smell, coming in from outside air you could immediately tell.
We would open the door (by force sometimes) and anyone without an air pac instantly stepped away.

The CO tends to deaden senses, and many other odors can only be detected for a short time before saturating the olfactory senses.

Why do you think you cannot smell your own cologne, perfume, or after shave after a shirt time?

Even the super efficient furnaces that condense to water still have an odor.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 10:56AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
AlexC01

I found this looking for Homes ceramic heater causing headaches. I just exchanged a Holmes ceramic space heater for an oil filled one. I had the ceramic heater in my house running for about a month around 10 hours per day. I couldn't sleep for more than 4 hours and I had terrible headaches and I haven't had any in many years. Almost unbearable headaches sometimes and terrible fatigue.

So the ceramic space heaters including Lasko which did the same thing but was less severe, do cause health problems and it should be no surprise since it's China made.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 12:48PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
New HVAC install in So Cal
Hi Everyone, I just got a quote from Home Depot contractor....
revlimit
Blown in insulation vs spray foam
I am looking for advice. I have a home built in 2000...
mkrafczyk
Why is split ductless so expensive when installed?
Hi, Long time reader, first post. I have a question,...
JHZR2
Opinions please Mitsubishi M - S E R I E S H I G H P E R F O R M A N C
Our HVAC guy is suggesting this for a complete system...
almostemptynester
Disconnect for Fujitsu mini split indoor unit (slim duct type)
We are installing a Fujitsu mini split system that...
ylmzm
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™