Nova Scotia

Keep heat vents free from snow, says doctor after carbon monoxide scare

A Halifax doctor is reminding people to keep their heating vents free of snow after his own house backed up with carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide alarms alerted Dr. Michael Goodyear’s family there was a problem in the house

Dr. Michael Goodyear was alerted to a problem in his house Monday when his carbon monoxide alarms started going off. (istock)

A Halifax doctor is reminding people to keep their heating vents clear of snow after his own house filled with carbon monoxide on Monday.

Dr. Michael Goodyear was at home with his wife and daughter as a winter storm raged outside when the carbon monoxide alarms in the house started to go off. They searched throughout the house, including the kitchen and furnace area, looking for possible sources and then started to smell something like exhaust.

Fearing a possible gas leak, Goodyear called Heritage Gas, his provider.

'Then it dawned on me'

"Their first response was 'Get out of the house.'"

Getting outside wasn't easy because of the snow around the front door. But once Goodyear was outside, he went around to the side of the house and found a snowdrift covering the exit point for his furnace vents.

"Then it dawned on me what had happened," he said.

"[The snow] had completely blocked off the furnace vent and therefore everything, of course, was backing up and filling the house with carbon monoxide."

Not the only call on Monday

A gas technician from Heritage Gas was dispatched to the house and continued to monitor things until level were back to a safe point. He also helped Goodyear restart the furnace, which has an automatic shutoff if it backs up too much.

Chris MacAulay, the director of operations for Heritage Gas, said Goodyear's call wasn't the only one the company received Monday.

MacAulay said it's important for people to remember to keep their vents clear, especially during blowing snow. The company sends a reminder to customers at the start of each winter season.

"Any piece of heating equipment . . . does have vents to the outside of the building and those vents need to be kept clear from snow and ice in order for the equipment to operate properly," he said.

A public health concern and common problem

MacAulay said there is a minimum height requirement for the vents, but snow drifts can easily cover them if people aren't careful.

Goodyear said he's shaken by the events, but also relieved that the house had working carbon monoxide detectors.

His experience, and the memory of a recent incident in Dartmouth where two people died from carbon monoxide poisoning, prompted him to contact CBC News to remind people about what he views as a public health concern.

"It's a common problem in Canadian winters," he said.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca