Carbon Monoxide: What Do You Know?

January 11th, 2017 | Posted by David Richardson in David Richardson | Home
David Richardson, Curriculum Developer & Instructor

David Richardson is an NCI Curriculum Developer & Instructor

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is one of those scary issues that most HVAC professionals hope to never encounter. As with many frightening things we want to avoid, this doesn’t make those issues go away. The threat is very real even though contractors often turn a blind eye to it.

With all the stories and reports regarding the dangers of this silent killer, I’m amazed more HVAC technicians don’t test for it. With proper training, test instruments, and dedication, the skills needed to solve CO-related problems can be part of your regular service offerings. Instead, we have grown comfortable recommending silver bullets that often give our customers a false sense of security.

So why is this? There are many factors contributing to this head-in-the-sand approach, not just one barrier. I had to overcome four major obstacles when I started CO testing 17 years ago. This month I would like to share those obstacles with you and the lessons I learned from them.

CO testing fear: Don't let it stop you from doing what is right.

Not wanting to admit you were wrong and being afraid of change can stop you cold when rationalizing why NOT to do CO testing.

Obstacle #1: Fear of CO

Before I understood the importance of CO testing, I followed the same rules of thumb our industry has used for decades to establish CO safety. Some of the things I checked for were:

  • Cracked heat exchangers
  • Blue flames
  • Good draft on natural draft equipment
  • Available combustion air met code.

For an extra level of security, I also recommended everyone buy a CO alarm from the local hardware store. I was blissfully unaware of what I was walking past on a daily basis until I started reading articles on CO from Jim Davis. There was a lot I was assuming that wasn’t correct.

I was afraid and knew I needed to do things differently. However I didn’t know where to start and this caused me to procrastinate. Questions kept coming up such as:

  • What if I found something wrong I didn’t know how to fix?
  • What if I missed something I should have found?
  • Would I have more liability trying to go beyond what had been passed down to me from generations before?

Fear of not knowing how to handle these questions paralyzed my progress. Another issue was hard at work too – I didn’t like to admit I was wrong.

CO testing means overcoming pride and ego and admitting you may not have done it right.

Pride and Ego can interfere with your ability to be the best.

Obstacle #2: Pride in What I Did, Not on What I know about CO

In addition to being scared, I was still coming to grips that I had not been doing things the right way. This was forcing me to admit to myself that I was wrong about certain issues and didn’t like that. Pride was getting in the way of me doing the right thing.

Old habits are hard to break and often become rooted in our daily routines. Assumptions have a way of becoming flawed truth if we believe them long enough, no matter how misguided they are.

This kind of pride is bad to have in our industry. It interferes with us being our best. Let’s face it, admitting fault is tough and requires a degree of humility many aren’t willing to muster. When we think we know it all, there is nothing left to learn.

Being unwilling to test for CO because it is something new is a disservice to your customers

Overcome your unwillingness to change and try new things. This will always benefit you, your clients, and your company.

Obstacle #3: Unwilling to Change How I Look at CO

Pride is one of the factors driving an unwillingness to change. We are creatures of habit and don’t like it when our circumstances change. Especially when they are scary and unknown.

A frequent comment heard as justification for an unwillingness to change is “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 to 30+ years!” Guess what? The HVAC industry is changing faster today than ever before. Technology is available to us today that didn’t exist more than 20 years ago. Just because something was done a certain way for 20 or 30 years, doesn’t mean it must always be done that way,especially in light of all the technological changes and discoveries that are happening.

Finally I arrived at a point where I had to make a decision. Was I going to ignore what I was learning or move forward and figure out how to make CO testing part of my routine? It was becoming harder to accept the old rules of thumb.

Don't put your head in the sand. CO poisoning won't stop itself.

A lack of confidence often leads to burying your head in the sand and being afraid of change.

Obstacle #4: Lack of Confidence in my CO Diagnosis and Remediation Skills

Furthermore, not having a firm understanding of how to test for CO fed my procrastination. I wasn’t sure where to start, what I needed, or even how to put the first pieces in place. I had fragments of information and a desire to do the right thing, but no system for it to make sense.

All of these unknown factors led to a lack of confidence in my abilities. Just as an unwillingness to change hinged on pride, lack of confidence hinged on fear. This position caused me to feel like I had a mix of conflicting information and old wives’ tales to go by. I didn’t realize the solution to my obstacles was in front of me.

How I Overcame These Obstacles

I finally decided to get properly trained on how to do CO testing. That meant attending Jim Davis’ Combustion Performance and Carbon Monoxide Safety class. This move caused those obstacles to crumble. I now had newfound knowledge, abilities, and a plan that made sense. It was time to get started.

This isn’t the only time these obstacles have appeared and prevented me from learning something new. By overcoming this challenge I had the confidence to know I could succeed if I was persistent.

I encourage you to examine your obstacles and see what is preventing you from CO testing. Take action now and pave your own path to learning the truth.

The answers are out there and together we will find them. If you need any additional information on this material or have any questions feel free to e-mail me at You can also find me on twitter at @ncidavid.

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