I was driving to work this morning and got stopped behind a school bus. As I waited for the kids to board the bus, I figured I’d enjoy the delay and check out the beautiful fall morning. I put down the car windows and breathed in the crisp air. As I was sitting there looking around, a minivan that was backed into a nearby driveway flashed its lights and then started up. Nobody had gotten into the van, and its windows were totally covered in dew. So, being the master of observation, I deduced that someone in the house had used a remote starter to start the van.
Remote starters are (I suppose, anyway, I don’t have one) wonderful inventions that show just how far humans will go to spoil themselves. Why get into a cold car when you can start it from inside the house and let it warm up while you get ready?
The trouble is, this particular house had an attached garage, and the van was backed up right to the garage door.
I have attended enough sessions by carbon-monoxide guru Jim Davis of the National Comfort Institute to know this is a bad situation. Houses in the North suck — in other words, they’re under negative pressure. This is especially true in colder weather when furnaces are running. High-efficiency furnaces have sealed combustion systems, but lower-efficiency furnaces will suck their combustion air from anywhere they can — doors, windows, other rooms, and, yes, attached garages.
Assuming that this minivan was not a zero-emissions vehicle, it’s very likely that these homeowners were sucking CO from the van’s exhaust into their home, through their garage. And once again learning from Jim Davis, it doesn’t take large amounts of CO to cause health damage: small amounts have a negative cumulative effect over time. The amount of CO these homeowners were sucking into their home wouldn’t be enough to make their CO detector (assuming they have one) alarm, but it could very well be enough to cause them harm nonetheless.
So as your technicians go on service or maintenance calls in the winter, ask them to pay attention to what kind of garage the customer has, as well as what kind of furnace. In homes with lower-efficiency furnaces and attached or built-in garages, caution the homeowners about the risks of using remote starters, or of letting a car sit in the driveway and warm up.
Carbon monoxide inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to the heart and brain. Although getting into a cold car isn’t anybody’s favorite thing to do, the risks and possible health damage of CO outweigh a little inconvenience and a cold butt.