by Mark Garcia November 21, 2014
Pool heaters are in the news again, in what has been dubbed the poison hotel room, in Boone, North Carolina. Daryl Dean Jenkins and Shirley Mae Jenkins went to sleep in Room 225, located directly above the pool heater. They never woke up. The same poison room claimed the life of 11-year-old Jeffrey Williams 53 days later.
I did some digging around to find more information on the killer pool heater. The heater, installed indoors, underneath guest room 225 was a used propane heater improperly converted to use natural gas. Propane heaters should never be used indoors, and this model is not convertible to natural gas. Incomplete combustion and poor exhaust of the heater led to the heater producing excess CO (carbon monoxide.
But the largest contributing factor and main reason for the deaths was a dangerous installation, indoors and directly under room 225.
The first issue is that this pool heater was not located near an exterior wall, but more than 10 feet inside a ground floor interior room. This location required about 20 feet of exhaust pipe, up into a drop ceiling, and across to an exterior vent.
The manufacturer specifically warns against horizontal runs of exhaust pipe, and using 90 degree turns or pipe size reductions. They also state "Be sure to support all venting so the connections will not separate..." And I doubt they meant prop up the 90° with a VHS tape!
The manufacturer also states that "venting should be inspected to ensure that it is in good condition". Gaping holes and connection leaks, in a 20 foot run led to this heater exhausting near the intakes.
Manufacturers also make a big point of discussing proper ventilation and specifically the volume and availability of two open air vents to draw air in from the outside.
In this diagram, from an owner's manual similar to the one installed, the manufacturer shows clearly how to install an indoor pool heater, and how to vent and exhaust the heater in the safest manner.
None of that in this installation, the heater is installed very far away from outside air, in an isolated internal room. This room did not have a direct or sufficient supply of outside air for intake.
This installation or operation should never have been attempted or allowed by installers, inspectors, servicemen or hotel staff.
The very same hotel chain had another hotel located in northeast Pennsylvania evacuated for a carbon monoxide leak that sent 24 people to the hospital. Investigators found numerous code violations in relation to the pool heater leaking exhaust fumes. Fortunately, this hotel had carbon monoxide detectors installed, and there were no fatalities.
A carbon monoxide leak from another poorly installed gas pool heater was detected early by CO detectors, placed on each floor of the hotel, and close to areas where furnaces and pool heaters operate. 84 hotel guests were evacuated, and firefighters reported no injuries or poisoning from carbon monoxide.
No - not even close. As horrible as the recent tragedies in Boone, NC are, pool heaters are some of the safest heating appliances, when compared to space heaters, furnaces, baseboard heaters or any number of other consumer products that produce heat. And when a gas pool heater is properly installed and maintained, according to manufacturer instructions, there is little danger to the public, or a private homeowner.
During 1999–2010, a total of 5,149 deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in the United States, an average of 430 deaths per year. The CPSC points to only two casualties from pool heaters in the 10 year period, although there could likely be a few more that went unreported.
Most accidental CO poisoning occurs from home heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters or portable heaters installed inside the home, garage or cabin. Predictably, most fatalities occur during the winter months, and nearly 3/4 of the victims are white males.
Every home and certainly every hotel should install carbon monoxide detectors. Gas water heaters, gas dryers, gas oven and cooktops, and gas fired home furnaces can all become a deadly threat if the heater combustion or venting is incorrect or not maintained regularly.
The hotel chain that owns the location in Boone, NC is now installing CO detectors in all of their hotels, and the South Carolina mother of Jeffrey Williams has started Jeffrey's Foundation to raise awareness and push for CO detectors to be installed in every hotel room.
Carbon Monoxide detectors can be purchased for less than $20 at any home store, and operate the same way as smoke detectors. They save lives by detecting the odorless gas, known as the "silent killer".
Thanks for Reading!