Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Fri, Feb. 28

Column: Politicians and criminals (but wait, I repeat myself)

If you only read one ‘holiday tips’ column this season, read this one.

I know there will be numerous articles and columns regarding cold weather and holiday safety tips. But none of those will be as informative or enjoyable as this one. Actually I only have one tip. Well sort of two, I guess.

Tip 2: if your home has an attached garage or any type of wood burning or gas appliance (including a gas furnace) you should have a carbon monoxide alarm in your home. These are required in new homes in many areas. If you don’t have one, they are inexpensive and easy to install. Combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are becoming more common, so check all your smoke alarms before you rush out to buy a carbon monoxide alarm - you may already have one.

Tip 2 is the result of tip 1, which regards gas fireplaces. A lot of people (including yours truly) only use their gas fireplace a few times a year, mostly to impress unwanted company or relatives (but wait, I repeat myself). Gas fireplace flames are adjusted to simulate wood fires (yellow flame) rather than to burn efficiently (blue flame, like a cooktop burner). A yellow flame produces very high levels of carbon monoxide, a blue flame does not.

There are two types of gas fireplaces. If you have a gas log insert in a wood burning fireplace, there should be a clamp on the damper to keep it fully open. Make sure the damper is open and a clamp is in place before lighting the fireplace. If you light a wood fire with the damper closed you know immediately from the smoke entering the home. If you light a gas fire with the damper closed there is no smoke, and possibly no odor, but there will be huge amounts of carbon monoxide entering the home.

Many homes have gas-only fireplaces. There is no damper on these, and they usually have glass fronts (not easy-to-open doors). Many of these vent through an exterior wall rather than through the roof. There is a lot of carbon monoxide in the exhaust gas, so manufacturers recommend these vents are not within 10 feet of any opening into the home, e.g. windows and doors. In Prescott that recommendation seems to be very optional, kind of like using turn signals. If I had a dollar for every time I found a gas fireplace vent near an opening window I could almost afford my health insurance hikes since Obamacare passed. Well, maybe not that, but I could buy a new car.

Often I find a wall vented fireplace in a corner of a living room, so the exterior wall vent is near a window in a different room. And often this room is a bedroom. This installation really concerns me. I imagine mom and the kids playing Monopoly in front of the fireplace, while Dad’s in the bedroom watching the news. A criminal or politician comes on (but wait, I repeat myself) and Dad gets aggravated and opens the window, not realizing there is a vent a few feet away spewing out carbon monoxide. In this case I recommend a carbon monoxide alarm in the room with the fireplace, and in any room that has windows or doors near the fireplace vent on the exterior wall.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at or visit

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