Do You Know What’s in Your Basement?

Basements and attics tend to be dumping grounds for anything people don’t want to deal with at the moment: unneeded cookware, for instance, not to mention outgrown shoes, extra light bulbs, and leftover containers of paint. However, basements are also usually home to furnaces and water heaters, and this is where problems can arise.

Basements and attics are used for storing things but do you know there could be danger lurking there?

Both gas furnaces and gas water heaters maintain a small pilot light to power the appliance. Although small, these pilot lights are still flames, and in the enclosed space of a basement, flammable substances are especially susceptible to accidental ignition. Each year, many fires and explosions are caused by storing flammable substances near a gas-fired appliance, especially water heaters. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that it’s often not the substances themselves that cause the accidental ignition; it’s the fumes from the substances that are flammable enough to ignite.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to change consumer behavior when it comes to storage of hazardous materials. The problem is that for people who don’t have outside sheds or garages, the basement is the natural storage place for things like lawn mowers, paints, and household chemicals and solvents. These items all emit flammable fumes that pose a serious hazard.

To reduce the danger of accidental ignition, the appliance industry has come up with a solution. Since 2003, all new water heaters must be equipped with Flammable Vapor Ignition-Resistant (FVIR) technology. FVIR water heaters have a thermal-release device and a flame-arrestor screen that allows combustion air to enter the chamber to prevent flames from exiting the chamber if vapors ignite. However, even if you have a FVIR water heater, it’s better to keep combustible materials away from water heaters. Flame arrestor screens can get clogged with lint, dust, and oil (LDO)—which block air from getting to the appliance—and negative-pressure environments can create back-drafts.

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