Recognizing Condo Utility Dangers – Carbon Monoxide, Gas, Electrical and Water

November 2017

Fire and severe weather perils are expected from time to time.  There is less awareness of dangers from utility services we rely on each and every day.

Water leaks, gas leaks, and electrical surges or shorts can be dangerous and expensive.  Condo building residents and management can prevent many of these dangers with increased awareness and knowing what to do when problems are identified.


Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odourless and invisible gas.  It is a by-product of natural gas, propane, gasoline and other products that do not burn completely.  These products release carbon monoxide into the air.

Carbon monoxide gas, in small doses, can make people sick.  Symptoms include headaches, chest tightness, confusion, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and loss of muscle control.  Larger doses can kill.

Natural gas ranges, furnaces, heaters, fireplaces and vehicle engines are potential sources for carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is most dangerous during winter months when windows are closed and the supply of fresh air is reduced.

The law requires condo buildings to have carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.  Where smoke is detected there is a good chance carbon monoxide is present.  Depending on the detector purchased, they will need to be replaced every five to ten years.

When a carbon monoxide detector goes off, go to the closest fresh air source.  This may be an open window or outside the building.  Contact the fire department and inform them of a carbon monoxide leak.


Gas Leaks

Gas leaks are recognized by the smell of rotten eggs and a hissing sound.  That smell of rotten eggs is added to the gas as a safety precaution.  Gas can become  explosive when mixed with air.  A small spark or static is sufficient to create an explosion.

While natural gas may not be used in condo suites, it could be utilized elsewhere in a building to generate heat or hot water.

When a gas leak is suspected the building should be evacuated.  The fire department should be notified of a suspected gas leak after leaving the immediate area of the building.  All flames should be put out including cigarettes.  Appliances should be turned off.  Residents should not be allowed access to an underground garage as starting a car engine could ignite the gas.


Water Leaks

Water leaks are the most common, and potentially most devastating, of all utility-related dangers.  They are the leading cause of insurance claims in condo buildings.

Water is a powerful force that can work its way through pipes and even mountains.  Water can erode concrete and brick.  It can rot wood, corrode metal and destroy drywall.  It feeds mould and facilitates its growth throughout a building.

Water is easily detected.  Stains, buckling drywall and damp areas are all signs of water leaks.  When a water problem is detected, the source of water should be shut off and repairs undertaken.  Early detection helps reduce the likelihood of serious damage and reduces repair costs.


Electric Surges and Shorts

An electrical fire can work its way through a condo suite or building in a short period of time.  Such fires are among the most difficult to put out.

Electrical systems and appliances should never be adjusted or repaired by anyone other than a licensed electrician.

Blown fuses or tripping circuits are indications of an electrical problem that may require a licensed electrician.  During renovations, ensure that all electrical work is done to code.  A licensed electrician will know when a permit is required for work to be done.  Once work is complete, an inspector will review the work to ensure it has been done correctly.

Use extension cords sparingly.  It is always preferable to plug appliances directly into a wall outlet.  Avoid the use of extension cords with appliances that generate heat.  Most portable heater fires are the result of overloaded extension cords.