Family in Genk saved from CO poisoning thanks to the oPEN Lab project

Jan 17, 2023

The tenant R.K. lives with her husband and children in the New Texas neighbourhood of Genk. The family’s home, owned by the social housing company Nieuw Dak, is part of the project area of the European oPEN Lab project.  The houses will be renovated soon, and are now extensively monitored in their original, pre-renovation state.  

Due to current high energy prices, the family has been using a petroleum stove for heating, trying to keep costs down. However, this turned into a great danger to their health. High levels of CO2 were present in the home, with a possible risk of CO poisoning.  

Patricia Elsen (researcher at KU Leuven): “Thanks to these measurements, we noticed the high CO2 concentration in this family’s home. Together with Nieuw Dak, we immediately warned the family of the danger and asked them to remove the petroleum stove.” 

Tenant R.K.: “I’m so glad you guys notified me! I wasn’t aware of any harm. For the last few days, I felt dizzy and had a headache. I was planning to go to the doctor to get checked out, but I didn’t think about the dangers of the petroleum stove. The children were also suffering. Since removing the stove, our symptoms have also disappeared.” 

Professor Saelens (KU Leuven/Energyville): “The danger in heating with a petroleum stove is that there can be insufficient oxygen during combustion due to a lack of ventilation. This causes CO to form instead of CO2. Excessive concentrations of CO are a health hazard, potentially fatal. CO associated with combustion in this type of stove is an odorless gas. Headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue you have from 200 ppm. From 400 ppm it is life-threatening after about three hours.” 

Tenant R.K.: “The high energy prices are not worth a life! After the warning, we got rid of the petroleum heater and used our normal radiator again. Of course, we pay attention to our energy use and put on extra clothes, if necessary, but at least our air is healthy and safe. By sharing our story, we hope to make other people aware of the dangers of heating with a petroleum stove or other appliances. If you don’t have a social rate, prices for gas and electricity can be very high. I was referred to the public center for social welfare and the mutual insurance company for a rights investigation and possible support measures. Every little bit helps!” 

Myriam Indenkleef, Director of Nieuw Dak: “R.K.’s family was fortunate to be alerted in time thanks to the oPEN Lab survey measurements. But this doesn’t happen in every home. Nieuw Dak wants to continue to ensure the safety of all tenants. Therefore, we do not authorize the installation of an alternative fossil fuel heating system (wood, coal, pellets, heating malt, petroleum, gas, etc.). These pose serious safety risks. Electric heating with CE-approved heaters can, however.”  

This incident highlights the issues and consequences of the current energy crisis. People are desperate about the high energy demands and costs that come with it. The oPEN Lab project aims to find a solution for this, by looking for scalable renovation solutions, to transform current neighborhoods into positive energy neighborhoods with very low (to zero) energy demands.