Furnace Exhaust Poisoning


We recently had the opportunity to help Wise & Townsend Attorneys prepare for mediation and visualize the hidden facts of their case.

Case Facts

In January 2016, a NW Natural technician decommissioned the furnace and hot water heater of a 1-bedroom apartment in southeast Portland. The technician’s carbon monoxide meter registered 75 ppm in the living areas of the apartment, and 4,000 ppm next to the furnace while it was running. The installation of the furnace and water heater were assessed to have been non-standard. Subsequent repair work on the equipment revealed an accumulated 80 pounds of organic material in the building’s crumbling chimney, a blockage through which the furnace was unable to vent adequately. The exhaust, much of it carbon monoxide, was instead pushed back into the basement and left to circulate and accumulate in the apartment.

Over the previous four years, the tenant in the apartment had experienced a confusing array of symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Flu-like fever, chills
  • Neck pain and mass
  • Fainting
  • Acute renal failure
  • Dysphoria, depression, and suicidality

Many of these symptoms indicate prolonged exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide.


Fat Pencil was hired by plaintiff’s counsel to help visualize the layout of the apartment, as well as the functioning of the apartment’s furnace and water heater, both the correct functioning and the dangerous malfunctioning.

Visual Story

To better understand how the furnace and water heater were intended to operate, and what went wrong, we relied primarily on materials provided by the tenant: before and after photos of the equipment, a narrative description of the equipment history and repair work, and most importantly a walk-thru video of the apartment. These disparate sources provided sufficient information for us to create an accurate digital 3D model of the building, apartment, and heating system. The model then acted as the base illustrations for a video presentation illustrating the equipment malfunctioning.

We also used the 3D model to facilitate meetings between the plaintiff and attorneys in preparation for mediation. This allowed the team to review the representation of the equipment, reach consensus on key details, and hone their arguments.


At mediation, the parties were able to come to an acceptable agreement and settle the case.


Fat Pencil helped us successfully resolve this case by creating a simple visual narrative to demonstrate the severity of a problem that our opponents claimed was no big deal.

Blair Townsend, Wise & Townsend Attorneys

Yana Stannik was a Designer and Senior Designer at Fat Pencil Studio from 2017-2022.