One of the greatest threats to your safety is the quality of air within your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a subtle yet dangerous threat because the gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
Each year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Thousands of other people suffer the effects of the gas without realizing it. Because CO symptoms mimic the flu and other common illnesses, CO poisoning can be easily missed during a routine medical examination.
CO is produced when any fuel does not burn completely because of insufficient oxygen. Mild exposure to CO gives most people a slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue ("flu-like" symptoms) followed by a throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, and fast heart rate. If the entire family becomes ill after a few hours in the home, and feels better when they leave the home, carbon monoxide poisoning should be suspected.
Possible sources of CO include:
- Furnace or boiler
- Gas or fuel-oil water heater
- Gas or wood fireplace
- Gas kitchen range
- Plugged, rusted, disconnected, or defective chimneys or vents
- Back drafting of combustion gases into the home
- Automobiles in attached garages
Certain clues can indicate a carbon monoxide problem. Check to see if you have any of the following:
- Rusting or streaking on chimney or vent
- Loose or missing furnace panel
- Soot on venting or appliances
- Loose or disconnected venting
- Debris or soot falling from chimney
- Moisture on interior side of windows
CO can be produced and spill into your home without any of the preceding clues present. Heating appliances that appear to be operating correctly can still be sources of CO. Burning charcoal or wood produces CO that can spill into the home. Gasoline engines, when first started, produce large amounts of CO. Autos in attached garages are often sources of CO.
How To Protect Yourself
To avoid CO exposure in the home, it is important to:
- Make sure heating appliances are installed and used in accordance with manufacturer's instructions.
- Make sure chimneys and vents draw all gases out of the home.
- Have the heating system, chimney and vents inspected and serviced annually by a qualified heating contractor.
- Never use charcoal grills indoors.
- Never heat your home with a gas kitchen range.
- Always use a kitchen range hood, vented to the outdoors, when cooking on a gas range.
- Never warm-up or run vehicles or other gasoline engines in garages or indoors.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that every residence with fuel burning appliances be equipped with at least one CO alarm. For added protection, place one on every level of the home. Read and follow manufacturers' instructions.
If your alarm indicates high levels of carbon monoxide in your home:
- Immediately move outdoors to fresh air and do a head count
- Call your emergency services
- Do not re-enter the home until emergency service responders have arrived, aired out the house, and determined it is safe to re-enter
- Correct the problem before starting the heating appliances
- If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds again, repeat the above steps. Do not ignore alarms.
Fires are traumatizing and frightening, as is a carbon monoxide incident. It is essential to fully recognize the hazards of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning and to take preventative action. A regular home inspection, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and an emergency exit plan will help you and your family live more safely.