Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning in the home

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and deadly gas. When exposed to CO, it restrains your blood’s capacity to carry oxygen throughout the body, actually suffocating your tissues and organs. CO can escape into your home’s air through a faulty furnace, wood-burning stove, range, water heater, fireplace, or any device that burns combustible fuel. CO poisonings from fuel-burning appliances kill at least 200 people a year and send more than 5,000 people to hospital emergency rooms. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can often be confused with flu symptoms but become much more serious. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, irregular breathing, mental confusion, unconsciousness, and ultimately – death. The key to protecting yourself and your family is prevention and the use of a quality carbon monoxide detector. Though everyone is susceptible, medical experts believe that small children, pregnant women, unborn babies, senior citizens, and people with heart or respiratory problems are more vulnerable. To avoid CO poisoning in your home, heed the following suggestions:

  • Every time a fuel appliance is activated, CO is produced. Keep fresh air circulating in your home; open a vent or a window to eliminate toxic fumes. Fuel-combustion appliances should be vented directly outdoors.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector with an audible warning alarm. Choose Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible warning. Look for the UL logo on the package.
  • Install your CO detector at least 15 feet away from a furnace or gas appliance. Avoid installing detectors close to a fan, or other fresh or turbulent air sources as this may deter the unit from taking accurate readings. If you only have one detector, it should be installed in the hallway near the sleeping area so it will awaken you if the alarm goes off while you are sleeping. Additional alarms on each level of your house can provide extra protection.
  • Maintain CO detectors on a regularly basis. Keep it clean and free of grease, soot, and debris – clean it with a slightly damp cloth (no chemical cleansers) or vacuum it. It’s best to test your alarms regularly as well.
  • Have your heating system checked each fall before cold weather arrives to make sure it’s operating efficiently and all the vents, pipes, flues, and chimneys are unclogged and tight. Have your stoves, fireplaces, and water heater checked as well.
  • Don’t close your fireplace damper until you’re certain the fire is out. If smoke enters the room, your chimney may be causing a reverse flow. Open a window. Have all chimney cleaned, inspected and serviced annually.
  • Never run your car engine in an enclosed area – open the garage door before starting the car.
  • Replace smoke alarms every ten years – they accumulate significant levels of dust, dirt, and debris. Since a smoke alarm works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, its life span is about ten years.
  • Make sure the burner flames on your furnace burn blue, not yellow-orange, and never use your gas or oven for heating.
  • Never use grills or hibachis inside your home.
  • Never operate gas-burning appliances in a closed room.