Carbon monoxide can invade our home and kill, and you'll never see it. It's especially deadly at night when you're asleep and you won't realize you're getting sick. People with greater oxygen needs like pregnant women, babies, children, senior citizens and those with coronary/respiratory problems are more vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning.
You can't see carbon monoxide because it's a gas dispersed in the air, and it's odorless and tasteless. This makes it difficult to detect carbon monoxide in your home unless you install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why Should You Worry About Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is dangerous because it accumulates in the blood and replaces the oxygen your cells need to function. When carbon monoxide (CO) is in the air, it builds up in the blood and causes symptoms similar to the flu like headaches, fatigue, nausea, confusion and irritability. As the level of carbon monoxide increases, there is vomiting, lost of consciousness an eventually brain damage or death can occur.
To learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning, visit a website devoted to this topic, carbon-monoxide-poisoning.com.
Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?
Carbon monoxide is created whenever fuel is burned so let's look at the various items in your home that burn fuel.
- Gas or oil furnaces
- Gas hot water heaters
- Gas powered refrigerators
- Gas clothes dryers
- Gas stoves (why I'm writing this article)
- Space heaters that burn any type of fuel, not just gas
- Fireplaces and wood/pellet burning stoves
- Charcoal grills
- Gas powered outdoor equipment like lawn mowers and pressure washers
- Cars with an engine running in the garage and fumes can enter the home through walls/doorway.
All of these appliances and home systems burn fuel (oil, natural gas, propane gas, wood or charcoal) and produce small amounts of carbon monoxide. They all contribute to a CO problem in a house when it is not vented properly. When you make your home more airtight for energy efficiency, make sure you maintain adequate ventilation to prevent a CO problem.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When a home is properly vented and all the appliances and home systems are working correctly, the low levels of carbon monoxide will be safely vented to the outside. Home ventilation isn't well understood by homeowners and each time you add/change an appliance or adjust air flow, there is the possibility you're trapping CO in your home.
You aren't likely to recognize a CO problem right away. You might have a slow gas leak in your stove or fireplace, or maybe the furnace heat exchanger cracks. It might take several weeks/months for you to discover the problem. Any of these problems can allow the buildup of carbon monoxide contaminated air to remain in your home. In fact, some exhaust fans (range hood, clothes dryer or bathroom fan) might pull carbon monoxide back into your house.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends carbon monoxide detector(s) in your home to alert you to problems quickly. The first CO detector should be installed near the bedrooms with additional detectors on every level of your home for extra protection. Choose a detector approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that has an alarm that can wake you up when sleeping. There are 3 types of detectors, similar to smoke detector products.
- Battery powered detectors continue working when there is a power outage.
- Carbon monoxide detectors can be wired to your home's electrical system by plugging into a standard electrical outlet, or hardwired AC models.
- Get double protection with a hardwired AC models that has battery back-up.
Now that you've got a carbon monoxide detector to alert you to a problem, let's look at what you should be doing to prevent as many problems as you can. Your electric powered appliances don't produce carbon monoxide but any appliances or home systems you have that burn fossil fuels will give off carbon monoxide and you want to minimize the amount.
- Have all fuel burning appliances installed by a qualified home professional.
- Follow a regular schedule for getting all fuel burning appliances inspected … not just your home heating system, but a gas powered hot water heater, stove, etc.
- When buying a new appliance or heating system, look for ones that reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, like like direct vent gas fireplaces.
- Inspect fireplaces, wood stoves and chimneys to insure they are venting properly. You also need to have your chimney cleaned professionally to prevent build-up which will reduce ventilation.
- NEVER use a gas or charcoal barbeque indoors, no matter how nasty the weather is outside.
- Never start/run your car or gas powered equipment, i.e. lawnmower, snow blower, etc … in a closed garage.
When Your Carbon Monoxide Detector Sounds Off
First make sure it's your CO detector and not your smoke detector. Newer carbon monoxide detectors have “carbon monoxide detector” written in a different color on the cover.Some detectors have a warning alarm to let you know carbon monoxide is starting to accumulate. That's when you want a trained HVAC contractor to inspect your home to determine what is causing the problem.
Check everyone in the house for symptoms of poisoning if there's a full alarm. If anyone isn't feeling well, get them outside immediately and remember babies and children are affected more quickly. Call the fire department as they're able to respond faster than anyone else. If no one is feeling symptoms, open windows and doors to ventilate the house and get an inspection done as soon as possible by a trained home professional who can identify the cause for the alarm sounding off.