WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING.
We’ve all seen the tragic headlines and heard the awful stories: “Couple Perishes From Faulty Furnace”. “Six People Die From Generator Operating In House”. “Proper Chimney Inspection Could Have Saved Family”. Hundreds of people are seriously injured or die every year because of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
This article will give you an overview of CO poisoning. We’ll discuss the symptoms and give you simple precautions and practical tips to protect your loved ones.
WHAT IS CARBON MONOXIDE AND WHY IS IT DANGEROUS?
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. You cannot smell it, you cannot see it and you cannot taste it. By breathing in CO fumes, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. Over time, often in as little as a couple of hours, the shortage of oxygen can cause cells to die. Additionally, CO will impact vital organs, such as your brain and heart and cause them to shut down.
Everyone is at risk. But pregnant women and unborn babies, children, the elderly and those with chronic heart disease are especially vulnerable to CO poisoning. Smoke inhalation during a fire frequently causes CO poisoning.
The type of equipment or the type of fuel doesn’t matter. Whenever something is burned, whether it’s wood, natural or LP gas, oil, kerosene, charcoal, gasoline or diesel fuel there are by-products of the combustion process. These by-products include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, water vapor and other particulate matter.
Normally, these by-products are vented to atmosphere by a chimney system, vent pipe or exhaust system. An improper installation or poorly maintained equipment can put your loved one’s lives in danger.
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING INCLUDE:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Problems feeling dizzy
- Losing coordination
- Being confused
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Losing consciousness
These warning signs can be subtle and are often dismissed as simply not feeling well. CO poisoning is a medical emergency. Your health can deteriorate very quickly. Get those affected into fresh air immediately and call 911.
Also, keep in mind that carbon monoxide poisoning is especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or have been drinking alcoholic beverages. Irreversible brain damage, life threatening cardiac complications or death can happen, often before anyone knows there’s even a problem.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON CAUSES OF CARBON MONOXIDE EXPOSURE?
Your family is at a high risk of CO poisoning when fuel burning appliances are used improperly or are not cleaned, maintained or repaired as needed. Remember:
- NEVER barbecue on a charcoal, gas or pellet grill indoors without proper ventilation. Don’t cook on a grill in a tightly sealed or an enclosed space. By doing so, you will allow carbon monoxide levels to accumulate to dangerous levels.
- ALWAYS use space heaters in a well-ventilated area.
- NEVER let the connector pipe, the chimney pipe or the flue in a masonry chimney fall into disrepair. If maintenance or repairs are needed, schedule it in spring or early summer. Companies that specialize in this type of work get very busy in late summer and fall. Before you build a fire in your fireplace or wood burning stove, inspect all connections on pipes and make sure all clearance requirements are met or exceeded.
- NEVER burn wood in a fireplace with an obstructed chimney. When a chimney is not checked and serviced routinely by a CSIA professional, creosote can form. (LINK to: creosote and/or chimney cleaning articles??) The chimney could be blocked. Debris or a bird’s nest can allow dangerous combustion gases to accumulate.
- DO NOT allow a car or truck, a lawnmower, ATV, tractor or motorcycle to idle in an enclosed garage or shed.
- NEVER operate a portable generator in your basement or anywhere in your house. The exhaust from a generator contains high levels of carbon monoxide.
- DO NOT leave a gas cooking stove/oven on too long. Never use a stove or oven to heat the house. And, portable camping cookstoves are strictly for outdoors use.
- ALWAYS call a certified professional to check your gas furnace before it’s turned on in the fall. They will inspect for a cracked heat exchanger, proper venting connections or other damage to critical components. And while they are at your house, have them inspect the gas hot water heater to insure it is venting correctly.
- FURTHERMORE, if your home is very tight, have the certified repair people inspect your fireplace. (LINK to: We Love Fire dealer near you?) A fireplace, especially on the lowest level of your home could cause a reverse air flow that might draw combustion gases back into your living space.
YOU AND YOUR FAMILY COULD BE AT RISK, IF . . . .
. . . . you have soot or creosote buildup in your masonry or stainless steel chimney.
. . . . you notice loose masonry material on the roof or on the ground.
. . . . you notice a decreasing supply of hot water.
. . . . you have missing or loose furnace panels.
. . . . you see rust or water streaking on your chimney system or vent pipes.
. . . . you notice disconnected or loose connections in your chimney system or vent pipes.
HOW CAN I PREVENT CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING?
The best way to keep your family safe from CO is common sense and regular maintenance. The list below is not all inclusive, but by following these recommendations the safety of your loved ones will be protected.
- Invest in a new carbon monoxide detector for each floor of your home. Be sure the CO detectors meet the Underwriter Laboratories (UL) safety standards. Install them where the manufacturer suggests, usually in bedroom hallways and in the furnace or mechanical room. CO detectors are also available for campers, motorhomes and boats. Be sure to regularly replace the batteries.
- Keep all fuel burning appliances and engines vented properly, including: space heaters, grills, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces, generators and engines.
- Be sure to open the damper on your wood fireplace every time you use it.
- Operate all space heaters in a well-ventilated area.
- Keep your wood burning fireplace or stove in good repair. Replace any worn or damaged parts. Or, if it’s an older appliance, replace it with a top rated, highly efficient fireplace or stove. And as the code states: Inspect your chimney system annually and clean if necessary.
- Store your generator outside. Use it outside. Never inside.
- Get in the habit of starting your vehicles with the garage door up. Be especially careful with an attached garage as the rest of the house is vulnerable to migrating CO fumes. Never leave a car running in a garage.
Your WE LOVE FIRE expert is concerned about your safety and good health. We want you and your family to enjoy our products and have the utmost faith in the service and repair work we offer. Please call or email us with any other questions or if you need any additional information.