Prioritize safety in your home this winter, starting with the often-overlooked danger: Carbon Monoxide (CO). This colorless, odorless gas is invisible to human senses, but is deadly if undetected.
Be aware of what generates CO and take precautions to have a safer indoor environment. Remain vigilant, prioritize regular maintenance, and be proactive in eliminating this toxic gas from your living spaces.
Common Sources of Carbon Monoxide
Many household tools and systems produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. As cited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these potential sources include:
Fuel-burning heating equipment like unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
Leaking chimneys and furnaces
Back-drafting from furnaces
Gas water heaters
Gas stoves, charcoal grills, gas grills, and other gas-powered cooking equipment
Gasoline-powered generators and other equipment
Exhaust pipes, such as automobile exhaust
It's important to know that these sources should only be used in areas with adequate ventilation. Keep your home secure and your loved ones safe by following these simple tips:
1. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Prioritize carbon monoxide detection and install systems in key areas of your home. Place them near bedrooms and common living spaces, following the manufacturer's guidelines for optimal placement. Regularly test the detectors to ensure they are functioning correctly.
Just like smoke detectors, you will need at least one detector alarm on each floor of your home. You may also feel safer having a backup carbon monoxide detector near your sleeping areas to improve the chances of it waking you during the night. Bluetooth models can also help alert you on your mobile device whether you're home or away.
Protect Your Home
Choose a carbon monoxide alarm, or level up to a unit that detects both smoke and CO in the home.
2. Have a Professional Inspect Your Heating System
Get your gas HVAC system checked out. Whether you have a furnace, fireplace, or wood-burning stove, ensuring they are well-maintained and in good working order is essential. A thorough inspection can identify and address potential CO leaks.
3. Avoid Using Gas-Fueled Items Indoors
Proper ventilation helps prevent carbon monoxide buildup, and items like generators, grills, or gas heaters should never be used indoors. Carbon monoxide emissions are prevalent in all of these systems and tools, and they must only be used outdoors in open, well-ventilated areas. An open window will not provide enough ventilation for your home.
4. Check Fireplaces, Chimneys, and Flues
If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, inspect the chimney and its flue regularly. Blockages or buildup can lead to CO entering your home. Keep these pathways clear and consider scheduling an annual chimney cleaning to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure.
5. Avoid Running Vehicles in Enclosed Spaces
Never leave a gas-powered vehicle running inside an attached garage, even with the garage door open. The exhaust of your car will build up in the space, making it dangerous when a person enters the area. The gas can also draft into your home through the doorway from an attached garage. Similarly, avoid using gas-powered tools, portable heaters, or generators in enclosed spaces.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The National Safety Council and U.S. Fire Administration are vocal about the dangers of carbon monoxide. If you were exposed to a carbon monoxide leak, your symptoms may vary depending on the level and duration of exposure. It can even present as flu-like symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide leads to more severe symptoms, including confusion, loss of consciousness, and death.
Mental confusion or disorientation
Loss of muscular coordination
Loss of consciousness
If you believe you're experiencing accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. Go outside and get fresh air into your lungs, but also contact emergency personnel who can help you navigate initial symptoms. They will also be able to send a qualified technician to find the source of the carbon monoxide in your home so that you and your family can rest at ease.