Protecting Your Family From Carbon Monoxide

by Rachel Laurendeau on October 2, 2012

Carbon monoxide gas (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air and is toxic to humans and animals in certain concentrations. It is produced when fuels such as wood, coal, natural gas, propane, gasoline, oil and methane burn incompletely. Since it is impossible to detect without equipment, it is especially important to ensure that CO does not go above acceptable levels in our homes by installing carbon monoxide detectors/alarms.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning
Depending on the concentration of CO and people’s health, the effects of carbon monoxide can vary. Additionally, people can be poisoned over a long period of time by consistent exposure to small amounts of CO, or they can be poisoned over a short period by large amounts. High concentrations of carbon monoxide can be fatal within minutes.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to those of other types of illnesses, poisonings and infections and can include: shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, disorientation and general weakness.

Causes of CO Poisoning In the Home
Any fuel-burning appliance or device used indoors may produce dangerous levels of CO gas. A few examples include:

• Non-electric furnaces (fuel-fired)
• Non-electric space heaters (kerosene, propane)
• Gas water heaters
• Fireplaces and wood stoves
• Gas stoves
• Generators
• Gas clothes dryers
• Charcoal grills
• Automobiles, lawnmowers, snow blowers running in the garage

How To Protect Yourself and Your Family From CO
Home improvements that help protect the home’s inhabitants are the most important improvements of all. Protecting yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning is quite straightforward.

• Install a carbon monoxide detector (also called a CO alarm) in your home near sleeping areas. It is also a good idea to place one in the utility room where your HVAC system and hot water tank are located.
• Test the CO detector monthly, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
• If your CO alarm sounds, quickly move outdoors or open windows and doors and call 9-1-1.
• Have your heating system (including chimneys, vents, flues) inspected and serviced annually by a professional HVAC contractor.
• Never use outdoor appliances indoors and never use household appliances such as ovens or dryers to heat your home.
• Never idle vehicles or machinery in the garage, even if the door is open.

Caution: unless you have purchased and installed a combination unit, carbon monoxide detectors are not replacements for smoke detectors in the home.

As the cooler weather arrives, windows are more likely to be closed and fuel-burning appliances are being used regularly. Take the time to make sure that your home is safe and free of carbon monoxide. Taking a few minutes now can keep your family safe from a silent and deadly killer.

Sources: American Red Cross and OCSWA


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