The winter wind is blowing, and will be for a little while longer. While you’re cozy in front of your fireplace you’re probably not mentally running through the dangers lurking in your home. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And one of the most deadly is carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for as many as 700 deaths in the United States each year, and possibly much higher since it can be difficult to properly diagnose as the source of illness. The majority of these poisoning events are not even discovered until someone collapses.
Here’s some important information that you need to know about carbon monoxide and how to protect yourself and your household members from this terrible – and often avoidable – threat.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Part of the problem when dealing with carbon monoxide lies in its very nature. It’s colorless and odorless and can go completely undetected until symptoms begin to set in.
Inhaling carbon monoxide diminishes your ability to absorb oxygen. Whether it’s in small doses over a long period of time, or in a single concentrated dose, the effects can be lethal.
What Causes Carbon Monoxide In Your Home?
Boilers, furnaces and gas fires can all be sources of carbon monoxide. A blocked chimney and flue are culprits, too.
You have probably been told never to run your car engine in a closed garage. That’s an almost guaranteed way to expose yourself and your household to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
Using a grill, heater or open flame indoors that is designed for outdoor use will also put you at risk. Even the generator you use during power outages can put you in danger, especially if you run it too close to the house or in the garage where the fumes can accumulate.
Some risks can be avoided entirely, so control what you can. We’ll give you tips for protecting yourself from other sources in a moment.
Warning Signs Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
It’s a bit frustrating to read through the list of common symptoms – headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, weakness – and realize that they’re an awful lot like the symptoms of just about anything, including food poisoning, or your everyday cold or flu.
Other symptoms can include confusion and blurred vision, chest pain and shortness of breath. Again, not too distinctive.
In fact, one of the problems of diagnosing and treating carbon monoxide poisoning is that without a test, it can be mistaken for other relatively harmless illnesses. Since catching exposure early is important in treating the effects, you certainly don’t want to wait until someone loses consciousness, so start with the simplest way to protect yourself: install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Detectors Can Save Your Life
Even a small amount of carbon monoxide can accumulate in your system over time, damaging your heart or other organs, and even causing permanent brain damage. So don’t think that just because you aren’t swooning from exposure that you’re safe and sound. The threat may still exist.
Protect yourself and your family by installing carbon monoxide alarms. Install one in the hallway near each sleeping area, and be sure you have one on each floor of your home. They’re inexpensive and unobtrusive – well worth the little effort it takes to purchase and use them.
Be sure to change out the batteries the same way you do for your smoke detectors, or at least once a year. And replace the detectors themselves at the end of their lifespan. Many units have been shown to deteriorate over time and will not work as effectively.
If the alarms should ever go off, get everyone out of the house, or at a minimum, move to an open window or door for fresh air. If anyone has symptoms, be sure to seek medical attention immediately.
Call your local fire department to come in and test the air in your home after a suspected leak. They’ll be able to tell you if and when it’s safe to return.
Other Signs That You May Have A Carbon Monoxide Problem
Before symptoms set in, you may notice some telltale signs of a carbon monoxide leak. Again, these are not entirely distinct, so you may see one of these signs even when there’s no problem at all. But if you do notice any, it’s a good idea to get your home checked before it’s too late.
If you notice a stale, stuffy smell in your otherwise clean home, or even a burning smell, take heed. While carbon monoxide has no odor itself, it can be generated by other appliances failing, and those may create odd odors.
If you have a gas stove and notice the pilot acting strangely, whether it blows out or sputters inconsistently, that could be another sign.
Natural gas has an additive that gives it a recognizable odor so you can more easily detect a leak. If there’s a noticeable smell of gas when you turn on an appliance, it could mean there is a malfunction that can cause a carbon monoxide leak.
A buildup of soot around your fireplace is another sign that air is not venting properly and harmful gases may be accumulating in your home.
Condensation or excessive moisture, especially around fuel-burning appliances, is another warning sign.
Although any of these signs could be ordinary, they might also indicate the presence of the deadly carbon monoxide gas. It’s best to have your home and any suspicious areas checked immediately.
Protect Yourself With These Safety Precautions
An old or corroded furnace can be a source of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, as can a cracked heat exchanger. Have your HVAC system inspected and maintained regularly. That will help avoid disaster and alert you to problems that should be addressed.
Keep your vents clear so that air flows properly through your home. Blocking vents can put excess wear on your HVAC system and create problems that lead to carbon monoxide leaks.
Have your chimney cleaned and inspected every year to ensure that nothing is blocking airflow and that dangerous gases aren’t building up.
Call a professional to insure that all of your gas appliances are vented properly. If they’re old, or were poorly installed, you could be inviting carbon monoxide leaks into your home.
Most of all, never ignore a warning sign, whether it’s the escalating effects of exposure, or a warning sign of a potential leak. Take the threat seriously, follow precautions and rely on professionals when necessary. That will go a long way to keeping your family from ending up as a statistic.
If you have an old HVAC system and you’re concerned about safety, get in touch. We’re available for inspection and maintenance, or to replace problematic components as you may need.
We care about your comfort – and safety.