We all know that smoke alarms save lives, but it’s important to know that carbon monoxide alarms save lives, too. Every year, when the weather turns cold, homeowners reach for the thermostat and turn on the heat. Very little thought is given to whether the furnace is functioning properly. With winter upon us and furnaces working hard, it is important for home owners to understand the single most silent danger – carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), over 150 people nationwide die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by poor ventilation out of their homes to release the toxic gases produced by their heating systems. In addition, nearly 10,000 injury cases related to carbon monoxide are diagnosed each year.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that comes from a number of sources, including vehicles, fuel-burning appliances and engine-powered equipment. Because it is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas, many people don’t know they have carbon monoxide poisoning until it’s too late.
The causes of carbon monoxide are anything that gives off a flame, including wood, coal, gasoline, plastic, paper or cloth burning. The type of appliances that can be a source of CO are furnaces, water heaters, clothes dryers, stoves, grills, small gasoline engines and motor vehicles. If these appliances are in an enclosed area with poor-ventilation, CO poisoning can occur.
Homeowners are more aware of the cost of heating drafty homes and take steps to seal up windows, doors and other areas of air infiltration. Consequently, there is less fresh air coming into a home and not as many pathways for stale or polluted air to leave it. When furnaces are starved of the oxygen needed to burn fuels completely, carbon monoxide is produced. Carbon monoxide may also be present in a house that contains a cracked furnace, if an automobile is running inside a garage, or be the result of a blocked chimney because birds build nests, although most chimneys have covers now.
Risks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are highly preventable with a few important safety tips.
1.Install a CO detector in a central location outside sleeping area and on every level of a home. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home, so when one sounds, they all sound.
2.Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
3.If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Call 911 immediately.
4.Open garage doors before starting vehicles. If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
5.During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
6.Use a generator only in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings. Never use portable generators inside the home or garage, even if doors and windows are open.
7.Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
8.Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking. Do not barbeque in the garage.
9.Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
10.Provide adequate indoor ventilation when using fireplaces or unvented space heaters.Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool
11.Clean chimneys and check for blockages. Deposits of soot may build up on the interior wall of the chimney liner. Excessive soot can cause chimney fires, flue deterioration, and can chimney blockages that direct toxic fumes back into the house.
12.Hire a professional to install all fuel burning appliances, including ovens, stoves and clothes dryers.
Know the symptoms:
Symptoms of prolonged, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning “mimic” those of common winter ailments, such as the common cold, flu, and exhaustion. This is why so many cases go undetected until permanent, subtle damage to the brain, heart and other organs and tissues occur.
Symptoms of low-level CO poisoning include:
•Shortness of breath
High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:
•Loss of muscular coordination
•Loss of consciousness
What to do when CO is detected in the home:
•If you have persistent flu- flu-like symptoms, chronic fatigue or generalized depression, you could be suffering from low-level CO poisoning. It is important to see a doctor.
•If you have a CO detector and the alarm sounds, open windows and ventilate your home w/ fresh air, have your heating system checked by a professional.
•If the alarm sounds and you are feeling drowsy or dizzy, leave the house and call 911. You may need medical attention for CO poisoning.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.