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Should I be concerned about Carbon Monoxide in my home?

Should I be concerned about Carbon Monoxide in my home?

We're glad you asked!

Carbon monoxide can be an invisible threat to your family's health and safety. Through more commonly associated with fire and automobile emissions, carbon monoxide poisoning can accumulate in any home unless certain precautions are taken. This is the purpose of this article is to get the word out that carbon monoxide is preventable.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels such as wood, natural gas, propane gas, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, coal and charcoal. It is caused by lack of oxygen or a disruption in the burning process. Household appliances such as your furnace, water heater, gas stove, space heaters, charcoal grill or gas dryer can be sources of carbon monoxide, especially if they are not in proper working condition, or have been installed improperly. Vehicle exhaust fumes from attached garages, as well as improperly operating fireplaces also can become carbon monoxide hazards, particularly if your home is well-sealed for energy efficiency.

What are the effects of Carbon Monoxide on the human body?

When we breathe, carbon monoxide combines with the red blood cells in the blood and displaces the oxygen our bodies' needs to survive. Carbon monoxide combines with the red blood cells over 200 times more easily that oxygen and creates a condition known as carboxyhemoglobin saturation. Carbon monoxide then gets carried to the vital organs throughout the bloodstream instead of oxygen. Our organ tissues require oxygen; without it, our bodies start to asphyxiate or suffocate. It takes the body much longer to eliminate carbon monoxide that to absorb it, which is one reason why exposure can be so dangerous.

What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Unfortunately, the symptoms caused by carboxyhemoglobin saturation are easily overlooked because they are often flu-like. With mild exposure, most people experience headaches, fatigue and nausea. Medium exposure can cause a severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, disorientation, confusion and an accelerated heart rate. Extreme exposure can lead to unconsciousness, convulsions, cardiorespiratory failure, coma and possibly death.

Why are new, well-sealed homes more susceptible to CO poisoning?

Newer homes are better sealed to prevent air leakage, which reduces energy use. As a result, these homes limit ventilation of outside air. Normally, your home breathes in air from the outside to replace air being used by combustion appliances. If your home is well sealed, these appliances may become starved for the air that allows them to operate properly. When that happens, vent reversal may occur. This condition is also known as "downdrafting" which means that the appliances start drawing air down the vent or chimney, resulting in combustion by-products entering the home. In other words, if the burners become starved for oxygen, carbon monoxide, can be introduced into the home. But even older, less insulated homes can be vulnerable to the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly if the appliances have been improperly installed or not maintained.

What can be done to protect our home from the danger of CO poisoning?

Prevention is the most important step. Taking proper safety measures will reduce your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Because vehicles are a major cause of carbon monoxide poisoning, always back your car out of the garage to let it warm up. Never leave it running in the confined space of a garage, particularly if the garage is attached to the home. The same holds true for lawn mowers, snowblowers and snowmobiles. Never use ovens or grilles as heating devices. Home heating systems represent only 5% of the many potential sources of CO. They are designed to be safe, efficient and not produce substantial amounts of carbon monoxide. However, it is important to schedule annual maintenance visits by a qualified technician to check all combustion appliances to make sure they are operating properly and to be sure that all chimneys and vents are connected properly and not blocked.

What can be done about detecting Carbon Monoxide in the home?

The best method of detection is to use a CO detector in your home. A CO detector is a device, very similar to a smoke alarm. It monitors the air for carbon monoxide and sounds an alarm if a specific level is detected. Ideally, you should have one detector adjacent to every living area in your home. Over time they will loose their sensitivity and require replacement. You need to consult with your technician regarding the life span: 3 years, 5 years? Carbon monoxide detectors are a safety back up for you and your family in the same way smoke detectors are. However, they, like smoke detectors, are not a substitute for a good preventative maintenance program.

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