Carbon Monoxide: Be Aware!
That September or October cold snap that we always seem to have went absent this year, so many people are just now firing up their heating systems to take the chill off the house. Others might be burning wood or starting up their gas fireplace. And, the barbeque may finally be taking a back seat to the kitchen for cooking. With these seasonal changes, homeowners burn more fuel indoors, making it a good time to review a very important indoor safety measure: Carbon monoxide awareness.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, but potentially deadly gas that is one of the byproducts of the combustion process. Sources of carbon monoxide in your home include your gas furnace, boiler or water heater, wood or gas fireplace, and the gas range or oven in your kitchen.
Depending on your home, there could be other sources of combustion, such as a gas-fired dryer, or even your car left running in the attached garage. We recommend that you make a list of all fuel-consuming appliances in your home, and periodically make sure they are in proper, safe working order. Whether this means that you thoroughly review procedures in your owner’s manuals or bring in a professional, or both, now is a great time to ensure the safety of your family.
Carbon Monoxide Symptoms Similar to the Flu!
The most common initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. If not addressed, continued exposure to high CO levels–or lengthy exposure to lower levels–will result in vomiting, mental confusion, loss of muscular control, and loss of consciousness. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in death. Because their initial symptoms are similar, carbon monoxide poisoning can often be mistaken for the flu.
ACCEPTABLE Carbon Monoxide Exposure Levels (We Vote None!)
Carbon monoxide is measured in “parts per million” (ppm) of total molecules in the air. Determining an ‘acceptable’ level of CO for residential applications is a bit of a gray area, because national standards primarily address allowable limits for exposure in the workplace, often in relation to a continuous eight hour period. Depending which organization you check (ASHRAE, OSHA, World Health Organization, etc.), the numbers may vary, but typically suggest concern when there is continued exposure at levels of 9 to 35 ppm.
However, the writers of this blog believe that in their own home, or that of a customer’s, the only acceptable reading under normal conditions is 0 ppm! While exposure at very low levels is not an emergency, it is often an indicator, and finding and eliminating the source before there is an emergency seems prudent.
Sensitivity to carbon monoxide may vary significantly from one individual to another. In addition, concern about higher risk situations such as the elderly or those with heart or other health conditions, also complicates matters. Taking a conservative approach when deciding on measures to protect your family, is the wisest course of action.
If you believe you may have a carbon monoxide situation, get out of the house and seek professional help and advice in the form of a doctor, the fire department, and/or a home appliance specialist. Consider calling 911 if you feel this is an emergency situation–and be sure to make that call from a neighbor’s house!
Safeguard Your Home!
Don’t gamble with your family’s health and safety. Have all fuel-combusting systems in your home inspected regularly to make sure that they are operating efficiently and safely, and that all products of combustion are properly vented to the outdoors.
Install carbon monoxide and smoke detector alarms in critical areas around your home, making sure you purchase a quality product from a reputable manufacturer. And remember that carbon monoxide alarms have a relatively short lifespan for effective performance, and should be tested regularly and replaced when they have outlived their life expectancy. Read the owner’s manual and follow manufacturer recommendations; if yours is battery powered, make sure the batteries are fresh.
There are lots of choices when purchasing carbon monoxide detectors, including those that incorporate a smoke detector in the same device. In the Denver and Boulder, Colorado area, speak with Save Home Heat’s service department to schedule a safety inspection for your gas-fired heating and hot water systems. If you are unsure about how to proceed purchasing and installing carbon monoxide (and smoke) alarms for your home, consult our master electrician for expert advice and assistance!