With cooler weather just around the corner (maybe…we hope…), it is the time of year where we start to think of cozy nights indoors, perhaps around the fireplace. We imagine clicking on our furnace, and the smell that comes with turning on the heater for the first time this year. But what we generally don’t imagine is having to deal with a silent killer, carbon monoxide.
We’ve all heard the terror stories about families dealing with a case of carbon monoxide poisoning, but what are the facts? What is this deadly gas and how can we prevent it from becoming a problem in our own homes?
What Is It?
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that is created when fuels are burned. Fireplaces, stoves, gas appliances, generators, and furnaces are all potential sources for creation of CO, which means that most homes are at risk for carbon monoxide issues.
Because the gas cannot be smelled or seen, detecting it can be almost impossible without a monitor, which is a huge problem. Carbon monoxide inhibits the ability of the body to carry oxygen in the blood – when the levels in your home become dangerous, permanent brain injury or death can be the results.
To make matters worse, people often mistake the symptoms for those of a cold or flu. If you suddenly notice severe headaches, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, or chest pain, it’s time to get out of the house! But if you are asleep when carbon monoxide levels get too high, you can die without ever experiencing symptoms.
Install A Carbon Monoxide Detector
Having working carbon monoxide detectors in your home is a must, but there are many different styles to choose from. The most common are hardwired solutions, battery-operated detectors, or plug in detectors. Hardwired solutions and plug in options won’t work if the power goes out, so we tend to encourage clients to go with battery-operated options, or at least have a battery-operated backup. Digital displays can provide more information on the exact levels of CO in your home – some can even show levels over time.
The risk of permanent injury or death from this unnoticeable gas is why it is so important to monitor and maintain a carbon monoxide detector. Detectors should be installed on every level of the home (including the basement), and within 10 feet of bedroom doors in order to wake sleeping occupants. Carbon monoxide rises, so installing the monitors high on the walls is a good idea. Don’t install monitors near windows, right next to gas appliances, or in areas where you routinely cook. In the case of windows, the detector might not register an issue due to better ventilation. In the other two cases, you may end up with annoying false positives on a regular basis.
Test the detectors weekly by giving the red button a quick press, and give them a good cleaning once a month with a gentle cloth and vacuum brush. As carbon monoxide monitors can lose sensitivity over time, it’s important to monitor their functionality if it has been awhile since they were installed.
To reduce the chances of developing a problem with CO in your home, it’s a good idea to routinely maintain all appliances in your home that use gas. An annual maintenance check will help to identify any potential problems and allow a qualified technician to correct any issues. They will double check the ventilation for gas appliances, and properly fix any leaks they may find – this is definitely an area where DIY isn’t the best idea.
Fireplaces can be a major source of carbon monoxide. A fireplace that hasn’t been used or cleaned in awhile can have blockages or a buildup of creosote in the chimney, which can be fire hazards as well as potential CO risks. Having fireplaces cleaned once a year by a chimney sweep will help to prevent any danger from starting up your fireplace for the first time each season.
Generators are another potentially deadly source of carbon monoxide if used improperly. They should never be used in enclosed spaces and should be kept at least 20 feet away from all windows, vents, or doors.
If your home also has an attached garage, make sure that cars are not left running in the enclosed space – it doesn’t take long for that CO buildup to make its way into your home.
If The Worst Happens…
In the event that your carbon monoxide detectors sound the alarm, get everyone in the house outside. If anyone is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 immediately. The fire department will come out and determine if there is a problem and the best way to address it. It is possible for CO detectors to give false positives, but as long as they’re installed properly, it is best to be on the safe side and call for emergency assistance.