Carbon Monoxide (CO) can be a pretty scary term considering over 50,000 people per year visit the hospital for accidental CO poisoning each year and more than 400 people in the U.S. die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are operating any fuel-burning equipment in home, it is producing at least some amount of carbon monoxide. In normal, everyday use, those small amounts of CO are pretty harmless, but if CO builds especially in a small space, it can become a serious threat to your health and safety.
What is Carbon Monoxide? It’s a colorless, odorless toxic flammable gas formed by incomplete combustion of carbon when burning heating oil, gasoline, coal, wood, charcoal, kerosene, propane, or natural gas. It’s also known as the invisible killer.
How is CO dangerous? CO buildup can occur due to poor ventilation or when equipment is damaged or not running properly. If there are high amounts of CO build up, it can cause CO poisoning which can cause you to feel sick, become unconscious, or even lead to death.
The CDC offers these tips:
- Have your furnace, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors
- Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished
- Never use a gas oven for heating your home
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes, even if doors and windows are open
- Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open; always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car inside
You can identify CO poisoning by some of the symptoms, although they will vary depending on the amount of exposure to the gas. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, disorientation, unconsciousness, convulsions, and death.
If you experience any of the CO poisoning symptoms above, get fresh air ASAP. Open windows, doors, and leave the home or space immediately. Call 911 from a safe distance. See a doctor immediately. Have your equipment inspected and serviced as soon as it is safe, and you are authorized to enter the home before using it again.
Anyone can be at risk. The CDC says infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more prone to illness or death, but carbon monoxide doesn’t discriminate.
If you do not already have CO detectors installed throughout your home, consider adding them. Like smoke detectors, they will alert you when CO is detected so you can quickly evacuate the home if needed. Make sure to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best placement of the detectors, testing, and maintenance.