As cold weather settles in, homes get sealed up tightly and furnaces get turned on. Today’s homes are well insulated and sealed, which is good for utility bills, but it also means carbon monoxide can more easily accumulate in a short period of time.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas produced as a by-product of combustion. Devices that produce carbon monoxide that you may use in your home include fuel-fired furnaces, gas dryers, gas stoves, gas water heaters, fireplaces and woodstoves, charcoal grills, and automobiles.
Exposure to carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to body tissues, including vital organs, such as the heart and brain. Exposure to high levels can cause illness or even death. Carbon monoxide poisoning is leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, accounting for more than half of fatal occurrences of poisoning. About 1,500 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning while another 10,000 people seek medical attention from it.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide vary according to the levels of exposure but are often confused with symptoms of the flu. These symptoms include dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness. If you or a family member are experiencing these symptoms and think you may have been exposed to or sickened by carbon monoxide, you should seek medical treatment immediately.
Having carbon monoxide detectors in your home is critical to protecting your health and safety. The carbon monoxide detector includes a sensor that identifies and measures the carbon monoxide gas concentration in the atmosphere and emits an alarm if it reaches a dangerous level. If you only have one carbon monoxide detector in your home, it should be placed near the sleeping area of your home. But ideally your home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home, one above the garage, and one near fuel-burning appliances (locate it at least 15 feet away to prevent false alarms). Your carbon monoxide detectors should be tested and vacuumed monthly. The batteries should be changed twice a year, ideally at the same time you change the batteries in your smoke detectors. The detectors have a shelf life and should be replaced when it is 4 to 6 years old or when it exceeds its expiration date. City codes in the Kansas City metro area mandate that a new carbon monoxide detector must be installed any time a furnace is replaced.
In addition to installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, you can also help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by properly maintaining fuel-burning appliances in your home. Your fuel-fired furnace should receive an annual system tune-up from a trained professional to ensure it is operating properly. The technician will also inspect your home for carbon monoxide at the same time. Other gas appliances, such as water heaters, stoves, and dryers, should also be checked periodically for proper ventilation. Never leave your car running in the garage, even if the door is left open.
Taking these simples steps and ensuring you have carbon monoxide detectors installed will help ensure that your family stays safe and healthy.