With the winter months coming, homeowners will soon be taking steps to weatherize their houses. While sealing a home can help make it more energy efficient by keeping heat trapped inside, it could also increase concentrations of carbon monoxide gas. At elevated levels, carbon monoxide can cause illness or even death. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to avoid poisoning from excess amounts of the gas.
Why it’s dangerous
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and is a byproduct of combustion. It can be safe in low levels, but when concentrations reach elevated levels, illness or even death can occur. The gas reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms can seem flu-like, ranging from headaches and fatigue to dizziness and nausea, though they will disappear after a period of time away from the home.
An estimated 500 people a year die as a result of unintentional exposure to carbon monoxide and between 8,000 and 15,000 people are treated for symptoms. During winter months it can be especially dangerous as homeowners attempt to tighten their households to keep cold air out and warm air trapped inside. Certain appliances not running correctly can also lead to an increase in carbon monoxide levels.
How it occurs
Carbon monoxide is formed anytime a material is burned. Furnaces, gas or kerosene heaters, clothes dryers, water heaters and chimneys that are not in proper working order can lead to increased concentrations of carbon monoxide.
Ways to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
By taking the time to initiate a few precautions, the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning in a home can be greatly reduced.
*Check heating systems – Have a certified technician inspect gas furnaces and water heaters on an annual basis to make sure they are in proper working order. They should also check to make sure there are no leaks in the vent pipes. Ask for a written certificate to show that the inspection has been done and that appliances meet the required safety standards.
*Check the paperwork –Renters should ensure that a landlord gas safety check is carried out every year and that a certificate is issued by a qualified engineer as evidence that appliances are in good working condition.
*Know the symptoms – Early onset of carbon monoxide poisoning can produce symptoms similar to those of having the flu, including headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. If it’s due to high levels of CO in the home, the symptoms will disappear after a certain amount of time is spent out of the house. Prolonged exposure can lead to vomiting, mental confusion, loss of muscular control, loss of consciousness and even death.
*Install detectors – If carbon monoxide levels do begin to rise in the home, it will not be noticeable until symptoms set in and by then it might be too late. Carbon monoxide detectors work like smoke alarms and alert residents if concentrations are above safe levels. They should be placed on every floor that has a room used for sleeping and are recommended to be installed near combustion appliances.
Carbon monoxide is known as the Silent Killer because it has no odor or color and concentrations can rise without any warning. By taking a few small precautions and knowing what to look for if levels do rise, family members can remain safe from harm.
Mike Genner believes it’s crucial for homeowners to have all appliances checked regularly by a gas safe plumber to prevent the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.