Each year, approximately 20,000 people in the United States visit the emergency room because of carbon monoxide poisoning. While many of those people are treated and released, on average, 400 people will die from carbon monoxide poisoning in a given year. Why is this gas so dangerous?
Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless, making it difficult to detect a leak until someone becomes sick. And even then, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning mimic those of the flu, making it challenging to identify.
When a leak does happen, it doesn’t discriminate. Young or old, healthy or sick, man or woman — everyone in your home is at risk of becoming ill if exposed to unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. If anyone in your family has health problems already, the effects can be even more devastating.
It sounds scary, and yes, it can be frightening. There’s no way to sugarcoat it — ignoring the risks can get you killed. But if you take the time to understand what carbon monoxide is and how to prevent it from reaching your loved ones, you can sleep well at night knowing your family is safe.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas found wherever fuel is burned. Carbon monoxide sources include trucks, cars, small engines and certain household appliances, including gas ranges, furnaces, fireplaces and grills. It can be released from natural gas, gasoline, coal, charcoal and wood, which means most people have at least one possible source of carbon monoxide in or around their home.
When a person breathes it in, CO prevents blood cells from carrying enough oxygen throughout their body. When your body doesn’t have the proper amount of oxygen it needs, then it can’t function as it should. Vital organs can’t work right, and you become very sick.
Does CO exposure make everyone sick? Yes and no.
Carbon monoxide levels are often referenced when talking about air pollution because it is also a problem outdoors, especially in areas with a lot of industrial production or high-density areas where there are many cars and trucks on the roads. It’s a significant factor in air pollution, and there’s a lot of information about what it does when released into the air in high doses.
Typically, when you hear people discussing carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s referring to what happens when dangerous levels of carbon monoxide enter a home. When CO is released into a poorly-ventilated indoor space, its effects rapidly intensify.
In those cases, exposure to extremely high levels of CO can quickly cause damage to the brain and heart. Or, depending on how high the levels of CO are — and how quickly they rise — the damage may occur more slowly over time.
What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Homes?
Carbon monoxide is a potential risk anywhere fuel burns. To identify potential sources of a leak in your home, the easiest thing to do is determine anywhere you know that’s burning fuel. That means you need to investigate whether your home contains common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning, including:
- Water heater
- Gas stove/oven
- Gas-powered space heaters
- Clothes dryer
- Power tools and lawn equipment
- An attached garage that regularly houses vehicles
Yes, this is a list of some of the most common household appliances. And no, not all of these are powered by fuel. Your home may have a water heater and stove powered by electricity. Or, maybe you don’t have a chimney. But, most houses in the United States today face some risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from at least one of these items. If you aren’t aware of this, then you won’t be able to take the proper steps to protect your home from unsafe CO levels.
What are Safe Carbon Monoxide Levels?
Carbon monoxide is measured in parts per million (ppm) and is generally considered safe if the CO levels inside stay below 70 ppm. These levels ensure that indoor CO levels don’t exceed outdoor levels. When they exceed outdoor CO levels, that’s when problems arise.
As levels rise above 70ppm, the short-term and long-term effects will depend on the age and overall health of those exposed. Young children, elderly adults and anyone with a history of breathing problems are at a higher risk of experiencing the effects of exposure to CO. However, this should not be taken to mean that healthy adults can’t and won’t get sick. Anyone, regardless of age or health history, can become ill when they are exposed to higher levels of CO.
If you have family members with health problems, particularly asthma or heart issues, they may be the first to experience symptoms. People with heart problems are at risk of experiencing chest pains even before CO levels begin to rise over 70ppm.
What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
When carbon monoxide levels in the home exceed safe limits, the residents of that home may initially think they are experiencing the flu because the symptoms are similar. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Weakness and dizziness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain
When people are exposed to lower doses of CO over time, they may experience these symptoms at home, but then start feeling better when they leave to go to work or run errands. Another telling sign is if the entire family — including pets — is displaying similar symptoms and no one runs a fever or improves in their condition.
If you or your loved ones are experiencing these symptoms and you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your house immediately and seek medical attention. It’s important to get help as quickly as possible to prevent continued exposure and long-term effects of CO poisoning.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Combatting carbon monoxide poisoning protects you and your family from serious illness or even death. Since CO is a silent killer, knowing how to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning can be life-saving. You can take numerous precautions to keep indoor levels under 70 ppm.
Fuel-Powered Appliance Safety Tips
Avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning can be a routine process. When it comes to handling appliances, remember to:
- Get professional servicing and cleaning for your furnace, water heater and other appliances.
- Use fuel-powered space heaters in areas with good ventilation.
- Refrain from using portable fuel-powered heaters or lanterns in enclosed sleeping areas, including tents and campers.
- Keep gas-powered generators 20 feet away from windows, doors and vents.
- Hire a professional to check a gas-powered refrigerator if you notice an odd smell.
- Buy fuel-powered appliances or equipment with the Underwriters’ Laboratories seal.
- Ensure all gas- and fuel-powered devices have proper ventilation.
- Avoid using gum or tape for patching vent pipes.
- Do not use a gas oven or range as a heat source.
- Refrain from using a gas camp stove in an enclosed area.
- Use the proper fuel type for kerosene space heaters.
- Ensure your wood stove is the correct size and EPA emissions certified.
Vehicle Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention
Your vehicle emits exhaust and fumes that can be harmful to your health. Follow these tips to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from your cars or trucks:
- Avoid running your vehicle inside an enclosed area like your garage, even if you have the door open.
- Inspect the exhaust system regularly.
Other Safety Measures to Consider
You should not burn charcoal indoors, whether you are using an appliance or doing so inside a fireplace. Charcoal is not meant for indoor use and can present serious dangers.
If you have a fireplace and chimney, you need to have it inspected and cleaned yearly or if you notice something out of place. Doing so prevents build-up inside the chimney and helps with proper ventilation.
Install and Test CO Detectors
Ensure you have a proper carbon monoxide detector installed in your home. These days, most new homes are required to have them. However, whether you own a home, live in an RV or rent an apartment, it’s essential to have them in different places throughout your dwelling.
Keep them in bedrooms and living spaces where all your household members can hear them. If your home or apartment doesn’t have them, purchase some right away. There are both plug-in and battery-powered options if you cannot choose hard-wired or the smoke and CO detector combination devices.
Ensure you have a battery-powered backup for your CO detector in the event of a power outage or any other reason it may not have a power supply. You will also want to periodically test your CO detector to ensure the alarms are working and detecting elevated CO levels.
Remember to change CO detector batteries at the manufacturer’s suggestion. Replace the entire unit after several years, when it becomes defective or if the expiration has passed.
Contact Wayne Alarm Systems for Quick Detection Today
In a perfect world, everything in your house would work perfectly all the time. Your appliances wouldn’t break or leak, and your family would be safe. But life isn’t always perfect. Things break, and appliances malfunction. When CO begins to leak into your home after a break or malfunction, it can come in without warning.
You can’t smell, see or taste carbon monoxide. If its presence isn’t detected quickly, it can result in illness and death.
Serving New England for more than 40 years, Wayne Alarm Systems has been recognized around the world for providing products and services that protect your home from many dangers, including carbon monoxide. Your family is our family — and we are committed to helping you keep them safe. We do this with state-of-the-art carbon monoxide detectors that will alert you when there is a problem and help you get your family to safety at any time of the day or night.
If you burn coal, oil, gas or wood anywhere in your home, then you are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Let us help you keep your loved ones safe. Contact us today to get started.