09:33 AM

Winter heating poses carbon monoxide hazards


As temperatures fall outside, the comfort and warmth of a home is one of winter’s true pleasures. But where there’s heat, there’s also the potential for carbon monoxide.

As temperatures fall outside, the comfort and warmth of a home is one of winter’s true pleasures. But where there’s heat, there’s also the potential for carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal and is referred to as a “silent killer” because it’s nearly impossible to detect without a proper monitor. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 200 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year; thousands of others are treated at hospital emergency rooms.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is created when fossil fuels (such as gasoline, liquid petroleum or LP gas, wood, coal, charcoal, propane, natural gas, oil and methane) burn incompletely.

Sources of carbon monoxide in your home include oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, wood and gas fireplaces, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters and wood stoves.

It’s important to be aware of the potential hazards in using these household appliances and the safety measures you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. The following information was compiled from three experts in the field: the CPSC, the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune up central heating systems annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
  • Keep vent hoods and pipes securely in place and in good condition.
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet the EPA emission standards. Make sure doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Do not idle your car in the garage.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector; the CPSC recommends one that meets the requirements of the current Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standard 2034. If you install only one carbon monoxide detector, the CPSC recommends locating it near a sleeping area, where it can wake you if you are asleep. "Smart" carbon monoxide detectors (such as the Nest Protect), are available that can alert you to dangers even if you are not at home.
  • Test your carbon monoxide detector on a regular basis.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Low levels of carbon monoxide can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and mild headaches.
  • Moderate levels of carbon monoxide can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion and possibly fainting. If these levels continue or grow, the results may be fatal.

What to do if you suspect you have carbon monoxide poisoning:

Get fresh air immediately and see a doctor. In addition, have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and/or to find the source of carbon monoxide.

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