Combined Energy Services wants to take a moment to remind everyone of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 430 people in the United States die each year from accidental CO poisoning and approximately 50,000 people visit the emergency room. More than 8% of those visiting the OR are hospitalized.
Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that often goes undetected, striking victims caught off guard or in their sleep.
This “invisible killer” is produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators or furnaces. When the gas builds up in enclosed spaces, people or animals who breathe it can be poisoned. Ventilation does not necessarily guarantee safety.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 170 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide produced by non-automotive consumer products, such as room heaters. That’s a whopping 60% of CO poisoning deaths! So as the weather turns colder, it’s important to take extra precautions.
Who is at Risk?
Exposure to carbon monoxide can result in permanent neurological damage or death, and 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 – especially if certain conditions are present.
How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in My Home?
Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages.
The National Safety Council recommends you install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. The CDC offers these additional tips:
- Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. Combined Energy Services offer a variety of service plans (Propane – Fuel Oil/Kerosene) to take the worry away from system maintenance;
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors;
- 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;
- 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;
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly;
- Never use a gas oven for heating your home;
- Never let a car idle in the garage;
- Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Make sure your home has a carbon monoxide alarm. If you don’t have one, please go out and get one.
As with smoke alarms, make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm on every level of your home, especially near sleeping areas, and keep them at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances.
You won’t know that you have a carbon monoxide leak without a working alarm. So, test alarms regularly and replace them every five to seven years depending on the manufacturer’s label.
For the best protection, have carbon monoxide alarms that are interconnected throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
Carbon monoxide alarms are not interchangeable with smoke alarms, and vice versa. Combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are available.
Replacing CO detectors
If you wonder if your carbon monoxide detectors are worn out, they probably are. CO detectors only have a five to seven-year life. In 2009, the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) began requiring an end-of-life warning to alert homeowners when their carbon monoxide alarm has reached the end of its useful life. If there’s no date on yours and you can’t remember when you bought it, you’re probably due for a new CO monitor.
Here are two key things to look for when you buy replacements. First, pick a detector with a “fuel-cell electrochemical” sensor. This type is far more sensitive to CO and less prone to false alarms than models from just 10 years ago. There are other types of sensors on the market (metal oxide and gel cell) that offer longer life. But humidity and temperature changes can reduce their accuracy.
When it comes to detecting carbon monoxide, we recommend accuracy over detector life span. Second, experts recommend choosing a model with a digital readout and a “peak level” memory retention feature. That’s helpful to emergency personnel if they suspect CO poisoning. If you have small children, consider buying a talking CO detector. A voice warning is more effective than a horn at waking children.
Since carbon monoxide is roughly the same weight as air, it neither rises toward the ceiling nor sinks to the floor. Therefore, detectors that don’t have a digital display can be mounted anywhere if they’re at least 15 in. below ceilings.
Just make sure you install one on each level of your home. Locate them in hallways near bedrooms but at least 15 ft. away from fuel-burning appliances.
Steps to Take When Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds
The CPSC says never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:
- Immediately move outside to fresh air;
- Call emergency services, fire department or 911;
- Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for;
- Do not reenter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so.
- Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- The U.S. Fire Administration has put together materials on the dangers of carbon monoxide. Included is a list of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.
Low to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning is characterized by:
- Shortness of breath
High level carbon monoxide poisoning results in:
- Mental confusion
- Loss of muscular coordination
- Loss of consciousness
Symptom severity varies depending on the level of carbon monoxide and duration of exposure. Mild symptoms sometimes are mistaken for flu.