“Family of 10 Killed by CO Poisoning”
“Broken Furnace Sends Family to Hospital”
“Crack in Heater Blamed for CO Deaths”
Newspaper headlines like these pop up across the country, especially in winter. Estimates vary from hundreds to thousands of people killed by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning each year. Exact figures are debatable because CO is tasteless, colorless and odorless — undetectable except by sophisticated devices. Also, the symptoms of CO poisoning — fatigue, headaches, dizzy spells and nausea — resemble those of flu and many other common illnesses. So CO poisoning is easily misdiagnosed, and people can succumb to it without physical discomfort, almost like falling asleep. That is why CO is called the “silent killer.”
CO gas is given off by incomplete combustion of flammable fuels. Furnaces, boilers, water heaters and stoves are all potential sources of CO. These products are designed with elaborate safeguards and under normal operating conditions all CO produced from combustion will be harmlessly vented to the atmosphere. But abnormalities can arise.
The most common cause of CO build-up in the home is poor venting due to leaks or blockages in the vent system. Cracks or corrosion in a furnace’s heat exchanger is another common cause. The most important way to protect yourself and your family is to have your heating system inspected at least once a year by our expert heating professionals. Our technicians will check all connections to flue piping and vents for cracks, gaps, rust, corrosion or debris. They also inspect the combustion chamber and heat exchanger for cracks, holes, metal fatigue or corrosion, as well as the filters and filtering system for dirt and blockages. They will clear any debris off the burner and make sure all safety switches are working properly.
Beyond that, here are some things you can do to safeguard your loved ones from this insidious danger.
- Install UL-approved CO detectors in key locations inside your home. The best place to install them is near bedrooms so the alarm will wake you up if you are asleep. What do you do if the alarm sounds? Vacate the house quickly, opening doors and windows as you leave in order to provide ventilation. Then contact your 911 emergency response crew.
- Be sure all vents are properly installed — including those leading from the furnace, clothes dryer, water heater and wood-burning stoves.
- Regularly inspect your chimneys and vents for blockages caused by debris, animal nests or cave-ins. Also beware of cracks and holes. If you have a fireplace, have the chimney inspected annually for blocked flues, excess soot and debris.
- Never use an unvented space heater indoors. Never burn charcoal inside and do not use your gas stove as a heater. When cooking, keep the oven door closed.
- Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even if the garage door is left open. Exhaust fumes can enter your living space and build up to hazardous levels.
- Avoid running both a furnace and fireplace simultaneously for long periods of time. This can create backdrafting that pulls CO gas that is exiting the home, back inside.
- Never install a boiler, furnace or water heater in an airtight enclosure
- Look for the followings signs that may indicate CO problems: streaks of soot around the service door of a gas appliance; rust spots on flue pipe, boilers, furnaces or water heaters; excessive moisture on basement windows, which may indicate poor ventilation; generally stale air throughout the house, another sign of poor ventilation.