Colder weather means homeowners are relying on their home heating systems more and more. However, with the surge of heat being delivered to your home could also lurk a “silent killer.” More than 400 Americans die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is responsible for more than 20,000 people visiting the emergency room annually. You can help protect your family by taking some simple steps to ensure your heating systems are safe.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
To understand how to protect yourself and family from carbon monoxide, we must first understand what it is. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that is produced when gas, oil, charcoal, wood, or other fuel is burned. This is why it is referred to as the “silent killer.” There is no way to detect carbon monoxide with our 5 senses. This is why it is always a good idea to have carbon monoxide testers in your home. Also, carbon monoxide poisoning is often confused with the flu because the symptoms are very similar.
What Does it Do?
When the air you are inhaling has too much carbon monoxide, your body will begin replacing oxygen with the carbon monoxide. This prevents much-needed oxygen from getting to your brain and other organs in your body. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include: dull headaches, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, nausea, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness. Although extreme cases occur where carbon monoxide poisoning happens in a matter of hours, people can also experience slow carbon monoxide poisoning. This often happens when people are exposed to small amounts of carbon monoxide over a long period of time.
How does it Get in My Home?
Carbon monoxide can enter your home in a variety of ways. According to the EPA, sources include:
- Leaking chimneys and furnaces
- Back-drafting from furnaces
- Gas water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces
- Gas stoves
- Generators and other gasoline powered equipment
- Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
- Automobile exhaust from attached garages
As you can see, many causes are due to faulty chimney and venting systems. Chimneys and flue liners that are not properly sealed or have some sort of blockage are more prone to pushing polluted gases back into your living space. Chimneys also need proper draft in order to vent gases properly and because of today’s home construction this can be difficult. Homes are built to operate more efficient and to keep warm air in and cold air out (or visa versa). When furnaces and chimneys are starved of fresh oxygen this creates carbon monoxide.
How Can I Protect Myself and My Family?
An annual chimney inspection and cleaning is critical to keeping your family safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide. A Certified chimney professional will be able to spot potential dangers such as improper venting or leaking. Aside from your annual chimney inspection, you can install carbon monoxide detectors near all the sleeping areas of the house. Battery powered carbon monoxide sensors are also available for areas where an outlet might not be readily available. Also, always adhere to best safety practices when dealing with fuel burning equipment or appliances. Only operate this type of equipment in well-ventilated areas and make sure all fuel-burning appliances are installed by a professional.
If you haven’t had your chimney or stove inspected this year or think your equipment is malfunctioning, give us a call today to set up an appointment!