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Carbon Monoxide -- How to Deal With This Deadly Gas That Can Infiltrate Your Home

Carbon monoxide, abbreviated CO, is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas released by combustion appliances, wood fires, charcoal grills, vehicles and even cigarettes. There’s no modern home that doesn’t contain combustion appliances that pose a risk if they vent improperly or malfunction in another way. That’s why it’s important to learn the dangers of CO, how to protect your family and the areas that pose a risk of leaking the gas into your home.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

CO causes more than 500 accidental deaths each year, and many more people are injured by high levels or sickened by lower levels of the gas.

The reason CO poisoning occurs is because the gas blocks your blood’s ability to carry oxygen. After prolonged exposure, the oxygen-starved brain and organs shut down and death can occur. At low concentrations in the range of 5 to 50 parts per million, drowsiness, nausea and mild headaches occur. Higher concentrations of 50 to 300 parts per million result in headaches, vomiting, flu-like symptoms and eventually death.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests a maximum indoor CO level of 9 parts per million.

How to Protect Your Home and Family

You can’t live without combustion appliances that provide heat, hot water and the ability to cook in your home, and you certainly don’t want to go without your car. That’s why it’s important to take the following preventative measures to protect your home and family from CO poisoning:

  • Install CO detectors. If you install only one detector in your home, position it near sleeping areas where its alarm will wake you if there’s an emergency. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suggests installing one on every level of your home. To avoid false alarms, don’t install CO detectors directly next to fuel-burning appliances, the stove or in the bathroom where high humidity occurs.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. You may want to recapture the taste and smell of summer in December, but don’t ever use a charcoal grill inside.
  • Never use the gas stove as a heater. This introduces an unsafe amount of carbon monoxide into the home.
  • Never leave the car idling in the garage. Even if the garage door is wide open and the door between the house and garage is shut, don’t idle the car in the garage. In fact, park the car outside whenever possible to reduce risk.
  • Know how to react if the CO alarm sounds. Immediately move outdoors and do a head count to make sure everyone is accounted for. Call the fire department. Stay outside until the response team has inspected the premises, determined the problem and aired out the space.

Areas Pros Check for Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide detectors are required in every home because multiple sources of CO exist there. To ensure your home is not at risk for high carbon monoxide levels, have a professional check the following areas:

  • Gas or oil furnace: The furnace becomes a common source of carbon monoxide leaks if flue pipe connections, venting systems or heat exchanger are cracked, rusted or corroded. A professional can check these areas for signs of CO leaks and set your mind at ease.
  • Furnace flame, burner and ignition: If you spot a yellow, flat flame in your gas furnace, that means the fuel isn’t burning efficiently and more CO than usual is being released. Oil furnaces experiencing the same problem give off an “oily” odor. (Remember, though, you can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide.)
  • Chimney and venting systems: Debris, animal nests, cracks and cave-ins can all block chimneys and venting systems, allowing for dangerous CO to circulate back into your home.
  • Venting and fan systems on combustible appliances: Gas water heaters, clothes dryers, wood burning stoves and space heaters are all examples of fuel-burning appliances that need to vent properly in order to reduce risk to your family. Improper venting leads to backdrafting, a dangerous occurrence that brings CO back into the living space.
  • Fireplaces: Blocked, bent or cracked fireplace flues along with a high presence of soot and debris could return carbon monoxide exhaust back into your home.
  • Stove and fireplace pilot lights: Closed-up homes with gas stoves and fireplaces are subject to carbon monoxide buildup if the pilot lights aren’t vented correctly.

For more tips on keeping your family safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide, please contact today. We serve residents in Chicago and throughout Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan.

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