Carbon Monoxide (CO): The Silent Killer

As we get ready to turn on the heat for the season, this is a good time to take a safety break and talk about Carbon Monoxide. Often called the “silent killer” because people ignore early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, eventually losing consciousness and are unable to escape to safety. With some education and preventable measures in place, you can keep your family safe.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) can be an invisible threat to your family’s health and safety. Carbon Monoxide is a toxic gas which is colorless, odorless, and non-irritating: there is no way of knowing if you have high levels of CO in your home. Though commonly associated with fires and auto emissions, carbon monoxide can accumulate in your home at dangerous levels. Home heating systems represent 50% of potential CO sources: your furnace, your water heater, your gas kitchen range, and any fuel-burning appliance all give off CO. The most common sources of CO are:

  • Gas furnaces
  • Kerosene and gas space heaters
  • Gas water heaters
  • Gas stoves & ovens
  • Fireplaces
  • Generators (when used inside, such as in a garage or shop or indoor workspace)
  • Automobiles (when left running, inside an enclosed gargage)

Fortunately, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning is easily monitored and entirely preventable. Never run a portable generator indoors or in an enclosed space (such as a garage or basement.) Never leave your car running in the garage.

Protecting Your Family from CO Poisoning

Follow these tips below to keep your family safe.

Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Low concentrations of carbon monoxide in the home can cause fatigue, dizziness, and headache.
Moderate concentrations of carbon monoxide in the home can cause flu-like symptoms, impaired vision, and shortness of breath.
High concentrations of carbon monoxide in the home can cause vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death.

Early signs of CO poisoning are often mis-diagnosed as the flu. Here are some key differences between carbon monoxide poisoning and the flu:

  • You feel better when you are away from home
  • Everyone is the home is sick at the same time (the flu virus usually spreads from person to person)
  • The family members most effected spend the most time in the house
  • Indoor pets appear ill
  • You don’t have a fever or body aches, and you don’t have swollen lymph nodes that are common with the flu and some other infections
  • Symptoms appear or seem to get worse when using fuel-burning equipment

If you suspect you or a family member have carbon monoxide poisoning, seek medical attention immediately.

Install and Maintain CO Monitors in Your Home

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless; it is undetectable by humans’ senses. The only way to know CO levels in your home is with a carbon monoxide monitor. A CO monitor will alert you before CO levels in your home reach dangerous levels. CO monitors should be placed within 10 feet of every room used for sleeping. As with your smoke detector, batteries in your CO monitor should be changed regularly. When daylight savings time ends in the fall and you set your clocks back, that is time to pair ‘change your batteries’ with your smoke detector and CO monitor.

Properly Vent and Maintain Fuel-burning Appliances

It is important to know what appliances in your home are fuel-burning and make sure that they are maintained properly. All of these appliances should be vented to the outside. Your fuel-burning appliances (your furnace, for example) should be checked by a professional appliace repair specialist every year to check for potential problems. You can do your own preliminary check for potential CO problem:

  • Streaks of soot around fuel-burning appliances, or fallen soot in a fireplace
  • Absence of an upward draft in your chimney
  • Excess moisture and condensation on windows, walls and cold surfaces
  • Rusting on flue pipes or appliance jacks
  • Orange or yellow flame in combustion appliances (the flame should be blue)
  • Damaged or discolored bricks at the top of the chimney

If you notice any of these signs of damage, get a professional out as soon as possible.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat that is easily managed with some basic knowledge and a CO detector. Give your family the gift of of safety this heating season and give thanks for today’s affordable technology to provide that safety.

Not sure if your home is safe from carbon monoxide poisoning? Need a hand with that CO detector? Give Appliance Doctor a call and let us check out your appliances and check (or install) that CO detector for you. Nothing beats peace of mind for sound sleeping.