Hazardous Household Materials: Carbon Monoxide
To continue our series on hazardous household materials, this time around guest poster Jessica Ackerman, a home decor specialist and expert on all things related to homeowning too, weighs in. Today, Jessica talks about a possibly lesser known, but important, safety consideration in the home; the awareness and prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning …
With the changing of the seasons (and with Daylight Savings Time close at hand), I always like to take an opportunity to change the batteries in my smoke detector and also in my carbon dioxide detector. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal, and it seems that a winter does not pass without hearing of a family that was killed by this deadly gas.
I know that many folks are fortuitous enough to have monitoring for carbon monoxide included with their home security systems, and that’s an optimal way to make sure that your family is protected. For those of us without this service, the carbon monoxide detector is a must-have. This article will look at what you must do to safeguard your family from the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Deadly Carbon Monoxide
One of the most horrible things about carbon monoxide is that it is odorless and invisible. You cannot see it or smell it. Yet at high levels, carbon monoxide can kill a person within a matter of minutes. Carbon monoxide is released when fuels do not have the oxygen that they need to burn efficiently – including gas, wood, oil, kerosene, and charcoal. When using a properly maintained appliance or stove, carbon monoxide is typically not problematic. Nonetheless, when an appliance is not working like it should or being used in a manner that is inappropriate, the levels of carbon monoxide within a home can become dangerously high.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Hundreds of people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, usually caused by a malfunctioning fuel-burning appliance or from improperly using fuel-burning appliances. The elderly, infants, and people who have a history of respiratory or heart problems are particularly susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. It is important for all families to be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. When carbon monoxide levels within the home are becoming unsafe, the following symptoms usually occur:
- Severe headaches
- Mental confusion
- Shortness of breath
If you or someone in the home experiences these symptoms, it is important to get fresh air right away. Open the windows and doors, turn off all fuel-burning appliances and get out of the house. Seek help in the emergency room of your local hospital and let them know that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon Monoxide Prevention
Although a carbon monoxide detector is your first line of defense against deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, it should never be considered as a replacement for using good sense when it comes to this deadly gas. The following tips will help you to keep your family safe:
- Have all fuel-burning appliances inspected each fall before the heating season begins. In my home, we always have the HVAC man come out well before the rush so that we know everything is in proper working order. This inspection includes all gas, oil, and kerosene appliances, including furnaces, water heaters, ranges, ovens, dryers, and space heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces. The chimney and flue should also be inspected, and should be in good condition and not obstructed in any way.
- Only purchase appliances that can be vented so that their fumes are directed to the outdoors. Have all appliances installed properly by a professional and then maintain your appliances according to the instructions provided by the appliance manufacturer.
- Read and follow all of the instructions that are shipped with your fuel-burning appliance. For those who use an unvented kerosene or gas space heater, follow all of the precautions that are listed in the manufacturer’s instructions. Never burn a fuel-burning space heater in a room without adequate ventilation; always crack a window in the room where the heater is located. Never sleep in a room with an unvented fuel-burning space heater.
- Never allow your car to idle in your garage, even with the garage door open. These fumes can build up rapidly and penetrate the home’s living area.
- Never try to heat the kitchen using an open gas oven door.
- This may sound like a given (and I can’t even begin to imagine the smoke damage involved), but don’t use your charcoal grill indoors, or even in your fireplace.
- Don’t operate any appliance or device with a gas-powered engine in an enclosed space, such as a generator. If you must use a gas-powered generated, such as during a power outage, always make sure that it is outside and that it is the recommended number of feet away from your home. You will find this information in the manufacturer’s instructions that accompany the appliance. Forty percent of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning are related to improper generator usage.
- Never avoid symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. You might lose consciousness and die if you fail to take action.
- Never allow a carbon monoxide detector to give you a false sense of security. Don’t rely on the detector to be functional; prevention is your best bet, even if you subscribe to carbon monoxide monitoring alongside your home security service.
A good carbon monoxide detector costs less than $30; I can’t think of a better investment in your family’s safety and your peace of mind.