Carbon monoxide dangers, mitigated by care, good choices
Many people ask what they can do to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in their homes. Since carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion, here are some tips from the Consumer Products Safety Commission to help protect those in their homes.
Have fuel-burning appliances, including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves, inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make certain that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.
Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible. Have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturers' instructions.
Read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. When not being able to avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, carefully follow the cautions that come with the device. Use the proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open. Crack a window to ensure enough air for ventilation and proper fuel-burning.
Don't idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of a home
Don't use a gas oven to heat a home, even for a short time.
Don't ever use a charcoal grill indoors, even in a fireplace.
Don't sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
Don't use any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.
Don't ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.
Every home should have at least one properly functioning carbon monoxide detector in their home. Most emergency response professionals recommend installing multiple carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Carbon monoxide detectors are not a simple alarm, such as in smoke detectors, but are a concentration-time function alarm. At lower concentrations (eg 100 parts per million) the detector will not sound an alarm for many tens of minutes. At 400 parts per million (PPM), the alarm will sound within a few minutes. This concentration-time function is intended to mimic the uptake of carbon monoxide in the body while also preventing false alarms due to relatively common sources of carbon monoxide such as cigarette smoke.
When purchasing a carbon monoxide detector, do some research on features and don't select solely on the basis of cost. Non-governmental organizations such as Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), the American Gas Association, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) can help buyers make an informed decision. Look for UL certification on any detector that is purchased. Regardless of the type of alarm purchased, make sure to follow the manufacturers instructions when installing it.
Change the batteries in a carbon monoxide alarm when changing the batteries in your smoke alarm. The fire department recommends twice a year. Remember, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms don't last forever; many have a usable life of only 5-10 years.
If a carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm, most emergency response agencies recommend residents do the following.
First, make sure it is the carbon monoxide alarm and not a smoke alarm.
Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. If they are, exit the home and call 911.
If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air, turn off all potential sources of carbon monoxide including any oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater and any vehicle or small engine.
Check the batteries in the carbon monoxide detector. Many times an alarm will sound to make people aware that the bateries are low and need replacing.
If the carbon monoxide alarm appears to be functioning properly, have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house.