Safety & Security
For Your Home
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Safety Precautions

CO (Carbon Monoxide) is a highly toxic, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. In the United States, it is the number one cause of fatal poisonings each year. Individuals exposed to excessive levels of CO can literally be poisoned without even being aware of the danger. That is why it is referred to as “the silent killer”. OSHA, (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have established guidelines which indicate that continuous exposure to carbon monoxide levels for healthy adults should not exceed 50 parts per million.

CO is produced when fossil fuels containing carbon (coal, oil or gas); wood, charcoal, paper or any other material are burned without sufficient oxygen to allow for complete combustion; or are burned in an unventilated area. As CO is inhaled, it inhibits the ability of the blood stream to carry oxygen throughout the body. Exposure to low concentrations, even those under 50PPM (parts per million) of CO, can cause headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pains in healthy adults. Persons with heart disease, pregnant woman, fetus’ and young children are at a greater health risk. CO can cause brain damage in fetus’ and young children; and heart attack, respiratory failure or stroke in those with lung or coronary disease.

Higher concentrations of 50–100PPM can result in severe headaches, dizziness, disorientation, and various flu-like symptoms that mysteriously disappear when away from the home or the source of exposure. Higher levels of exposure can result in a coma, convulsions, cardiac-respiratory failure and death.

Potential sources of carbon monoxide exposure are:
  • Incomplete combustion caused by dirty or faulty heating equipment or appliances such as furnaces, water heaters, ranges and dryers
  • Burning of any type of fuel or material in a poorly ventilated area
  • Non-vented kerosene and gas space heaters
  • Leaking chimneys
  • Use of ventilating fans while heating equipment or appliances are in use
  • Down-drafts from water heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces
  • Motor vehicles
  • Living spaces next to or over garages
  • Exposure to paint thinners and strippers
  • Tobacco smoke

Safety Precautions
The following safety precautions can help minimize the risk of CO exposure:
  • Have furnaces and water heaters inspected, cleaned and tuned-up on an annual basis. (Make sure, when conducting a Homeowner’s Furnace Check-up, to check flues and chimney areas for potential leaks).
  • Check and clean all chimneys and flue pipes regularly to make sure that they are free of debris. Use a mirror to look up them for obstructions such as birds’ nests, branches or leaves.
  • Check to ensure that gas flames and pilot lights burn clean and blue. Yellow or orange-tipped flames indicate that the gas is not burning properly and the equipment may need to be adjusted by a qualified professional.
  • Open fireplace dampers before lighting a fire. Leave the damper open until the ashes cool (smoldering ashes can actually produce more CO than an actual fire). Never empty ashes into a container.
  • Don’t use ventilating fans or clothes dryers when using a wood burner or a fireplace. This can create a vacuum within the home causing spillage of flue products.
  • Choose properly designed and sized wood stoves that are certified and meet the EPA's emissions standards.
  • Make sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly vented. The use of unvented space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves that do not let gases escape to the outside are banned by state codes in all commercial structures, apartments and 1-2 family homes.
  • Never exhaust different types of fuels through the same flue. For example, a wood burner exhausting in the same flue as a gas furnace.
  • Do not start or idle automobiles with the garage door closed. Death from CO can occur in as little as 3 minutes. The safest practice is to back the vehicle out of the garage and close the door before letting it idle.
  • Never operate the air conditioner and the furnace at the same time. Back drafting can cause CO to spread through the area.
  • Ventilate areas where people smoke to avoid buildup of CO. This will minimize the risk of exposure to second-hand smoke because each smoker can produce 15ppm of CO.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area when using paint thinners, turpentine or paint stripper. They contain methylene chloride which emits CO.
  • Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors in key areas throughout the home such as in hallways near the bedrooms, near the attached garage and rooms with space heaters or fireplaces. CO detectors should not be installed in garages, kitchens or furnace areas. The initial combustion of starting a car, turning on a range or igniting of the furnace may trigger the alarm.

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