We are constantly bombarded by news of toxins in our food and personal care products. But there is one deadly toxin in our homes that we should pay special attention to–carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas. According to the Center of Disease Control, 400 people die and more than 20,000 people visit the emergency room every year from carbon monoxide poisoning.
What are carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms?
“Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning cause symptoms similar to those of the flu or a cold, including shortness of breath on mild exertion, mild headaches, and nausea. Higher levels of poisoning lead to dizziness, mental confusion, severe headaches, nausea, and fainting on mild exertion. “
According to the Consumer Protection Agency, most people won’t experience health problems with carbon monoxide poisoning with levels of 1 to 70 parts per million. Heart patients might experience symptoms. If carbon monoxide levels increase and remain above 70 parts per million, the above symptoms will be noticeable.
The health effects of CO depend on the CO concentration and length of exposure, as well as each individual’s health condition. CO concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm). Most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm but some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable and can include headache, fatigue and nausea. At sustained CO concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.
Carbon Monoxide Sources
Carbon Monoxide gases can accumulate in a home via a broken chimney flue, leaky chimney, damaged furnace heater exchanger, unvented fuel burning space heaters, or from the garage due to any operating engine such as an automobile or lawn mower. Additionally, gas stoves and ranges can be a source of carbon monoxide poisoning if used for a prolonged period, especially when used to heat your home.
In houses that are tightly sealed, back drafting can result. For example, a range top vent can cause reverse air flow from chimneys and flues.
Turning on Your Car in the Garage
As mentioned above, running an engine in your attached garage is a sure fire way to increase carbon monoxide emissions in your house. Did you realize that warming up your car WITH the garage door open is dangerous. Notice I didn’t say with the garage door closed which of course is extremely dangerous.
” In an Iowa State study, warming up a vehicle for only two minutes with the overhead door open raised CO concentrations in the garage to 500 ppm. Ten hours after the car had been backed out of the garage, there was still a measurable concentration of CO in the garage. Persons working in the garage for a long period of time would breath a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide.”
In cold weather, cold engines produce a higher concentration of carbon monoxide and for longer periods of time. The gas migrates into the house from the garage.
We use to own a gas guzzling Yukon which tail pipe jutted out the side of the car rather than the back of the car. Many of us are guilty of idling our cars in the garage with the door open. One day, my carbon monoxide alarms went off in the house and the fire department came.
We were told to leave the house for a certain period of time and air out the house. The levels in the house were high. After a couple time of the alarms going off, we figured out it was coming from the car. The fire department told us to pull the car out immediately and close the garage door.
So How Do You Protect Yourself?
Install carbon monoxide monitors near your garage, hallway, and upstairs near your bedrooms. Alarms should be installed at least 15 inches from your ceiling and five feet off the ground. Make sure to install the detector 15 feet away from a gas appliance.
- don’t install the plug-in detectors where kids can reach.
- don’t install a detector behind furniture or drapes.
- check the batteries every year.
Our carbon monoxide alarms are hard wired into our house alarm system. Generally, the CO alarms only have a five to seven year life. New alarms have dates listed when they should be replaced.
When you are looking for a new carbon monoxide detector, look for sensitivity, a digital read out and a voice activated alarm if you have children. According to the Family Handyman, replace the alarms with a “‘fuel-cell electrochemical” sensor. This type is far more sensitive to CO and less prone to false alarms than models from just 10 years ago.”
Digital alarms with a “peak level” memory retention feature makes it easier to ascertain if your carbon monoxide levels are too high as well as the history of carbon monoxide levels in the house.
Listed below are precautions you can take to keep your carbon monoxide levels low in the house:
- Pull your car out of the garage when starting it. Never allow the car or any engine to idle in the garage.
- Don’t use vent free appliance such as a gas space heater for more than four hours during the day. Make sure the appliance is being run in an area with adequate ventilation.
- Don’t heat your home with your gas range.
- If the color of your flame continues to be yellow rather than blue, shut down the unit and call a repair person. The yellow color means the appliance is emitting much more carbon monoxide than intended.
- Don’t use a charcoal grill in the house.
- Have your heating system inspected every year.
- Make sure all flues and chimneys are connected and are in good condition and not blocked.
- oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves should be vented to the outside and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Signs You have a Problem
Listed below are clues that you have a carbon monoxide problem:
“CO clues you can see:
a. Rusting or water streaking on vent/chimney.
b. Loose or missing furnace panel.
d. Loose or disconnected vent/chimney connections.
e. Debris or soot falling from chimney, fireplace or appliance.
f. Loose masonry on chimney.
g. Moisture inside of windows.
CO clues you cannot see:
h. Internal appliance damage or malfunctioning components.
i. Improper burner adjustment.
j. Hidden blockage or damage in chimney.
Only a trained service technician can detect hidden problems and correct these conditions!”
Carbon Monoxide poisoning is dangerous and can easily be avoided by following the above steps.
Join the Conversation:
- How many carbon monoxide detectors do you have?
- When is the last time you checked them?
Colorful Photo by United States CSPC
House picture by Colorado State Extenstion.