When using a fuel-burning appliance, whether it is a top rated wood-burning fireplace, premium gas stove, or even a gas cooking stove, it is important to understand that carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a risk. Over 500 people die from CO poisoning each year and thousands of others require emergency medical attention after developing the symptoms. It is known as “the silent killer” because you cannot detect it with your senses. It has become the most common cause of accidental poison-related deaths. You can prevent your family from being exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide through understanding the risk and taking precautions.
Why is Carbon Monoxide so Dangerous?
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is produced when fuels that contain carbon (such as coal, gasoline, wood, charcoal, kerosene and natural gas) do not burn completely. Breathing in carbon monoxide fumes damages your body by decreasing the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. Overtime, the shortage of oxygen can cause cells to die and vital organs—such as your heart and brain—to shut down. Pregnant women, unborn babies, infants, children and the elderly are all especially vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Since it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, the only way to detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide is by having a carbon monoxide detector or by developing the symptoms. If you are intoxicated or sleeping when exposed, you are liable to die without experiencing the symptoms. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, headache, disorientation, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and loss of consciousness.
If you believe that you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, you should immediately go outside or to a place with plenty of ventilation and call emergency services.
What are Common Causes of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?
Your family is most at risk of carbon monoxide exposure when fuel-burning appliances are improperly used or fall into disrepair. This list is not exhaustive but these are some common causes of carbon monoxide exposure:
- Barbequing on a charcoal-burning grill indoors without proper venting
- Using a fireplace in a home that is too tight, which can create a reverse air flow that draws combustion gases into your living space
- Leaving a gas cooking stove on too long
- Burning fuel in a fireplace with an obstructed chimney (when a chimney is clogged by lays of creosote or blocked by debris it allows combustion gases to accumulate in your home)
- Allowing a car to idle too long or running a generator or lawnmower in a closed garage
Signs of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
While you cannot see, smell or taste carbon monoxide, these are some indicators that your family may be at risk:
- Soot or creosote buildup
- Loose masonry on the chimney
- A decreasing supply of hot water
- Missing or loose furnace panels
- Rust or water streaking in your chimney or vent
- Disconnected or loose connections in your vent or chimney
How Do I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to follow these guidelines:
- Invest in a carbon monoxide detector for each floor of your home. Be sure that your carbon monoxide detectors meet Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety standards and that you place them where local regulations dictate in your home (usually this will be near bedrooms).
- Only use space heaters in well-ventilated areas.
- Store your generator outdoors, never use it inside.
- Open the damper of your fireplace before every use.
- Bring in a professional chimney sweep for an annual inspection and cleaning of your chimney to ensure no clogging, blockage or damage puts your family at risk.
Following these preventative measures is the best way to protect you and your loved ones from the silent killer. Please, contact one of our chimney professionals if you have a question about carbon monoxide poisoning or are concerned about your fuel-burning appliances. Our goal is to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure so that you can safely enjoy your fuel-burning appliance. If you want to update your old wood or gas burning fireplace with a highly efficient fireplace insert you should contact your local UFS member store.