Is Your Family Safe from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

A Rocky Mountain Service technician inspects a carbon monoxide detector

You may have heard about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) has even been called the silent killer because it is odorless, tasteless, and invisible, making this toxic gas one of the most overlooked dangers in homes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that annually close to 450 people die and 20,000 people are admitted to the emergency room as a result of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. There is an increase in carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter, since heating systems are usually on full-time during the colder months.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning? Do you know what to do if you experience any of these symptoms? What causes carbon monoxide leaks? And most importantly, how can you make sure that your family is safe from carbon monoxide poisoning?

We’ll answer the above questions in this article. To keep you and your family safe, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, understand the possible sources of carbon monoxide in your home, as well as ways to test for carbon monoxide.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas that can be fatal if inhaled in large amounts. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide gas, which makes it even more dangerous. Carbon monoxide can infiltrate your home without you ever knowing until symptoms strike.

Carbon monoxide poisons humans and animals by being absorbed into the bloodstream, where it replaces the oxygen in red blood cells. The result can be severe tissue damage or death.For this reason, CO levels in the home are a very serious issue. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to symptoms for the flu and other illnesses, which is why CO poisoning so often goes undetected. The first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Chest tightness or shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

Since carbon monoxide poisoning frequently coincides with the winter months when people more often experience the flu, it can be hard to differentiate it from other common maladies. A number of signs that distinguish carbon monoxide poisoning from the flu include:

  • Everyone in the home is sick at the same time
  • Pets are sick too
  • You feel better when you leave the house

The longer and more significant a person’s exposure to carbon monoxide, the more severe the symptoms can become. If you are exposed to very low levels of carbon monoxide over a longer period (weeks or months), your symptoms may also include numbness, unexplained vision problems, sleep disturbances, and impaired memory and concentration.

What should you do if you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

If you are experiencing any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, even if the detector alarm hasn’t sounded, get everyone (including pets) out of your house into fresh air immediately. Most carbon monoxide detectors only sound an alarm once CO levels have reached a dangerously high level. While no home should be without these detectors, they are designed to serve as a last line of defense in dire emergency situations. If your symptoms are severe, or you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide for an extended period of time, call 911 or seek emergency medical help.

If you suspect the presence of carbon monoxide in your home:

  • Leave the home immediately
  • Call the fire department
  • Open all of the windows and doors
  • Turn off appliances (such as stoves), your HVAC system, and the water heater
  • Schedule repairs to any malfunctioning appliance or system as soon as possible by technicians with the right instrumentation

What are sources of carbon monoxide gas in the home?

Carbon monoxide is produced by gas, oil, coal, charcoal, and wood fuels that haven’t burned completely. Carbon monoxide is more common among older furnaces as well as full HVAC systems and gas water heaters that have not been properly vented. A malfunctioning or inappropriately used heating, cooking, or ventilation system in the home can allow leakage of carbon monoxide gas into the air, leaving you breathing toxic gas without knowing it.

While heating systems are not the only source of carbon monoxide in the home, they are a major contributor. Besides carbon monoxide gas being produced by furnaces which have not been installed or are not venting correctly, CO can come from other fuel-fired sources, including but not limited to:

  • Furnace systems and chimneys with leaks
  • Gas ranges and stoves
  • Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
  • Gas clothes dryers
  • Gas water heaters
  • Portable fuel-burning space heaters
  • Kerosene or gas-fueled heaters
  • Generators
  • Vehicles running in an attached garage
  • Charcoal/gas grilles

How can you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

PLUG-IN CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS

You may have been told that a plug-in carbon monoxide detector is all you need to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. While homeowners may feel protected from carbon monoxide by in-house detectors, such detectors only pick up levels that can be harmful, and they do not point to potential problems down the road.

As previously mentioned in this article, these detectors are designed to alert you only once carbon monoxide gas has reached extremely dangerous levels. Such off-the-shelf carbon monoxide gas detectors are valuable, but the point of these carbon monoxide gas detectors is to act as the last layer of warning. It is recommended that you install carbon monoxide detectors in your home in hallways near bedrooms and in garages attached to living areas.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, using a carbon monoxide detector is only a part of effective prevention. These off-the-shelf carbon monoxide gas detectors are valuable but not as accurate as professional portable meters.

 

PROFESSIONAL PORTABLE CARBON MONOXIDE METERS

Because carbon monoxide is colorless, tasteless, odorless and non-irritating, the best way to detect its presence is using a portable carbon monoxide meter. This is a much different tool than the carbon monoxide detectors that attach to the wall. A CO meter is a portable measuring tool that allows a professional technician to pinpoint the source of CO gas in whatever room it originates, providing an accurate measurement of how much gas is present. This device also differs from the consumer-level carbon monoxide detectors in that it can be calibrated to detect trace carbon monoxide gas from nearly 0 PPM and at increments as small as 1 PPM.

It is important for any carbon monoxide leaks to be discovered and addressed as quickly as possible, so we recommend professional testing on a regular basis as part of your routine home maintenance. It is equally, if not more, important to prevent any carbon monoxide leaks in the first place.

 

REGULAR MAINTENANCE AND SAFETY CHECKS

Regular maintenance and safety inspections of heating systems and other home appliances can catch potential issues before they turn into larger problems that could be hazardous to your health and safety. Be sure all fuel-burning appliances get regular maintenance and are working properly. Monthly home maintenance plans are a great way to ensure all of your electric and HVAC systems stay in safe working order.

Rocky Mountain Services technician performing safety inspection

Home safety inspections should be performed by a professional technician on a regular basis.

Summary

Deemed the “silent killer” because it is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas that needs to be regularly tested for by technicians equipped with the proper instrumentation.

To reduce your risk of a dangerous carbon monoxide exposure in your home, follow these tips:

  • If you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get out of your house into fresh air immediately
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors to serve as an emergency warning
  • Have your home tested regularly for carbon monoxide leaks with a portable carbon monoxide meter by a professional technician
  • Keep up on routine maintenance and regular safety inspections on all fuel-burning home appliances, including furnaces and water heaters

Home safety is our number one priority at Rocky Mountain Services. Give us a call today to schedule a carbon monoxide test or home safety inspection.