As the change in seasons nears, safety officials are warning homeowners to take several precautions in their homes to prevent exposure to carbon monoxide, principally purchasing and installing carbon monoxide detectors and making certain that fuel-burning appliances operate properly.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced when any fuel is incompletely burned, including natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline and wood. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu-like illnesses and include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea and irregular breathing.
"Not only is carbon monoxide exposure potentially harmful, about 200 people die each year in the United States from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment," Susan Parachini, a program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Consumer Protection Division, said. "Carbon monoxide can leak from faulty furnaces or fuel-fired heaters or it can be trapped inside by a blocked chimney or flue. Burning charcoal inside the house or running an automobile engine in an attached garage also will produce carbon monoxide in the home."
Parachini explained: "Consumers should take a number of precautions. The first line of defense against carbon monoxide is two-fold: First, have home heating systems, including chimneys and flues, inspected by a qualified technician each year for proper operations and leakage. Make certain those checks include electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls and automatic safety devices on all heating appliances. Second, consider purchasing a carbon monoxide detector, which sounds an alert if the home's carbon monoxide level becomes harmful. Remember - and this point cannot be overstated - these are the initial preventive steps that consumers should take."
Everyday safety precautions:
- Do not use portable heaters powered by propane or kerosene in the home. Not only are they expensive to operate, they also are a safety hazard. Additionally, use electric heaters safely as they are an extreme fire hazard.
- Do not try to use a range or an oven as a supplemental heater, and never use charcoal or propane grills indoors.
- Check vents and chimneys to make certain that they are clear and undamaged. Watch for loose mortar or bricks on the chimney that can slip and block airways.
- Have wood-burning stoves and new fireplaces installed and vented by a professional.
- Clear snow and ice away from vents on the exterior of the house.
- Do not seal off all the fresh-air sources in the home when weatherizing. The blockage would create a serious fire hazard and could cause dangerous carbon monoxide fumes to build up in the home. A fresh air supply is vital to the removal of pollutants and the complete combustion of any fuel.
- Avoid operating gasoline-burning engines, such as those on most cars and lawnmowers, in an unventilated area, such as a garage, where pollutants may enter the home.