Any domestic toxic gas that earns the moniker “the silent killer” is more than worthy of our respect. Carbon monoxide (CO) has no discernible odor, color or taste and it can be deadly in a very short period of time. It can often be found in and around your furnace, fireplace and gas ranges. Between 2010 and 2015, carbon monoxide poisoning accounted for 2,244 deaths and most of those occurred during winter months. Understand what carbon monoxide is, how it can affect you and how to prevent exposure to it is important, and that’s why we have produced this comprehensive guide.

What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide is a toxic and flammable gas that is odorless and colorless and undetectable using normal human senses. When we breathe in carbon monoxide, it impairs the blood’s ability to transport oxygen around the body. This is known as carbon monoxide poisoning, and the lack of adequate oxygen can cause a number of negative health effects and even asphyxiation. Carbon monoxide poisoning can either be lethal quickly or cause a host of health problems over a more extended period of time. This variation in carbon monoxide poisoning depends on the location and severity of the gas leak.

What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The list of carbon monoxide signs and symptoms is extensive and if you or anyone else in your home experiences any of the following signs it’s crucial to act quickly. The most often reported symptoms, include: breathing difficulties, disorientation, dizziness, feeling nauseous, frequent headaches, heart palpitations, impaired vision, impaired brain function, muscle cramps and fatigue, seizure and even lapsing into a coma. As you can see, some of these symptoms are long term problems that can be caused by low levels of exposure to carbon monoxide over a significant period of time. Other symptoms can manifest quickly and soon become a threat to health. If you suspect that any of these problems are related to a possible carbon monoxide leak, it’s essential to turn off the source if you can and bring everyone in the home outside to get fresh air.

What Causes a Carbon Monoxide Leak?

A wide variety of modern household appliances could be the source of any given carbon monoxide leak. Equipment, such as furnaces, boilers, gas fires and other heating systems, could all be a source of carbon monoxide leak in your home. A car engine also produces carbon monoxide, and this is why it’s dangerous to run your car in an enclosed space. Carbon monoxide is produced due to an incomplete combustion, and it can be vented outside the home. But, if the flues or chimneys are blocked, it cannot escape, and it could remain in the home.

How Does Carbon Monoxide Move Through the Home?

It’s important to understand that carbon monoxide is a gas and it’s lighter than air. It can easily be transported throughout the home in a stream of warm air. Warmer is air is far more buoyant than colder air, and this will cause the carbon monoxide to rise. Also, carbon monoxide is created when an incomplete combustion occurs in your furnace, and it will be traveling along with the heated air anyway. So, it’s not likely that a carbon monoxide leak will be localized near or around your furnace or other heat source.

What is the Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The primary method for treating a patient affected by carbon monoxide poisoning is to replace the CO with oxygen. The oxygen levels must be increased in the blood to restore the patient to normal health. In some extreme cases, this can be carried out in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. This is where pure oxygen is supplied, and the air pressure is as much as three times higher than normal. This therapy is used to speed up the oxygen replacement in the patient’s blood as much as possible.

3 Tips to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Now that we understand how dangerous carbon monoxide is let’s take a look at three tips that can help you to avoid inhaling this toxic gas.

  1. Keep the Chimney Clean

The chimney should be regularly inspected to ensure that it’s safe and efficient. When the chimney is blocked, it can significantly increase the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. Check for obstructions, such as organic debris, birds nests and a build up of soot (also a fire hazard).

Also, an excess of creosote, over 1⁄8 inch could ignite in the flue, this cause flames to shoot out of the chimney and your home could even catch on fire. Creosote is flammable and if you want to remove from your chimney call a local HVAC professional for expert help.

Take a flashlight, then inspect the flue damper to make sure it can open, close, and seal correctly. If the flue damper cannot seal well enough you will use a lot of heat when you’re fireplace isn’t being used.

If you have a gas fireplace installed it should be inspected to make sure it’s safe to use. Any glass doors should be examined to make sure there are no cracks. Make sure that the gas logs are positioned properly and leave 2” between each log. Test the igniter, but turn off the gas shut off valve first.

  1. Make Sure the Vents are Providing Adequate Airflow

Many people move furniture around during the year, so it’s important to make sure that the vents are not blocked. When a vent is blocked the heat cannot be distributed, the furnace will be overworked, and this can even cause overheating or a furnace fire. Check your supply and return registers and make sure that they are all clear. Some people close vents in rooms that they don’t want to heat to save money. This is a bad idea because it can create low airflow issues and lead to a cracked heat exchanger. It’s also worth mentioning that colder rooms are more prone to condensation and mold growth.

  1. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide cannot be detected without help, and this is where a detector will be helpful. It’s easy to install a detector and alarm, but it’s a great idea to consult an HVAC professional, and they will give you some expert advice. Even a small amount of carbon monoxide can be dangerous, so it makes sense to invest in a detector.