Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that’s impossible to detect with our regular senses. For this reason, carbon monoxide is often called “the silent killer” because it has no discernible color, smell, or taste. We can find carbon monoxide in our furnaces, fireplaces, and gas ranges, and when it builds up in our homes, it can have a serious effect on our health. Let’s take a closer look at carbon monoxide and explain how you can protect you and your family from this toxic gas.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless toxic gas that’s created as a byproduct of modern heating systems. If the furnace is working correctly the carbon monoxide is vented outside the home via the gas flue and there are no health consequences for people living in the home. Carbon monoxide is also a flammable gas, so if there is a crack in the heat exchanger it can help to fuel a house fire. For obvious reasons carbon monoxide is treated very seriously and if you suspect that you have a leak it’s important to contact a local certified HVAC professional.

How Dangerous is Carbon Monoxide?

This is a difficult question to answer, carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous, but the level of exposure will have a significant effect on how the gas works in any given home. If the levels of carbon monoxide are high, a person could suffer fatal consequences in a single day. But, most carbon monoxide poisoning takes place over a longer period of time, and the effects may be less noticeable at first. Between 2010-2015 there were 2,244 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. The vast majority of deaths occur during the colder months when the heating systems in homes are used. Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas, and it affects humans and animals equally over a shorter or longer timeline depending on the level of exposure. This is particularly tragic because carbon monoxide poisoning can be easily avoided by installing an appropriate detector and carrying out annual furnace maintenance.

How Does Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Occur?

When a person or animal breathes in carbon monoxide, they suffer from a lack of oxygen. Carbon monoxide inhibits the natural ability of the blood to transport and deliver vital oxygen to parts of the body. Over time the toxic poisoning will result in the body not receiving sufficient quantities of oxygen, and this will inevitably lead to asphyxiation if the situation isn’t corrected. This is particularly dangerous during sleeping as you may not be able to notice the symptoms of rapid carbon monoxide poisoning and fail to wake in time.

What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

There is an exhaustive list of symptoms related to carbon monoxide poisonings, such as headache, dizziness, visual disturbances, disorientation, brain fog, muscle cramps, seizures, nausea, fatigue, respiratory and heart diseases, coma and the aggravation of pre-existing medical conditions. The problem with this litany of symptoms is that many of these can be related to other medical problems, and this can make it difficult to relate them to carbon monoxide poisoning. But, if you notice that one or more of the people living in the home quickly starts to suffer from one or more of these symptoms, it’s important to visit a medical professional quickly. They will be able to diagnose carbon monoxide poisoning and take appropriate steps to help anyone afflicted.

3 Quick Tips to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning is avoidable if you follow these three simple tips.

  1. Regular Annual Maintenance

Scheduling regular annual maintenance prior to each heating season is a great way to make sure your system is safe to use. Aside from improvements in performance and energy efficiency, the HVAC technician will carry out safety checks. They will also be able to warn you of any cracks in the heat exchanger that could be releasing carbon monoxide into your home.

  1. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, you need to install one as soon as possible. They are inexpensive and easy to install, just make sure they are located at least 15 feet away from your furnace. Make sure to check your carbon monoxide detector every six months to make sure it’s working correctly. This is the ideal time to replace the batteries even if they seem to be working well as an added precaution.

  1. Get the Chimney and Flue Inspected

The chimneys, fireplaces, and gas flue should all be inspected and cleaned to improve efficiency and safety in the home. If any of these become blocked, carbon monoxide can seep back into the home, and the risk of a house fire is increased. Any significant deposits of soot need to be cleaned, and any nests or other obstructions outside the home need to be removed. Finally, it’s essential to check the flue damper to make sure it closes, opens, and seals fully.

What Should I Do if I Suspect Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The first thing that you need to do is act decisively and quickly to prevent further CO poisoning for anyone living in the home. Carbon monoxide is a gas, it’s lighter than air, and it rises, so the upper floors in a home are more at risk than lower floors. This is another reason why carbon monoxide is so dangerous for those sleeping and breathing during a typical night’s sleep. The first step is to get everyone out of the home, and this includes any pets living with you. Turn off the heating system to ensure that no new carbon monoxide gas is being pumped out into your home. Take some time to open up all the doors and windows to allow fresh, clean air into your home and dissipate the built up toxic gas lurking there. Then call 911 and tell them about the nature of the problem and they will be able to help you. Then contact your local HVAC specialist and get them to visit your home to investigate the problem further before you return.