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Home Heating System Inspection and Carbon Monoxide

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Carbon Monoxide Can Be Deadly

You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned.  If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous.  However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.  Hundreds of people die every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances.  Even more die from CO produced by idling cars. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.  A short list of potential sources of CO are your oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range or oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater and any vehicle or small engine.

CO Poisoning Symptoms

Know the symptoms of CO poisoning.  At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint.  Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?  Now you would think that many of these items should be obvious and follow basic common sense, but alas we cannot rely on wide-spread universal common sense.

  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have your heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owners’ manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.

Be sure to get your home DC heating system inspected sooner rather than later.