Carbon monoxide (CO) is a dangerous gas without color or odor. It is produced when fuels like wood, charcoal, gasoline, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane do not burn completely. CO can be generated by things like space heaters, open flames, generators, water heaters, blocked chimneys, or vehicles left running in an enclosed space. While the risks of exposure are high and can be quite scary, protecting your family is straightforward with proper education, preparation, and maintenance.
Carbon Monoxide in Your Home
The primary sources of carbon monoxide in your home are heating and cooking equipment. Vehicles and home generators can also release dangerous levels of the gas, so exercise caution when operating them in garages or close to the home.
Safeguarding your loved ones from the dangers of CO requires an understanding of its true dangers. Over 430 people in the United States die from accidental CO poisoning every year, and 50,000 visit the emergency room due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is absorbed by red blood cells faster than oxygen, replacing oxygen in the bloodstream when CO is inhaled. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms may not manifest quickly enough in people who are sleeping or have consumed alcohol, leading to death in many cases.
Certain other factors influence how someone is affected by CO exposure, including their health, physical activity level, age, and the presence of specific medical conditions like emphysema, asthma, and heart disease. If you or a loved one is at greater risk, proper education is particularly important.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
To protect your loved ones from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, follow these essential safety steps.
Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Ensure you have UL-listed carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home, especially near bedrooms and living areas. These alarms will alert you to dangerous CO levels, potentially saving lives.
Regular Appliance Check-ups
Have your fuel-burning appliances, such as your furnace, stove, and fireplace, inspected and serviced annually to ensure they operate safely and efficiently.
Keep Vents and Chimneys Clean
Regularly clear vents and chimneys to allow CO to escape. Wood-burning fireplaces should be serviced annually to prevent creosote buildup in your flue. Check vents and chimneys for improper connections, cracks, rust, or stains.
Avoid Idling Vehicles in Garages
Never leave your vehicle running in an enclosed space, as idling can lead to a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup. If you must start your vehicle remotely, open the garage door first.
Use Stoves and Grills Properly
Never use a gas stove or oven for home heating purposes, as this can also lead to carbon monoxide buildup. Charcoal grills emit carbon monoxide, too, so use them only in well-ventilated outdoor areas.
During snowstorms, check that your vents are free of snow so carbon monoxide can flow outdoors properly.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Installation Guidelines
Follow these installation requirements for carbon monoxide detectors.
Proper Placement Matters
Install detectors on all levels of your home, including the basement and outside sleeping areas. Make sure living spaces like family rooms are also within range of an alarm. Stairways and hallways also require coverage, because CO is lighter than air and tends to settle in these spaces.
Situate detectors at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances, such as furnaces and water heaters. You’ll also need to place them at least 5 feet away from windows and doors to prevent drafts that can affect accuracy. Above all else, ensure detectors are installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Maintain Your CO Alarms
Test detectors monthly and replace batteries at least twice a year. Consider using long-lasting lithium batteries for extended reliability. Replace detectors every 5 to 7 years or as recommended by the manufacturer.
Hardwire or Interconnect Your Alarms
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests using interconnected CO detectors, which will activate all detectors in your home when one is triggered, ensuring everyone is promptly alerted. A trusted electrician can help you install hard-wired, interconnected carbon monoxide detectors.
Keep Detectors Clean
Never paint your CO detectors, which can clog the vents and impair their performance. Regularly vacuum or dust your CO detectors to prevent the accumulation of dirt or dust that can interfere with their proper function.
Education is Critical
Familiarize yourself with the difference in sounds between smoke alarms and CO alarms. Treat every CO detector alarm as a real emergency. Ventilate the area by opening windows, evacuate the premises, and call for professional help.
Familiarize yourself and your family with the symptoms of CO poisoning, which may include headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and fatigue.
The Physical Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
As mentioned previously, carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream, preventing the transport of oxygen to vital organs and tissues. High levels of CO inhalation can lead to loss of consciousness and even death, as the brain and other organs are deprived of oxygen.
Even minor CO exposure can have long-term effects, impacting memory and weakening the immune system, making the body susceptible to other illnesses. A dangerous level of carbon monoxide is above 9 parts per million (ppm), with concentrations exceeding 35 ppm posing a health hazard in as little as an hour. Disorientation is common in CO poisoning, and victims often become physically and mentally incapacitated.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include:
Loss of consciousness
Responding to a Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm
If your carbon monoxide detector alarm sounds, follow these steps immediately.
Immediately move everyone outdoors to fresh air and ensure everyone is accounted for.
Once you’re safely out-of-doors, contact your local fire department or call 911 for assistance. Seek medical attention for anyone experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, or confusion.
Once Cleared, Ventilate
After emergency services have checked the building and verified it’s okay for you to return, open all your windows and doors to ventilate the area. You should also turn off all fuel-burning appliances. Do not restart them until a qualified technician has inspected them.
Once the situation has been resolved, contact a professional to have your electrical system, HVAC system, and appliances inspected and serviced, including:
Gas or oil furnaces
Filters and filtering systems
Note that a predominantly yellow, flat, lazy-looking flame in a natural gas furnace indicates that fuel is not burning efficiently and is releasing higher than usual levels of carbon monoxide.
General Emergency Preparedness
It's essential to know your emergency numbers, including 911, and make sure everyone in your household understands how to use them. Establish an evacuation plan and discuss it with your family to ensure everyone's safety in case of emergencies.
By following these safety measures and being prepared, you can minimize the risks of electrical accidents and create a safer living environment.
If you encounter any electrical issues or would like to discuss hardwiring your carbon monoxide detectors, don't hesitate to consult a qualified electrician. The friendly professionals at Thomas Edison Electric serve families and businesses across Pennsylvania and are happy to assist you.
Your safety and the well-being of your family are paramount, so stay vigilant and proactive when it comes to carbon monoxide protection. Contact us or give us a call today!
Why Thomas Edison Electric?
With Thomas Edison in your corner, you don’t have to face electrical problems alone. Our team will work tirelessly to ensure your peace of mind, any time of day or night. We have highly trained & licensed electricians available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Our skilled professionals deliver safe, affordable, long-lasting electrical services.
Your time is precious. If we’re late, we’ll waive your dispatch fee.
Transparent pricing means written quotes with no surprises.
Your Trusted Local Electrician
Homeowners and business owners trust Thomas Edison for our transparent quotes, on-time arrival, and 24-hour service. We cover everything from emergency electrical issues to home EV charging stations to house rewiring and upgrades.