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As the weather grows cold, more and more people turn to fireplaces, stoves, and other heating appliances to keep themselves, their families, and their homes warm. What many fail to realize is that these same appliances may create a health and safety risk if they are not properly maintained. One major concern, especially during the heavy use months of winter, is carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills as many as 400 people each year in the United States. Homeowners should be aware of what causes it, the symptoms of poisoning, and the simple steps they can take to prevent it.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and extremely toxic gas that is produced by burning fuels. Carbon monoxide is often called the “silent killer” because due to its properties, it is impossible to detect without specific equipment.
Its many sources include burning coal, wood, charcoal, oil, natural gas, kerosene, and propane. This means that most fireplaces, stoves, grills, space heaters, water heaters, furnaces, and even vehicles produce carbon monoxide gas. However, these appliances are normally either properly vented or located outdoors so they pose little to no risk to homeowners and their families.
When exposed to small quantities of the gas, people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning will begin to develop flu-like symptoms. This will include a feeling of sleepiness accompanied by headache and nausea. In medium concentrations or with prolonged exposure, these symptoms will continue to worsen in addition to impaired coordination and vision, shortness of breath, and dizziness. In extremely high concentrations, carbon monoxide poisoning can even lead to coma or death.
If you believe that you are experiencing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately move to a fresh air location. Ideally this is outside, but can also be next to an open door or window. Call Poison Control and local emergency services before reentering the building.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely preventable by taking a number of common sense steps to avoid exposure. The primary – and easiest – way homeowners can protect themselves and their families against carbon monoxide poisoning is to install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of the house and in areas near fuel burning appliances such as fireplaces, stoves, or furnaces.
Next, homeowners should have all heating or fuel burning appliances in the home annually maintained. This ensures that anything that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning is still in good working condition and has not been damaged in any way. Doing this also ensures that all venting and ductwork is clean and free from blockages, allowing carbon monoxide to safely exit the home.
Generators and grills should never be used indoors or in enclosed spaces such as garages or sheds. Likewise, they should be kept away from open windows as this may allow the carbon monoxide they produce to enter a home. In addition, stoves and ovens should never be used for heat. Finally, vehicles should never be left running to “warm up” in garages, even if the door is open. The large amounts of carbon monoxide exhaust that is produced can quickly fill the small space.
With regular maintenance of heating appliances and a few preventative measures, homeowners can easily protect their families against carbon monoxide. For questions about carbon monoxide and your fireplace or stove, contact Lords Chimney today!