With summer drawing to a close and fall weather ready to arrive, many homeowners are preparing to use their fireplaces for the first time in several months. While these wonderful heating appliances can keep our homes toasty all winter long, they can also pose a safety risk if not properly maintained and used. One of the biggest dangers when using any fireplace, stove, or heating appliance is carbon monoxide.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is virtually impossible to notice without a carbon monoxide detector. This dangerous gas is often referred to as a “silent killer” because it is so difficult to detect.
Carbon monoxide is created when fuels are burned completely. It can be created by coal, charcoal, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, natural gas, and wood. In your home stoves, space heaters, furnaces, outdoor grills, fireplaces, water heaters, and vehicles all produce carbon monoxide. All fuel burning appliances have venting systems in place to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your home.
Symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide
While fireplaces and other heating appliances have venting systems in place to prevent carbon monoxide exposure, damage or deterioration can cause them to malfunction. Because of this, it is extremely important that homeowners recognize the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
In small quantities, exposure to carbon monoxide will cause flu-like symptoms; sleepiness, headache, and nausea are all early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. With prolonged exposure symptoms will continue to worsen and impaired coordination, dizziness, and shortness of breath will begin to occur. Continued exposure in high concentrations can lead to coma and death.
While entirely preventable with a functioning carbon monoxide detector, carbon monoxide poisoning claims as many as 400 lives each year in the United States. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately move outside or to another fresh air location. Emergency services and poison control should be called before reentering the home.
Preventing exposure to carbon monoxide
There are a number of easy and simple ways that homeowners can protect themselves and their family against exposure to carbon monoxide.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor, especially near heating appliances and fireplaces and outside sleeping areas
- Have all fuel burning appliances regularly inspected and maintained
- Never use generators indoors, including in sheds or outbuildings
- Do not allow cars to idle in garages, even when the garage door is open
- Move grills away from windows and doors
- Do not turn on or run ovens or stoves as a way to heat a home
Fear of carbon monoxide exposure should never keep you from using and enjoying your fireplace. However, it is important that homeowners are aware of the dangers that carbon monoxide can cause. For more information on how to protect your family against carbon monoxide or to schedule preventative fireplace maintenance, contact Lords Chimney today.
Your home’s heating system — whether it’s a furnace, gas fireplace, or pellet stove — keeps your family warm and cozy all winter long. However, your home heating system could pose a danger to you and your family: Carbon monoxide poisoning. As homes become more air tight and new heating systems are retrofitted onto older ventilation systems, everyone should be aware of the risk for carbon monoxide in the home.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be life threatening. The overt symptoms are strong headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, weakness, blurred vision or loss of consciousness. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should leave their home and seek medical attention. Because often the symptoms of carbon monoxide can be as subtle as a headache, all homes should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. If those detectors start to go off, leave your home immediately and call 911.
Sources of carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels, including the wood, natural gas, or propane you use to heat your home. Depending on the type of heating appliance you have, your appliance may either burn hot enough to combust all traceable levels of carbon monoxide, or it will be vented out of your home through a chimney or ventilation system. If a ventilation system becomes blocked, such as from soot, debris, or nesting animals, carbon monoxide can be forced back into your home rather than exiting through the chimney or ductwork. A malfunctioning appliance also can cause a carbon monoxide hazard.
Additionally, in some older homes when newer, more efficient furnaces or stoves are installed, sometimes they are vented through older chimneys or ductwork that is not properly sized for the appliance. That can cause a carbon monoxide hazard.
In newer homes, where doors, windows, and walls are more airtight, heating appliances can have a hard time getting the oxygen they need to properly combust their fuel, which could lead to the furnace, stove, or fireplace letting off carbon monoxide.
Preventing carbon monoxide hazards
The best way to prevent carbon monoxide from threatening your family is to have your heating system serviced annual by certified professionals.
Chimneys should be swept and inspected to make sure they are cleared of any soot or fire byproducts, unobstructed from any debris or animals, and free from any cracks or damage that could allow carbon monoxide to seep into your home.
Heating appliances, including fireplaces, gas stoves, pellet stoves, and furnaces should be serviced and inspected by professionals before the cold-weather season begins each year to make sure that they are functioning efficiently and safely and not producing dangerous carbon monoxide.
An inspection also will examine whether your home’s ventilation system is suited to your appliance. That ensures that the gases created by your furnace, stove, or fireplace is exiting your home properly and that your heating appliance is getting the oxygen it needs to burn its fuel entirely.
Schedule your routine chimney, fireplace, and heating stove maintenance today to keep you family safe from carbon monoxide this winter.