Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be easily generated by many home appliances. Although it presents a danger any time of year, it is a particular concern during colder months, when families run furnaces and heaters more frequently.
Carbon monoxide poses significant risks inside the home. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, upset stomach and confusion. Too much carbon monoxide can be fatal. Every year, it sends more than 20,000 Americans to the emergency room and kills more than 400, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WHERE DOES CARBON MONOXIDE COME FROM?
Any appliance or motor that burns fuel generates carbon monoxide, including fireplaces, portable heaters, gas-powered generators, gas-powered furnaces and appliances, and automobiles.
As long as these motors vent carbon monoxide exhaust outside, you’re safe. So, the most important step in protecting your home is making sure your appliances are regularly inspected and maintained. A licensed HVAC technician will always check a furnace’s venting during a seasonal tune-up.
Your stove, dryer and fireplace can all generate carbon monoxide, and it can back up into the home if the vents get stopped up. Make sure the chimney flue remains clear of obstructions, keep your dryer vents clean, and run your kitchen exhaust fan when you use your stove.
Carefully read and follow the directions to any fuel-powered device you purchase. Never use a portable generator or grill indoors.
You can further protect yourself with a carbon monoxide monitor and alarm. If you do purchase an alarm, make sure it is battery-powered or has a battery backup, and check the batteries regularly. Verify that the alarm is certified through Underwriters Laboratories. Place alarms near sleeping areas so they’ll alert everyone in the household even while they’re asleep. The Environmental Protection Agency cautions not to rely exclusively on alarms as they can create a false sense of security. An alarm is no replacement for well-maintained appliances.
TAKE CARE WITH YOUR GARAGE
An attached garage can be a source of carbon monoxide leakage. Cold weather tends to depressurize homes, which can help draw in carbon monoxide from attached garages.
But you can protect your home from garage leaks with a few basic steps. Garage-based appliances such as water heaters and furnaces still need to be properly vented. Be sure not to idle your car for long periods in a garage. Seal up the walls connecting the attached garage to the home, and make sure the door between garage and living area is tightly sealed with weather-stripping. An energy auditing specialist can confirm that your garage is safely protected from leaks. Consider installing an exhaust fan in your garage and run it on a timer whenever you enter or leave the garage in a car.
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If you suspect that you or any family member is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, the EPA suggests you turn off combustion appliances, leave the house and get fresh air immediately. Go to the emergency room and tell the physician you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.