Get smart about carbon monoxide

Get smart about carbon monoxide! With Fall coming you’ll spend more time indoors, and as the weather cools you’ll turn your heating system back on, get a nice fire going in the fireplace, and you’ll start warming up your car before heading out. Part of your transition to cooler weather should include maintenance to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, to ensure the safety of you, your family and your pets.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer because it is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can kill. CO is produced any time gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel is burned in any appliance, vehicle or tool. Devices such as gas appliances (dryers, stoves, water heaters), fireplaces, charcoal grills and cars can produce toxic amounts of this gas. However, there’s no reason to be afraid of using your fireplace or parking your car in your garage.

Below are 10 important points to know about CO gas and staying safe:

1. What are some symptoms of CO poisoning?
Common symptoms of CO poisoning are dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness, chest pain and confusion. These are also known as ‘flu-like’ symptoms, so many times the symptoms are not associated with possible CO poisoning. Additionally, people who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they notice symptoms. If more than one person is experiencing the same thing, or symptoms go away when you are in another part of the home or outdoors, stay outdoors and call 911 immediately.

2. Isn’t a smoke alarm the same thing as a CO alarm?
Absolutely not! Unless you have a combination smoke/CO alarm, a smoke alarm does not detect carbon monoxide. There are also differences between the number of smoke detectors and CO detectors that are required throughout a residence, and where they should be installed. Both types of alarms are critical and it is imperative that they be tested regularly, with batteries replaced on a regular basis. It is important to note that inhaling smoke during a fire can also cause CO poisoning, so it is critical that you have both smoke and CO detectors throughout your home.

3. Is a CO detector enough protection in an apartment or condo building?
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) determined that carbon monoxide can easily pass through drywall, which is on the walls in most residential buildings. It is important that you speak with your landlord or condo association’s board of directors to find out the policy on detectors and restrictions on fuel-burning appliances (such as generators that are used during power outages). Having a functioning CO alarm is the only way to protect yourself, and you must check it regularly to be sure it is working properly.

4. How can I be sure I’m safe when I’m traveling and staying in hotels or inns?
The best way to protect yourself from CO poisoning while traveling is to carry a portable CO alarm. If you are flying, you’ll need to check with your airline to see if this is permitted.

5. Are certain people more at risk for CO poisoning?
While everyone is at risk for poisoning from carbon monoxide, certain people are more likely to get sick from CO. These include infants, the elderly and those with heart disease or breathing problems. Additionally, developing babies (in pregnant women) are more susceptible to danger from CO poisoning. Over 400 people die from CO poisonings each year, and over 20,000 go to hospital emergency rooms.

6. What can I do to prevent CO poisoning in my home or car?
The first important thing to note is to make certain that gas equipment, as well as CO detectors carry the seal of a national testing agency such as Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL).

Below are important precautions you can take to avoid CO poisoning in your home:
-The single most important thing you can do is install battery-operated or battery backup CO detectors throughout your home. At a minimum, detectors should be installed on each sleeping floor and the main area of appliances such as a furnace or water heater. CO detectors should be placed near the ceiling for best use. Carefully follow the instructions included with each device. Batteries should be replaced twice a year (when the clocks are changed) and alarms must be tested weekly. Detectors should be replaced every 5 years.

-Never use a generator inside your home or less than 20 feet from a window, door or vent.

-Have an authorized service technician annually inspect your heating system, water heater and any other fuel-burning appliance.

-Have a technician clean or inspect your chimney annually. CO can accumulate and back up into your home if the chimney is very dirty or obstructed. This includes the chimney for your heating system, as well as your fireplace chimney.

-Never use a charcoal grill or a portable gas stove indoors because CO can build up inside your home or camper.

-Check that gas appliances such as water heaters and stoves are vented properly. Never patch a vent pipe with tape; have it professionally repaired.

-Have your vehicle’s exhaust system checked annually. Even a small leak can cause CO to build up in the vehicle.

-Never start or idle your vehicle inside an attached garage, even with the garage door open. If you must run a car inside a detached garage, the door must be open to let fresh air in.

-If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate open, windows must also be open. Without open windows, CO from the vehicle’s exhaust will be pulled inside with no place to exit.

-Never use a gas oven to heat a home because dangerous amounts of CO can accumulate within your home.

7. What are some warning signs of a possible CO problem in my home?
If you see any of the following signs, call a professional for an evaluation:

– Poor (or no) upward draft in your chimney

– Soot streaks around fuel-burning appliances

– Excessive condensation and moisture on windows, walls and cold surfaces

– Rusting on appliance jacks or flue pipes

– Orange or yellow flames in combustion appliances (it should be blue)

– Discolored bricks at the top of the chimney

 8. What should I do if my CO detector sounds?
If your CO detector sounds, stay calm, evacuate the household (this includes pets) to outdoors and call 911. While there is always the likelihood of a detector malfunction, your local fire department will bring equipment to monitor CO levels and determine further action.

9. What should I do if I’m taken to the hospital for potential CO poisoning?
You will need to provide vital information as soon as you arrive. You should be ready to answer questions regarding: signs and symptoms and when they began, potential source of exposure, mental confusion and/or memory issues, loss of consciousness, existing medical conditions and tobacco use. Usually, a blood test will confirm carbon monoxide in your blood and treatment may include breathing pure oxygen or going into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

10. How do I know that it’s safe to return to my home?
If you have experienced CO poisoning in your home, you must find and repair the source of the carbon monoxide. Your utility company or local fire department can guide you. It is important that you do not return to your home until the source has been repaired, and tests confirm there are no longer dangerous levels of CO entering your home.

If you perform regular maintenance on fuel-burning appliances throughout your home, follow the rules about preventing CO poisoning, and use working CO detectors, you, your family and your pets can enjoy worry-free time spent indoors. The best way to protect your family is to have a carbon monoxide alarm system professionally installed throughout your home. IDS can work with you—and your budget—to evaluate your home and install a system that will keep your family safe. For more information, contact us today at 516-625-6060 or visit us at .

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