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Carbon Monoxide

Technology Snapshot & Benefits:
Often referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Labeled the silent killer because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes; CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. When exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide it causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from one person to another, based on factors such as age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever fuels such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal are burned. Incomplete oxidation during the combustion process in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heater may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air. Execute caution and take preventative measures when combustion of any sort is occurring within the home, make sure systems are properly ventilated and areas of the home are adequately covered by carbon monoxide detectors

Estimated Cost Savings:
The cost of taking proper preventative measures throughout a home far outweighs the possible health risks associated with carbon monoxide poisoning, including death. Reference the below section to see steps to reduce exposure of CO. Beyond reducing exposure, the other way you can help keep your home CO safe is by installing proper measurement technologies, such as carbon monoxide detectors. Use of CO detectors can help to alert members of the household when levels of CO have reached a level that is dangerous and that they should get outside and into the fresh air as quickly as possible and call 911 and state the situation.

Proper placement of carbon monoxide detectors is important. If planning to install only one in the household, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends it be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you if you are asleep. Additional detectors on every floor and in every bedroom of a home provide extra protection against CO poisoning. Depending on the model and manufacturer of your CO detector, technologies should be updated regularly (reference the manual) as detectors are constantly improving and becoming more efficient.   

Steps to Reduce Exposure:
It is most important to make sure that combustion equipment is maintained and working properly. Vehicular use near buildings and homes should be carefully managed and monitored. Creating additional ventilation can be used as a temporary relief when high levels of CO are expected for short periods of time. The EPA has the following suggestions to help prevent and reduce exposure to carbon monoxide:

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.

  • Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.

  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.

  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.

  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.

  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that the doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.

  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.

  • Do not idle the car inside garage.

  • Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas.

Err on the side of caution when it comes to carbon monoxide prevention. Take the extra steps to ensure your home is properly set up to vent all household combustion based appliances and systems. Set up the house with adequate CO detectors which will indicate if an issue is arising and test these systems regularly. Many of these CO detectors are battery powered. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines on battery replacement. If guidelines provided here, and throughout the more information links found at the bottom of this page are followed to best of the homeowners abilities issues and risks should be minimized to a level that is safe and manageable.

Installation (Getting It Done):

Contact a local HVAC or home heating expert to have your home annually checked for proper ventilation of heating and other combustion based systems. Installing carbon monoxide detectors is a do-it-yourself project and detectors can be found in most hardware and some general stores. Make sure to test your detectors regularly and to have your home tested for proper ventilation regularly


More Information on This Topic:

EPA - An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Carbon Monoxide

EPA - Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission - Carbon Monoxide Questions & Answers

Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

U.S. Fire Administration - Carbon Monoxide - Placement of Carbon Monoxide Detectors Important


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