Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | Heating and Air Conditioning
With the heating season upon us, it’s time to provide a comprehensive review of one of the season’s greatest dangers for numerous U.S. households – carbon monoxide poisoning (CO). The best means of preventing it’s to install adequate carbon monoxide detectors. CO is a potential danger to any home with fossil fueled appliances, with water heaters, stoves and the furnace component of a heating and air conditioning system being the most common.
CO poisoning is a potentially fatal illness caused by breathing excessive carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. An excess of CO in the air you breathe diminishes your ability to absorb oxygen, leading to serious tissue damage and potentially to death.
CO is produced by appliances and gas burning heating and air conditioning systems that generate combustion. For example, gas, propane and wood are commonly used fossil fuels. The danger occurs when excessive CO accumulates in a poorly ventilated space or due to a faulty appliance.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a life-threatening medical emergency. Immediate medical care is required for anyone who may have CO poisoning.
SymptomsSigns and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
CO poisoning is especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. The sleeping person may die without ever waking.
Causes Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling combustion fumes. When there’s too much carbon monoxide in the air that you breathe, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs.
The gas furnace can be a source of excessive CO gas in homes, due to aging and corrosion of the heating and air conditioning system. Corrosion can cause holes and cracks to occur in the gas burner, resulting in the dangerous release of CO, and the potential for explosion. Annual service to the heating and air conditioning system will identify problems and provide the opportunity for furnace repair or replacement.
Various appliances fueled by wood or gas produce CO, including:
- Fuel-burning space heaters and propane or camp fueled “camp heaters”. Note – if you have to use space heaters the EPA recommends using oil filled electric heaters as a safer alternative.
- Furnaces – Schedule annual maintenance of the heating and air conditioning system.
- Charcoal grills
- Cooking ranges
- Water heaters
- Portable generators
- Wood-burning stoves
- Car and truck engines
Appliances such as gas water heaters, the home’s gas furnace, gas cook stoves, wood heaters and fireplaces should receive annual maintenance to keep them operating safely. Outdoor appliances such as a charcoal grill, camp stoves and heaters should never be used indoors.
In addition, open the garage door before starting your car to allow CO to escape. The fumes can enter cracks and crevices of the home. Always use the vent hood when cooking on a gas stove to vent CO outside of the home.
- Depending on the amount and length of exposure, CO poisoning can cause:
- Permanent brain damage
- Damage to the heart, possibly leading to long term life-threatening cardiac complications
Receiving Medical Treatment
If you or a member of your household shows signs or symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air immediately and call 911. Leave the doors open on your way out of the home.
In the emergency room, the doctor may order a blood sample to test for CO in your blood. Treatments the doctor may order include:
Administration of oxygen – In the emergency room, you may be given oxygen. This helps oxygen to reach your organs and tissues. If you can’t breathe on your own, a ventilator may be ordered to do the breathing for you until you improve.
A pressurized oxygen chamber – In some cases, hyperbaric oxygen therapy inside of a full-body pressurized chamber is recommended where the air pressure is more than twice as high as normal atmospheric pressure. This speeds the replacement of CO with oxygen in your blood. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used in cases of severe carbon monoxide poisoning. It may be recommended for pregnant women due to the increased susceptibility of damage to unborn babies from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The precautions to prevent CO poisoning are simple. Protect yourself and family by heeding the following advice:
- Install carbon monoxide detectors – Install a carbon monoxide detector in the hallway near each sleeping area in your house, and one on each floor. Check the batteries in conjunction with your smoke detector inspections and change the batteries at least twice a year. If the alarm sounds, evacuate all members of the household and call 911. Some experts recommend installing a CO detector near the furnace portion of the heating and air conditioning system.
- Open the garage door – If you have an attached garage, keep the garage door open and the door to the house firmly closed while the car is running.
- Use gas appliances as recommended – Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home. Use fuel-burning indoor space heaters only when doors or windows are open to provide fresh air and monitor them when in use. Don’t run a generator in an enclosed space, such as the basement, garage or inside of the home!
- Maintain gas appliances and the fireplace – Ensure your gas appliances are properly vented. Inspect the vent pipes periodically to ensure they aren’t blocked by debris or bird nests. Have your fireplace chimney and flue professionally cleaned every year. Schedule inspections for all gas appliances by a professional repairman. Schedule annual HVAC maintenance of the heating and air conditioning system.
If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred in your home, it’s critical to have a professional locate and repair the source of CO gas before you return. Cypress Heating and Air Conditioning’s certified technicians can inspect the furnace, and provide the necessary furnace repair. Our experienced technicians offer professional expertise for all of your heating and air conditioning needs. Call to schedule furnace service, repair or furnace maintenance today, or other heating and air conditioning needs.