Heating and Air Conditioning
Recognizing Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a life threatening condition caused by exposure to carbon monoxide – a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. When you breathe carbon monoxide into your lungs, the air the oxygen in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs leading to devastating tissue damage and can lead to death.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling combustion fumes produced by appliances and other devices that generate carbon monoxide as a by-product of the combustion process, such as those that burn gas or other petroleum products, wood and other fuels. The danger occurs when too much carbon monoxide accumulates in a poorly ventilated space.
The signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle often going unrecognized until it is too late. The condition is a life-threatening medical emergency and requires prompt attention for anyone who may have carbon monoxide poisoning.
Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- Blurred vision
- Dull headache
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated as the potentially fatal fumes can overcome a person without their ever waking up.
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, get into fresh air immediately and seek emergency medical care. If possible, open windows and doors on the way out of the house but do not risk loss of consciousness in doing so if all family members are accounted for and already removed into fresh air.
Symptoms can vary dependent upon the amount of Carbon Monoxide gas breathed and range from minor fatigue to death. The more carbon monoxide breathed in, the worse the symptoms will be.
In low concentrations just above average amounts Carbon Monoxide can cause you to feel weak and short of breath. In the presence of a heart condition chest pains may be experienced.
In moderate concentrations the higher levels of Carbon Monoxide can cause blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, impaired coordination, nausea, vomiting and you may experience coughing and muscle pain.
With high concentrations of carbon monoxide loss of consciousness and death occur. For those who survive high levels of CO permanent injury may occur with damage to body organs and the brain.
If you experience any of these symptoms but feel better when you go out, it is highly possible that you have dangerous levels of carbon monoxide or other dangerous pollutants building up in your home.
How to Detect Carbon Monoxide
As Carbon Monoxide is odorless, tasteless and invisible the only means of detecting it is with Carbon Monoxide detectors that will alarm when levels reach a specific level in the area. They are available in any home improvement store.
Carbon Monoxide detectors are available in various configurations, those that can be hardwired into your homes wiring, battery operated and those that plug into a wall outlet with or without battery backup. Battery backup is preferred along with the detector that is hardwired into the home, or plugged into a wall outlet. During a power outage an electrical Carbon Monoxide detector will not provide for your family’s safety without a backup power source such as a battery. A battery powered only type unit will not operate if the battery is bad. Provide monthly checks that the battery in each detector is good as Carbon Monoxide detectors use more power than smoke alarms and batteries will require more frequent replacement.
Carbon Monoxide detectors are available that utilize strobe lights as well as a siren allowing those with a hearing deficiency to potentially be warned by a strobe light when high levels of Carbon Monoxide occur.
Carbon monoxide detectors are available to detect lower levels of Carbon Monoxide that normally wouldn’t bother a healthy individual. This is especially important for persons with health problems who are more sensitive and at risk of lower levels of carbon monoxide exposure.
Carbon Monoxide detectors that are hardwired into the homes wiring often have the feature of providing a record of Carbon Monoxide levels. This may be helpful in determining if there is a problem with a gas appliances or the gas furnace when it operates. If you note the Carbon Monoxide level climbs when the gas furnace runs it is certainly indicative that you need to call an HVAC professional immediately to have this potentially deadly problem repaired. This is especially important with older gas appliances or gas furnace. Once a problem occurs it is very likely to get worse and can occur in seconds, potentially lethal Carbon Monoxide gas is the home is a problem requiring immediate attention and should not be delayed at all, for any amount of time.
Where to Place Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Carbon Monoxide is a gas lighter than air, so place detectors at eye level or higher. Ideally Carbon Monoxide detectors should be placed on each level of the home, and within 12-15 feet of each bedroom. If you have to make a choice with only one detector locate it by the master bedroom as those who are exposed to deadly Carbon Monoxide do not always wake up, dying in their sleep.
If you use Carbon Monoxide detectors that are battery operated or utilize battery backup place them where they are easy to access for replacing batteries.
To minimize false alarms locate Carbon Monoxide detectors 12 to 15 feet from gas appliances and furnaces as small amounts of Carbon Monoxide are released when a gas appliance is turned on. Do not locate them in high humidity areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. For kitchens with gas appliances locate them just outside of it to prevent the interference of humidity from impairing the detectors function.
When the Alarm is Set Off
Make sure all occupants and pets leave the home. If any person feels any abnormal symptoms call 911. The fire department will provide any required medical services and inspect your home for high levels of carbon monoxide.
If elevated levels are not present and the alarm is repeatedly going off it may be time to replace it. Most Carbon Monoxide detectors are made to only last 2 to 7 years.
Having an bi-annual inspection performed on your HVAC system will not only extend the units service life, save energy usage by maintaining peak performance, but it can ensure your families safety. This is especially important when a gas furnace is your homes source of heat.
Due to improper operation and age rust can form inside a furnace leading to elevated levels of carbon monoxide in your home. The combustion of gas creates water vapor and in an improperly operating furnace this vapor is not exhausted through the flue leading to rust on the flue and heat exchanger. This places you and your family at extreme risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and death.Small cracks and holes that develop in the heat exchanger can create risk to your family, this situation requires immediate repair, replacement or of the furnace being disabled from operation until the problem is addressed.
Infrequent changing of air filters can lead to dirt buildup in the heat exchanger, causing overheating and can lead to damage that may result in Carbon Monoxide leakage into your home.
Other Carbon Monoxide Hazards in the Home
Gas dryers like any dryer can develop lint build up creating a fire hazard. A gas dryer has the additional hazard of Carbon Monoxide emissions being vented into the home if the vent pipe is plugged with lint.
A gas stove should have a blue flame. If the flame becomes yellow it requires cleaning or adjustments.
Have gas water heaters maintenance by a professional annually. This will extend the tanks life, maintain peak performance and prevent conditions that can lead to higher levels of carbon monoxide in the home.
Attached garages are a risk most homeowners never consider as a potential source of significant Carbon Monoxide gas entering the home. If you routinely let the engine run in the garage open the garage door. Recommendations for locating a Carbon Monoxide detector near the door to an attached garage vary from 10 to 15 ft. Opening the garage door before cranking the vehicle will allow for ventilation and reducing the amounts of Carbon Monoxide that enter an opening door.
Check weather stripping around the access door entering the home and ensure it is tight and secure, not allowing Carbon Monoxide laden exhaust fumes to enter the home. Cracked brick or motor, siding or gaps in the wood of the wall between house and garage can potentially allow Carbon Monoxide to enter into the home. Seal any cracks or gaps appropriately.
Remember, never operate a charcoal grill inside the home. In like manner, gas operated camp stoves release carbon monoxide. Use them outside of the home and away from any flammable source.
Clogged chimney can not only cause a house fire but can spill Carbon Monoxide gas into the home. Even if only partially blocked Carbon Monoxide gas can enter into the home. This can cause unexplained setting off of a Carbon Monoxide detector.
Never leave gas or diesel running machinery to run outside the home near a potential vent source into the home such as a chimney, a wall vent, a fresh air exchange, an open window or door, roof vents or any other potential entry into the home. This includes lawn mowers and generators. Each year people die from operating generators inside the home during power outages. Place the generator outside the home, preferably a minimum of 12 feet from the home and do not locate it near any vent potential sources of the exhaust entering into the home.
Use only vented space heaters indoors and always operate the exhaust fan over the stove when cooking.
If you use a wood stove only use those that meet EPA emission standards and provide routine inspection to ensure proper operation is maintained. Catalytic convertors can clog, and fairly rapidly with the use of green ‘unseasoned’ wood, or the use of wood inappropriate for heating fires.
If you require assistance Cypress Heating and Air Conditioning will be happy to assist you in the choice and installation of carbon monoxide detectors.
Our certified and experienced HVAC technicians will be happy to provide an inspection and service to your heating and cooling system to ensure proper and safe function. Service agreements are available and should you need a new heating and air conditioning installation financing options is available to fit your budget.
We understand emergencies seldom occur at convenient times, that is why we provide emergency service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your convenience. Give our professionals a call, we will be happy to assist you.