Summer has just about arrived in the northern hemisphere at the time of this writing. This is the time of year when we are not thinking about our furnaces. Unfortunately, that also means we tend to forget about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO). Such dangers don’t go away during the summer. There may be less risk for most of us, but CO is still a dangerous gas.
Perhaps you should plan on having your furnace inspected this summer. If you have any kind of fireplace or stove that you use frequently during the colder months, have it inspected as well. And whatever you do this summer, don’t ever use a gas or charcoal grill indoors. Use it only outdoors and in a well-ventilated area.
A Silent Killer
CO is sometimes described as a ‘silent killer’ for the simple fact that it can take a life without causing any commotion. It is easy to be overcome by CO without even knowing what is happening. The most dangerous thing about CO is that it is both colorless and odorless. You cannot see or smell it.
Carbon monoxide does occur in nature. However, it is usually in such small amounts – as compared to other gases – that it doesn’t cause us trouble. CO becomes problematic when it occurs in concentrated levels. Certain types of human activity generate those unsafe levels.
We talk a lot about CO in terms of furnaces because they generate a lot of it. The furnace in your basement or crawl space is probably the single largest producer of CO you own, other than your car. And because of that, home security companies recommend installing at least one CO detector in the home. Multiple detectors are even better.
Why It’s Dangerous
By now you might be wondering how a naturally occurring gas can be so dangerous to human beings. It boils down to how we humans utilize oxygen. Under normal conditions, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Our bodies make the conversion in real time. Likewise, plants and trees intake carbon dioxide and put off oxygen. We support each other in an almost symbiotic relationship.
CO is problematic because it displaces oxygen. When you breathe it in, it displaces the oxygen in your bloodstream. The less oxygen in your blood, the less your vital organs can function properly. CO essentially robs the brain, heart, and other organs of the oxygen they need to survive. A lack of oxygen will eventually kill.
Here are just some of the symptoms of CO poisoning:
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mental confusion
- Muscle weakness
Note that symptoms vary. For example, some people may experience headache more easily than others. People with a history of angina might also experience sudden chest pain. The thing to remember is this: CO poisoning sometimes makes people feel like they have the flu. But coming down with the flu is generally a gradual thing. You feel the onset of symptoms over several hours. CO poisoning happens more quickly.
If You Suspect CO Poisoning
So, what should you do if you suspect you or someone in your family is suffering from CO poisoning? Assuming you are at home, the first thing to do is to get out of the house. If you are not at home, leave whatever building you are in. Get outside and get fresh air as quickly as possible. Warn anyone else in the building to follow you out as well.
After that, Vivint recommends the following:
Call for Help – Any suspicion of CO poisoning is justification to call the authorities for help. Dial 911 right away. The dispatcher will send the local fire department; they can test for the presence of CO.
Stay Outside – Under no circumstances should you attempt to re-enter the building until given the all clear by the fire department. If they suspect a CO leak, they will likely call the utility company as well.
Fix the Problem – If it is your home you are dealing with, the fire department or utility company should be able to tell you the source of the problem. Make sure to get it fixed as quickly as possible. Your home will not be safe until you do.
Vivint also recommends equipping your home with CO detectors. Just like smoke detectors, CO detectors save lives. They are inexpensive enough that there really is no reason to not have one or two in your home.
Where to Install Them
As for where to install CO detectors, your best bet is to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. CO detectors all provide the same basic function, but some of the specifics vary from one model to the next. The manufacturer knows the best way to install its equipment.
As a general rule, CO detectors should be installed approximately five feet from the floor. CO is not an especially heavy gas, so it doesn’t sink to the floor. Placing detectors at five feet tends to offer the best results. Experts also recommend installing at least one detector on every floor of your home.
In the basement, a CO detector should not be installed too close to the furnace. Your furnace will produce some residual CO that doesn’t escape up the exhaust flue. So placing a detector right next to the furnace is likely to set off false alarms. It is also not a wise idea to install the detector close to the garage door – if your home has an attached garage.
Check those Batteries
Many CO detectors are battery operated, just like smoke detectors. Others plug into on electrical outlet but rely on batteries for backup power. The point here is to check those batteries on a regular basis. Check them right along with your smoke detector batteries at the start and end of daylight-saving time.
Don’t forget about CO just because it’s summer. In fact, now is the time to think about preventing CO poisoning by getting you ready home for the coming fall and winter.