Carbon Monoxide Detection: What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

Carbon monoxide is a deadly, odorless, colorless gas that can be produced by any household appliance that’s fueled by gas. The dangers of this gas are different from the dangers produced by the natural gas feeding into these appliances: natural gas has an odor. While natural gas can build up from an appliance leak and explode, carbon monoxide kills directly by suffocation.

Because carbon monoxide has no smell, you won’t even know it is accumulating in your home. You might only notice symptoms like these:

  • Dull headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath

Those are all symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning.

When more carbon monoxide accumulates, the symptoms are much more serious. They include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death. 

Obviously, it’s vital to ensure that your appliances are not leaking this gas into your home.

Carbon Monoxide Should Be Vented Outside

When your appliances are working right, any carbon monoxide produced is normally vented up a flue and out your roof. If you had a special device to measure the carbon monoxide in your home, it might register at one or two parts per million of the air in your home. This is healthy. You will feel fine at this level. 

But if there is a problem with the appliance or the venting of your hot water heater, furnace or gas stove, the carbon monoxide levels can rise and then you’d be looking at those symptoms. 

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

You can get a carbon monoxide detector for your home. They look a lot like smoke detectors or thermostats. This device will sound an alarm if the carbon monoxide levels in your home begin to rise. Some of them run on batteries and some plug into an outlet in your home. Plug-in detectors are more advisable so you never have to worry about checking and replacing the batteries. 

While it is not a law that you have to place these detectors in your home, it is a very smart thing to do and might well save your life and the lives of your family and pets one day. 

Real-Life Example of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Recently, I went out on a job to a home with three elderly people who all felt headachy and unwell. Older people and anyone with heart disease or breathing problems are more susceptible to injury if there’s a carbon monoxide leak. 

With a professional meter, I measured the carbon monoxide levels in the home. The meter read 28 parts per million. As mentioned earlier, a normal reading should be one or two parts per million. 

If the level had reached 50 or 60 parts per million, these residents might have gone unconscious and then lost their lives. A person poisoned by carbon monoxide dies of suffocation because carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in their red blood cells. No oxygen can then reach their tissues and vital organs. 

How to Prevent Problems with Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, have every gas-fueled appliance inspected every year. Minimally, you should have your furnace and hot water heater cleaned, inspected and serviced annually. 

The firebox is the chamber that contains the fire in your furnace—if this develops a crack, it can emit tremendous amounts of carbon monoxide into your home. If you have an older furnace, it’s vital to get it inspected annually before cold weather arrives. 

We send out technicians every year to homes to check furnaces, hot water heaters, gas ranges and any other gas-fueled appliances. We’re happy to do it because we know it keeps members of our community safe. If you need this service, please give us a call at (505) 243-1227.

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