The first week of fall is the perfect time to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s particularly dangerous in the cooler months because we tend to keep windows and doors closed for extended periods of time. Therefore, before the temperatures cool, we shut our windows, and crank on our heaters, let’s think about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to protect ourselves.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent, odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas, generated by the burning of fossil fuels. It builds up in confined indoor areas, like garages with running vehicles or inside your house when running non-electric home heating and cooking systems.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CO kills over 400 Americans every year, sickens over 20,000, with 4,000 of those requiring hospitalization.
Why do so many of fall victim carbon monoxide? Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
1. No CO detectors
Roughly half the states require CO detectors in homes, and 10 of those states exempt homes with no CO producing sources, like gas furnaces and fireplaces or attached garages that could have cars idling inside them.
However, such restrictions fail to account for abnormally cold weather snaps in otherwise warm weather places, like here in Arizona. When such conditions arise, people tend to use portable heating elements that could produce CO, risking the health of everyone in the home.
Don’t bring outdoor grills inside or use gas stoves/ovens as heaters. Your best bet is to stick with electric portable heaters when the temperatures dip abnormally low.
2. Non-functioning CO detectors
Obviously, a CO detector that doesn’t work is like having no CO detector at all. Test CO detectors regularly, including checking the batteries when your check your smoke alarm batteries (a perfect time is when most of the US changes the clocks for Daylight Saving Time). Better yet, buy a plug-in detector with a battery backup.
3. Too few CO detectors
Safety experts suggest at least one CO detector per level in your home. If you are only using one, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it should be placed near bedrooms so that it awakens you during sleep. DO NOT place them where CO producing appliances are found, like the kitchen and/ or near furnaces as those appliances give off small amounts of CO on start up.
4. Poor placement of CO detectors
Because CO is a heavy gas, CO detectors placed on the ceiling are ineffective. Most experts suggest a mid-wall placement, but exact placement will vary based on the specific manufacturer, so check the installation directions carefully.
5. Not knowing the symptoms of CO poisoning
Frequently, symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are described as “flu-like”. Common symptoms include: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. If multiple occupants are experiencing these symptoms are the same time, seek medical attention immediately.
Finally, in my experience as a Realtor, if you are buying or selling a home, whether CO producing appliances are functioning, and whether CO detectors are present, functioning and properly placed, are issues that may arise during the home inspection period.