Home & Garden

Only you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

As of July 2011 all single-family homes that have a fossil fuel source or an attached garage must have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. All other dwelling units, like apartment buildings, will be required to have a CO detector beginning in January 2013.

Carbon monoxide is a common by-product of all home furnaces and appliances that use flammable fuel. The number one cause of residential CO poisonings is faulty furnaces. Another contributing factor is lack of sufficient air exchange in airtight efficiency homes. An additional risk in San Francisco is CO from automobile operation in ground-level garages — CO can rise undetected from the garage into the
residences above.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is often called “the great imitator” because the symptoms are similar to other common diseases, such as the flu. It takes over silently, with no detectable odor. Low-level CO poisoning can cause headaches, weakness, sleepiness, nausea, disorientation, and dizzy spells after two to three hours of exposure, and long-term exposure can cause permanent heart and brain damage. (Carbon monoxide levels in the body can easily be measured by a simple blood test.) Greater concentrations cause symptoms to appear more rapidly, with frontal headaches, dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within minutes and death within hours.

Carbon monoxide enters the body through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin in the blood, attaching to red blood cells 200 times faster than oxygen, and preventing the flow of oxygen to the heart, brain and vital organs. Pregnant women, unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens, persons with heart or respiratory problems, and smokers may experience serious injury at lower levels of carbon monoxide exposure than those that affect healthy adults.

To protect your family, you must familiarize yourself with potential problem areas in
your home:

  • Improperly installed or vented gas kitchen range
  • Corroded/disconnected water heater vent pipe
  • Gas or wood-burning fireplace or wood stove
  • Clogged chimney
  • Cracked/loose furnace exchange
  • Portable kerosene or gas heater
  • Grill operation indoors or in the garage
  • Car left running in attached garage
  • Cigarette smoke

Things you should never do:

  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, cabin, or camper.
  • Never use a gas range, oven, or clothes dryer for heating.
  • Never operate unvented gas-burning appliances (e.g., kerosene or natural gas space heater) in a closed room.
  • Never operate gasoline-powered engines (e.g., cars, motorcycles, lawn mowers, power tools) in confined areas such as garages or basements, even if an outside door or window is open.
  • Never ignore a CO detector alarm.

The most important determinant for how many CO detectors you need is whether an alarm can be heard in all sleeping areas. It’s also a good idea to install a detector near your furnace. If you need multiple units, combine battery-operated and plug-in models to get the advantages of each. All continuously monitor the air, have sensors that imitate the body’s response to CO concentration over time, and sound a loud alarm when harmful CO levels are present.

Remember: The effectiveness of your CO detector depends on you. Never ignore a CO
detector alarm!

Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].
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