The Silent Killer

There is a killer hiding in the crevices of your home. You cannot see this killer, you cannot touch it, nor smell it. This killer can strike anybody at any time, and you would not know it until it is too late. The killer is carbon monoxide, and it may be lurking in your home.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of fuels like propane, wood, and natural gas. In a home, consumer products like furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters that run on fuel may malfunction, producing deadly amounts of CO. Engine-powered equipment like portable generators, fireplaces, and charcoal burned in enclosed spaces can also produce CO.

Most homeowners do not know when CO slowly poisons them; they may believe their appliances work fine without proper maintenance and home auditing, or they rely on their CO alarms to warn them of leaks. A homeowner can also assume they have the flu, but which may in fact be the initial symptoms of CO poisoning. However, if exposed to high levels of CO, a person can experience mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death. The mistake of believing CO poisoning symptoms for the flu are easy to make, even by physicians. And because common household appliances can malfunction and produce CO, it is important to make sure houses are installed with quality CO alarms, and to have a BPI certified consultant to home audit. To prevent CO poisoning, the following is recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owners manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.

Although appliances may emit CO, there is a certain threshold of exposure before a person’s health becomes jeopardized. And not all people will experience the same symptoms at the same CO levels; the effects of the poison depend on CO concentration, exposure length, and the individual’s health condition. CO concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm), and most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure in approximately 1 to 70 ppm. Any CO concentration above 70 ppm, however, sympotoms are more noticeable, and above 150 to 200 ppm, severe symptoms and death are possible. A reliable CO alarm will prevent any high concentrations of CO going unnoticed. Testing CO alarms are smart, especially when these alarms have a replacement age in order to operate correctly. Refer to the alarm’s manufacturer instructions for questions and testing guides.

Besides a CO alarm, BPI certified consultants are an important resource to keep a home safe. They home audit, or inspect a home for any malfunctioning aspects that can place a homeowner’s health and safety in harm’s way. While an alarm can tell if CO is already in a home, a BPI consultant can find the source of the CO and find a way to replace or mend the malfunctioning appliance. These are the best ways to keep a home free from CO, and your health free from a deadly poison.

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