If you burn gas, kerosene, or wood in your home to produce heat for cooking or warmth, you need to monitor the level of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is odorless and can easily build up to dangerous levels. Ordinary carbon monoxide detectors don’t sound an alarm until certain levels of carbon monoxide accumulate in the air. New monitors show the amount of carbon dioxide in the air at any given time, so you can take action well before levels reach the danger zone.
HOW CARBON MONOXIDE GETS INTO THE AIR IN YOUR HOME
Carbon monoxide is the major toxic combustion by-product that is created when gas, kerosene, or wood is burned to produce heat for cooking or warmth. Other combustion by-products include formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitric acid, and vapors from various organic chemicals.
Carbon monoxide and other combustion by-products are produced when fuels do not burn completely. All fuel-burning appliances need air for the fuel to burn efficiently. When a generous supply of fresh air is available and the fuel is burning properly, there is little danger of poisoning. But when there is inadequate ventilation or the appliance is not operating properly, carbon monoxide is produced and can gradually overcome and even kill an unsuspecting bystander. Many years before I was born, my grandmother almost died from carbon monoxide seeping from her gas furnace. It was just by chance that someone walked in and saved her.
SYMPTOMS OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
It is possible to identify symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning if you know what to look for. Your body will tell you if there is too much carbon monoxide in your home. Different concentrations of carbon monoxide and different exposure times cause different symptoms.
Mild exposures to carbon monoxide are often confused with the flu. Symptoms include sleepiness, slight headache, dizziness, flushed skin, disorientation, abnormal reflexes, blurred vision, irritability, slight nausea, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate.
As exposure continues, mild symptoms turn into a severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, shortness of breath, vomiting, and an accelerated heart rate. Unconsciousness and convulsions are signs that cardiorespiratory failure and death are near.
If you or anyone in your family experiences flu-like symptoms, and you burn gas, kerosene, or wood in your home, you should immediately evaluate if it is, in fact, early signs of carbon monoxide exposure.
CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS AND ALARMS
There are two types of devices that can warn you about carbon monoxide levels in your home.
Carbon monoxide detectors sound an alarm like a smoke detector when carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels. These are relatively inexpensive, but, like a smoke detector, only warn you when carbon monoxide in your home has already reached a level that is approaching dangerous.
Carbon monoxide monitors give you an ongoing numerical reading of the current level of carbon monoxide and sound an alarm when concentrations approach dangerous levels. These cost around $50 but show you what the actual carbon monoxide concentration is at any given time. With a monitor, you can catch carbon monoxide leaks at low levels, and rest assured that your family is safe.
TO ELIMINATE THE THREAT OF CARBON MONOXIDE…
Electric appliances do not emit combustion by-products under normal use.
If you prefer to use gas, propane, or wood, make sure appliances are well-adjusted for a clean burn and provide enough ventilation for combustion by-products to escape.