Carbon monoxide safety basics
If an appliance burns fuel to produce energy – whether it is a water heater, furnace, boiler, fireplace, cooking range, or space heater – it emits some amount of carbon monoxide (CO) as it operates. In small amounts and properly vented, the gas is harmless – but if it accumulates in your home, it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning – a dangerous and possibly even deadly threat.
Here are some important carbon monoxide basics to know and to teach your family as we head into the heart of heating season:
- Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas produced by burning any fuel, including heating oil, gasoline, coal, wood, charcoal, kerosene, propane, or natural gas. Any appliance that burns fuel will emit at least some CO.
- A buildup of CO typically occurs due to improper ventilation or broken equipment. Some causes of CO buildup include operating unvented appliances for too long, a broken or improperly maintained heating system, a backdraft near the heating appliance, or a blocked flue or vent.
- Symptoms of CO poisoning vary depending on the amount of exposure to the gas. Mild case symptoms include flu-like headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness; moderate case symptoms include severe headaches, drowsiness, confusion, and disorientation; extreme case symptoms include unconsciousness, convulsions, heart failure, and in rare cases death.
- If you are experiencing CO poisoning symptoms,
- Get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors, turn off fuel-burning appliances, and leave the house.
- Call your fire department or 911 and report your symptoms to your doctor.
- Service all your fuel-burning appliances before turning them back on.
- If your CO alarm sounds,
- Leave your home immediately
- Call your fire department or 911
- DO NOT reenter the premises until responders have given you permission
- If the source of the CO is determined to be a malfunctioning appliance, DO NOT use that appliance until a professional services the equipment
- To avoid problems with CO in your Iowa home,
- Get preventative maintenance for all fuel-burning appliances ¬every year
- Repair faulty appliances immediately
- Replace appliances if they have become unsafe
- Install CO detectors throughout your home, following the manufacturer’s instructions for placement, testing, and maintenance. If you have propane-fired equipment, install propane detectors, too.
- Study the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning, and teach your family what to do if they experience them.