Short Answer: Because Carbon Monoxide Can Kill You.
Long Anwer: See Below.
We’re not going to mince words here: carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can be fatal when inhaled. CO is produced when fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, propane, natural gas, oil, or wood are burned. Basically, if you have fire, then you have CO. The Centers for Disease Control reports that each year at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning and approximately 50,000 Americans will visit the emergency department because of accidental CO poisoning.
And unlike taxes and Fox News, CO poisoning is entirely avoidable.
You have a smoke alarm in your home, right? Well, if you have any fuel-powered appliances, you need a CO detector, too.
Our picks for the best combination smoke alarm and CO detectors:
Best Battery: First Alert SCO501CN-3ST Battery Operated Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Voice Location
Best Hardwired: Kidde 21007915-N Dual Sensor AC Hardwire Interconnect Smoke Alarm White
Best Smart: Nest Protect Smoke Plus Carbon Monoxide, Wired 120V S2001LW
Of course, if you’re an all-electric house, you’re probably in the clear — assuming you’re not in the habit of running your 1964 GTO or decrepit lawn mower for extended periods of time in your attached, enclosed garage.
What are Common Sources of Carbon Monoxide?
CO can be found in fumes produced by faulty furnaces, aging water heaters, gas ranges, stinky kerosene heaters, internal combustion motors, burning charcoal, and noisy portable generators. Things get dicey when the CO builds up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces.
We’ve replaced enough funky furnaces and cracked heat exchangers that we worry about these things. We love you, East Nashville, don’t die. If you haven’t had someone take a look at your furnace lately, do yourself a favor and schedule a little checkup. We’ll let you know if things are looking good or if your furnace needs to be repaired or replaced.
How Does Carbon Monoxide Kill You?
This so-called “silent killer” binds with the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in your bloodstream. When this happens, it prevents red blood cells from being able to pick up oxygen and taking it to the rest of the body. And when your brain and organs aren’t getting enough oxygen, it can cause hypoxia (also known as oxygen starvation, but we occasionally like to use fancy-sounding words).
What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Believe it or not, sometimes symptoms of CO poisoning can be mistaken for the flu, so be on the lookout for headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, sleepiness, flushed skin, and confusion. The CDC warns that people who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.
CO may be the culprit if more than one member of your family experiences these symptoms simultaneously (the flu usually takes a few days to spread from person to person) or if you suddenly feel better after stepping outside for some fresh air.
How to Prevent CO Poisoning
- Go buy a CO detector. Then, remember to change the batteries every six months.
- Have your furnace, water heater, and any other fuel-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. (Insert shameless contact Cumberland Cooling link here.)
- Keep vents and flues free from debris.
- Don’t heat your home with your gas cooking stove.
- Don’t run your gas-guzzling vehicle in an enclosed space (such as your garage, let’s say).
- Don’t use a charcoal grill, hibachi, or camping stove inside your home.
- Never run your generator or gasoline-powered tools less than 20 feet from an open window or in an unvented space.
Where Should You Install Your CO Detector?
You should have a detector installed on every level of your home. Install the detector five ft. from the ground. For maximum protection, a detector should be placed near every sleeping area. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s specifications carefully as placement recommendations may vary.
If you suspect CO poisoning, leave the room or home and call 911 or a healthcare professional immediately. For a new furnace, contact Cumberland Cooling.