One of the first things you do when you move into a new home? Check the smoke alarms. After all, it's the law in most states that dwellings have functioning smoke detectors installed.
Do you check for carbon monoxide detectors? If not, you really should. An average of 430 deaths a year in the U.S. occur due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.
Don't let this happen to you. Educating yourself on common carbon monoxide sources in your home and how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning can mean the difference between life and death.
Keep reading to learn about common carbon monoxide sources in your home, and how to protect yourself from this silent killer.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
First things first: let's talk about what exactly carbon monoxide is and how it's formed.
When Carbon (C) and Oxygen (O) combine, there are two different gases that can be created. Which one is made depends on the amount of available oxygen in the area of carbon combustion.
The first is carbon dioxide (CO2). When the combustion of carbon has plenty of air available to pull from, two molecules of oxygen successfully pair with the carbon to form carbon dioxide (CO2).
When there is an insufficient amount of air for the carbon to pull from during combustion, carbon monoxide (CO) is formed. This is the dangerous gas that we need to be on the lookout for.
It's odorless, colorless, and harmful to human health at levels as low as 0.1%. Most of your home appliances probably operate on carbon combustion. This makes carbon monoxide detectors more important than ever.
Common Carbon Monoxide Sources
We've established that carbon monoxide is formed during the combustion of carbon. What does that mean for your home, and subsequently your health?
You've probably got plenty of appliances at home that burn carbon, making them carbon monoxide sources. This means any appliance that burns petroleum gas, wood, oil, coal, or other types of fuel.
- Oil or gas furnaces
- Gas range
- Gas water heaters
- Potential gas line leaks
- Even some space heaters
Another common source: your enclosed garage. Keep in mind that your car emits lots of carbon monoxide as it operates. Never run your car in your enclosed garage for an extended amount of time. The carbon monoxide can build up in the garage to lethal levels.
How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
There are a number of steps you can take to arm your home against dangerous carbon monoxide levels. The first: invest in a carbon monoxide detector.
They're small, simple to operate, and could save your life. They're usually battery operated, meaning they're always on. There are four different types of detectors:
Each functions very differently, and provide different levels of protection for your home. For instance, optochemical detectors merely signal you to the presence of carbon monoxide, whereas biomimetic detectors tell you exactly how much is in the air.
Regardless of which you choose, any of the above detectors are necessary for determining harmful levels of carbon monoxide in your home. Make sure to replace the batteries twice a year to be sure they're working for you constantly.
Besides a detector, there are other steps you can take to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning.
Regularly Service Your Appliances
Have your gas, oil, wood, and coal burning appliances serviced professionally by a technician at least once a year. Carbon monoxide sources can easily be found in every room of the house.
Since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, there's no way to tell when a leak might have sprung without your knowledge.
Use the Right Appliances While Inside
Using a generator, camp stove, charcoal grill, or any other carbon burning portable appliance inside the house or garage can up the levels of carbon monoxide in the air fast. Be sure to only use approved indoor appliances for cooking that are hooked up to secure gas lines or use a chimney, like your gas range or fireplace.
Just because you open a window doesn't mean you're safe, either. The levels of carbon monoxide expelled from these types of portable appliances can't escape through an open window fast enough to be safe.
Don't Rely on Your Oven for Heat
We've all been there: you've baked something for dinner, finally took it out, and left the oven door cracked for added warmth during the Winter. While seemingly innocuous, it can actually add carbon monoxide to the air.
Rely only on your home's installed heating system for heat. If it's down for some reason, stay with a friend or light a fire.
Don't Run Your Car Inside the Garage
A running car emits a lot of carbon monoxide. In an enclosed garage, it'll quickly reach lethal levels, even with a window or door open.
In the winter, you might be tempted to turn your car on and get it warmed up before you head to work. Unless your car is parked outside, avoid the temptation and deal with cold fingers for the first few minutes of your commute.
If it's absolutely necessary to run your car in the garage, open the garage door as wide as possible to get the noxious gas out.
What To Do If You've Been Poisoned
Keep an eye out for these symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained sleepiness or loss of consciousness
- Muscle control loss
- Blurred vision
If you experience any of these symptoms in a home with potential carbon monoxide sources, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. If you're able, open all the doors and windows to your home before you head out.
If not, be sure to have your home approved as safe for re-entry before going back inside.
Is Your Home Secure?
Carbon monoxide isn't the only thing you need to protect your home against.
Check out some other articles on securing your home against theft and break-ins. We've got tons of resources for information on home security!