Carbon Monoxide Safety
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing at
least one carbon monoxide detector with an audible alarm near the
bedrooms. If a home has more than one story, a detector should be
placed on each story. Be sure the detector has a testing laboratory
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, deadly gas. It
can kill quickly because it can't be seen, tasted or smelled. At
lower levels of exposure, it can cause health problems.
Some people may be more vulnerable to CO poisoning such as fetuses,
infants, children, senior citizens and those with heart or lung
problems. When an individual breathes in CO, it accumulates in the
blood and forms a toxic compound known as carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).
Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the bloodstream to cells and tissues.
Carbon monoxide attaches itself to hemoglobin and displaces the
oxygen that the body organs need.
Carboxyhemoglobin can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells,
confusion and irritability. Later stages of CO poisoning can cause
vomiting, loss of consciousness and eventually brain damage or death.
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion of fossil fuels.
Fumes from automobiles contain high levels of CO. Appliances such
as furnaces, space heaters, clothes dryers, ranges, ovens, water
heaters, charcoal grills, fireplaces and wood burning stoves produce
CO. Carbon monoxide usually is vented to the outside if appliances
function correctly and the home is vented properly. Problems occur
when furnace heat exchanger crack or vents and chimneys become blocked.
Insulation sometimes can trap CO in the home.
The following is a checklist for where to look for problem sources
of CO in the home:
1. A forced air furnace is frequently the source of
leaks and should be carefully inspected. Measure the concentration
of carbon monoxide in the flue gases.
Check furnace connections to flue pipes and venting systems to
the outside of the home for signs of corrosion, rust gaps, holes.
Check furnace filters and filtering systems for dirt and blockage.
Check forced air fans for proper installation and to assure correct
airflow of flue gases. Improper furnace blower installation can
result in carbon monoxide build-up because toxic gas is blown into
rather than out of the house.
Check the combustion chamber and internal heat exchanger for cracks,
holes, metal fatigue or corrosion. Be sure they are clean and free
of debris. Check burners and ignition system. A flame that is mostly
yellow in color in natural gas fired furnaces is often a sign that
the fuel is not burning completely and higher levels of carbon monoxide
are being released. Oil furnaces with similar problems can give
off an oily odor.
Remember that carbon monoxide can't be smelled.
2. Check all venting systems to the outside including
flues and chimneys for cracks, corrosion, holes, debris, blockages.
Animals and birds can build nests in chimneys preventing gases
3. Check all other appliances in the home that use
flammable fuels such as natural gas, oil, propane, wood or kerosene.
Appliances include water heaters, clothes dryers, kitchen ranges,
ovens or cook tops, wood burning stoves, and gas refrigerators.
Pilot lights can be a source of carbon monoxide because the by-products
of combustion are released inside the home rather than vented outside.
Be sure space heaters are vented properly. Unvented space heaters
that use a flammable fuel such as kerosene can release carbon monoxide
into the home.
Barbecue grills should never be operated indoors under any circumstances
nor should stovetops or ovens that operate on flammable fuels be
used to heat a residence.
Check fireplaces for closed, blocked or bent flues, soot and debris.
Check the clothes dryer vent opening outside the house for lint.