As temperatures drop and you prepare your home for the coming winter, there’s one unwelcome visitor you need to make sure to keep out: Carbon Monoxide (CO). Often referred to as “Winter’s Silent Killer,” a 2012 report by the National Fire Protection Association showed that non-fire carbon monoxide incidents have been steadily increasing over the years, with 2010 having twice as many incidents as 2003. Even more, the CDC reported in 2014 that an average of 430 people die each year from CO poisoning.
And the finding is not surprising. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, making it virtually undetectable. In order to protect your home and family from a possible CO-related incident, your best bet is to understand what symptoms to look out for as well as the do’s and don’ts of prevention and care.
The symptoms of CO poisoning include:
- At moderate levels: Severe headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea or fainting
- At low levels: Shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches
If you or someone in your home experiences these symptoms, don’t ignore them! Get fresh air immediately, open your doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances, and leave your house. Go to an emergency room and tell them you suspect CO poisoning so that a blood test can be done to confirm.
To help prevent carbon monoxide in your home, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you
- Have any fuel-burning appliances (oil/gas furnaces, gas water heater, wood stove, etc.) inspected by a professional at the beginning of every heating season.
- Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible.
- Read and carefully follow all instructions that accompany any fuel-burning devices.
- Use the proper fuel and crack a window to ensure air ventilation when using any fuel-burning devices.
- Get a reliable CO detector in your home. Make sure to check it regularly (every 90 days) and replace it every 3-5 years.
- Idle your car in the garage – even if the garage door is open.
- Use a gas oven to heat your home. Not even temporarily.
- Use a charcoal grill indoors or in your fireplace.
- Sleep in rooms with unvented gas or kerosene space heaters.
- Use gasoline-powered engines (mowers, generators, chainsaws, etc.) in enclosed spaces.
- Ignore symptoms, especially if more than one person is experiencing them.
Please note that these steps are only to help and do not guarantee prevention of carbon monoxide in your home.