The temperatures have been perfect the past few days, but cooler temperatures are a sure sign of one thing: winter is on its way! As more and more furnaces and heating systems fire up across the Maryland and DC area, we want to make everyone aware of one of the biggest hazards of winter: carbon monoxide. While not exclusive to the colder months, carbon monoxide leaks are more common this time of year. Fortunately, with the right know-how and preparation, you can avoid any problems and stay comfortable all season long!
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is highly toxic. It is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal, oil, propane, natural gas, etc. What this means is if your furnace or water heater’s burner elements are dirty or malfunctioning in some way, you could be at risk!
Since carbon monoxide can’t be picked up by any of your senses, you won’t necessarily know it’s there until you start feeling the symptoms (unless you install a carbon monoxide detector!). Low-level exposure to carbon monoxide causes flu-like symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
Continued exposure, or exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide, produces symptoms such as:
- Mental confusion
- Loss of muscular coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Ultimately death
The CPSC advises that while everyone has different tolerance levels, most people will not experience any symptoms from exposure to CO levels of one to 70 ppm (parts per million). Sustained levels of CO beyond 70 ppm will cause those low-level symptoms we mentioned. Once the levels get to above 150-200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are all possible.
How can I prevent CO poisoning?
- Make sure all gas burning appliances, including furnaces, stoves, water heaters and dryers are professionally installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and building codes. You should also have these systems, especially your furnace, inspected on a regular basis to make sure everything is working properly.
- Never use a portable generator or any other tools with a gasoline engine in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with all the windows open, these structures can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to dangerous levels. By the same token…
- Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
- Don’t use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
- Don’t cover the bottom of your gas or oil furnace or stove with aluminum foil – this blocks the combustion airflow through the appliance and can produce CO.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
- Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
Should I install a carbon monoxide detector?
Absolutely – we can’t stress enough how important carbon monoxide detectors are for your home! Many carbon monoxide detectors will sound before CO in your home reaches dangerous levels, allowing you ample time to get into fresh air and call the authorities – 911, the gas company and us, Michael Bonsby Heating & Air Conditioning –before the bad symptoms start to kick in.
If you live in Maryland or Washington, DC and want to keep your family safe this winter and all year long, call Michael Bonsby Heating & Air Conditioning to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home today!