Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips - OAKTrust

Carbon Monoxide
Safety Tips
Bryan W. Shaw and Monica L. Denny*
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless,
poisonous gas. It is created when any fuel – gasoline,
propane, natural gas, oil, wood, coal, and even tobacco – is burned. Carbon monoxide is a result of incomplete combustion of the fuel.
Inside your home, carbon monoxide problems can
stem from a number of common sources—automobiles, furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves,
charcoal grills, gas ranges, space heaters and portable
generators. Serious problems can develop when these
appliances are not in good working condition and
when this combustion by-product is not properly
vented outside the house. When these appliances are
in good working condition with proper ventilation,
carbon monoxide is not a problem.
What are the effects of CO exposure?
Carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream through the
lungs when you breathe. Like oxygen, CO attaches to
red blood cells, only at a rate 200 times faster than
oxygen. When carbon monoxide molecules attach to
the red blood cells, they restrict the flow of oxygen to
the heart, brain and vital organs. As carbon monoxide
accumulates in the bloodstream, your body becomes
starved for oxygen.
The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
often are mistaken for the flu. Symptoms include
headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting,
sleepiness and confusion.
Breathing very high concentrations of carbon
monoxide can be lethal in minutes.
Breathing low concentrations over time is dangerous, too. Long-term exposure to low levels can
cause permanent heart and brain damage.
The amount of carbon monoxide in a person’s body
can be measured by a simple “carboxyhemoglobin
level” blood test.
Is your family at risk for CO poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. According to the
Mayo Clinic, at least 10,000 Americans are affected to
some degree by CO poisoning each year.
Anyone is susceptible, but special care should be
taken to protect unborn babies, small children, senior
citizens, and people with heart or respiratory problems. They are at the greatest risk for death or serious
What can you do to protect your family?
*Assistant Professor and Extension Agricultural EngineerAgricultural and Environmental Safety, and Extension
Assistant-Safety, The Texas A&M University System.
To be safe, know the possible sources of CO in your
home. Keep fuel-burning appliances, their chimneys
and vents in good working condition. Learn the early
symptoms of exposure, and if you suspect carbon
monoxide poisoning, move outside to fresh air and
get emergency help.
The first line of defense is an annual inspection and
regular maintenance of your appliances. Contact a
licensed contractor or call your local utility company
for assistance.
Installing a CO detector will provide an added level of
security. When properly installed, CO monitors can
give advance warning of elevated levels of CO.
CO detectors should be mounted in or near bedrooms
and living areas and on each level of a multilevel
home. Use the number and location of smoke detectors installed in your home according to current
building code requirements as a guide to the placement of CO detectors.
choosing installation locations,
make sure you can hear the alarm from
all sleeping areas. If you install only one
CO detector in your home, install it near
bedrooms, not in the basement or
furnace room.
Do not install your CO detector in garages, kitchens
or furnace rooms. Installation of a CO detector in
these areas may expose the sensor to substances that
could damage or contaminate it, or the alarm may
not be heard by persons in other areas of the home,
especially if they are sleeping. Vehicle exhaust contains carbon monoxide that can activate a nuisance
alarm. Some gas appliances in the kitchen and furnace room emit a short burst of carbon monoxide
upon startup. This is normal. If the CO detector is
mounted too close to these appliances, it may alarm
often and become a nuisance. If you must install a
CO detector near a cooking or heating appliance,
install it at least 15 feet away from the appliance.
Do not install in excessively dusty, dirty or greasy
areas. Dust, grease or household chemicals can contaminate or coat the detector’s sensor, causing the
detector not to operate properly.
Do not obstruct the vents of the detector. Place the
detector where drapes, furniture or other objects do
not block the flow of air to the vents.
Do not install in dead air space, such as peaks of
vaulted ceilings or gabled roofs, where carbon
monoxide may not reach the sensor in time to provide early warning.
Do not install in turbulent air from ceiling fans. Do
not install near doors and windows that open to the
outside, near fresh air vents, or anywhere that is
drafty. Rapid air circulation from fans or fresh air
from outside may cause the sensor to display inaccurate readings in the presence of CO.
Do not install in areas where the temperature is colder than 40 degrees F or hotter than l00 degrees F.
These areas include crawl spaces, attics, porches and
garages. Extreme temperatures will affect the sensitivity of the detector.
Do not install in extremely damp or humid areas like
bathrooms with steamy showers. Humidity extremes
(above 85 percent and below 20 percent) can affect
the sensitivity of the detector.
How do carbon monoxide
detectors operate?
CO detectors are designed to sense unacceptable levels of CO from malfunctioning furnaces, appliances,
gas engines or other sources. CO detectors provide
early warning of the presence of carbon monoxide,
usually before a healthy adult would experience
symptoms. This early warning is possible, however,
only if the CO detector is located, installed and maintained as described in the owner’s manual.
The CO detector acts as a continuous monitor. It is
not designed for use as a short-term testing device to
perform a quick check for the presence of CO.
CO detectors have a limited operational life. Test your
CO detector weekly, because it could fail to operate at
any time. If it fails to test properly, or if its self-diagnostic test reveals a malfunction, immediately have
the detector replaced.
CO detectors will not work without a continuous supply of electric power.
CO detectors do not sense smoke or fire. For early
warning of fire you must install smoke detectors. CO
detectors should not be used to detect the presence of
natural gas (methane), propane, butane, or other
combustible fuels.
CO detectors are not a substitute for property, disability, life or other insurance of any kind. Appropriate
insurance coverage is your responsibility. Consult
your insurance agent.
For additional information, contact your local county
Extension office or the agricultural safety web site at
Home Safety Check List
What you can do...
✓ Buy only appliances approved by a nationally
recognized testing laboratory.
✓ Choose fuel-burning appliances that can be
vented to the outdoors, whenever possible.
✓ Make sure appliances are installed according to
manufacturer’s instructions and local building
✓ Most appliances should be installed by profes-
sionals and should be inspected by the proper
authority after installation.
✓ Have the heating system, vents, chimney and
flue inspected and cleaned by a qualified technician every year.
✓ Follow manufacturer’s directions for safe oper-
ation of all fuel-burning appliances.
✓ Examine vents and chimneys regularly for
improper connections, visible rust or stains.
✓ Open a window when a fireplace or wood-
burning stove is in use, and provide adequate
outdoor air for furnace and water heater.
✓ Notice problems that could indicate improper
appliance operation:
Decreasing hot water supply
Furnace unable to heat house or runs constantly
Sooting, especially on appliances
Unfamiliar or burning odor
Yellow or orange flame
✓ Be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide
poisoning: headaches, dizziness, weakness,
sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and
✓ Recognize that CO poisoning may be the cause
when family members suffer from flu-like
symptoms that improve when they leave home
for extended periods of time.
✓ Install a UL listed CO detector for added safety.
✓ The Consumer Product Safety Commission rec-
ommends that every residence with fuel-burning appliances be equipped with a UL listed
CO detector.
What you should not do...
✓ Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage,
cabin, recreational vehicle or camper.
✓ Never install, service, or convert fuel-burning
appliances from one type to another without
proper knowledge, skills and tools.
✓ Never use a gas range, oven or clothes dryer
for heating your home.
✓ Never operate unvented gas-burning appli-
ances, such as kerosene or natural gas space
heaters, in a closed room.
✓ Never operate gasoline-powered engines (like
vehicles, motorcycles, lawn mowers, yard
equipment or power tools) in confined areas
such as garages or basements, even if an outside door or window is open.
✓ Never ignore a safety device when it shuts off
an appliance.
✓ Never ignore a CO detector alarm.
Warning Signs of Carbon Monoxide
Clues you can see...
Streaks of carbon or soot around the service
door of fuel-burning appliances.
Rust on the portion of the vent pipe visible
from outside the home.
A yellow or orange flame that may indicate
a problem with natural gas appliances.
The absence of a draft in the chimney (indicating blockage).
Fallen soot from the fireplace chimney.
Loose, damaged or discolored bricks on the
Excessive rusting on flue pipes or appliance
Loose or missing furnace panel.
Moisture collecting on the windows and
walls of furnace rooms.
Internal appliance damage or malfunctioning
Loose or disconnected fireplace chimney or
appliance vent.
Improper burner adjustment.
Hidden blockage or damage in the chimney.
Small amounts of water leaking from the
base of the chimney, vent or flue pipe.
Clues you cannot see...
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