Among the most important facts to know about carbon monoxide are these:
- Something like 500 Americans die because of it every year. Many more are poisoned.
- It is now the leading cause of fatal poisonings in Britain.
- It is odorless and colorless, so there is no way to detect it without an electronic sensor.
- It is produced by water heaters, gas stoves, and fireplaces, among other household appliances.
- It is a bigger worry in well-insulated, air-tight, new homes than in drafty old ones.
What Leads To Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
In the past, there was simply insufficient public awareness of carbon monoxide emissions from heat-producing appliances. Homeowners associated carbon monoxide with exhaust fumes from automobiles and perhaps took care not to let their engines warm up with the garage door closed. Increasingly though, municipal codes are making homeowners aware of the carbon monoxide dangers posed by things inside their air-tight houses.
Foremost among them are wood-fired stoves and fireplaces, which produce carbon monoxide every time they are used. If chimney blockages or any other reason for insufficient updraft prevent its removal from the home, carbon monoxide hangs in the air. With windows closed against cold winter air and smoke not properly vented, the whole situation quickly becomes toxic.
What could be early warning signs of unacceptably high levels of carbon monoxide are often dismissed. Explainable as a reaction to a meal or too much stress or winter flu, the associated symptoms fail to alert homeowners to its presence. Headaches and nausea, even vomiting, are taken for signs of other things, with no detectable evidence to the contrary.
How Can I Avoid It?
The first thing to do is to have all heat producing systems regularly cleaned and checked by qualified professionals. What seems okay to you and your friends may strike a knowledgeable serviceman as the beginnings of a potentially fatal situation. Once its potential has been reduced, install good quality carbon monoxide alarms in proper locations throughout the house.