Apr

How to Get Deadly Carbon Monoxide Out of the House

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas normally found in the atmosphere at low levels. Many things contribute to the level of CO in the air, both outdoors (like pollution) and indoors (like tobacco smoke). High levels can also be produced from the burning of wood, gas, and other fuels. Poor heating systems or those with improper ventilation can lead to dangerous levels of CO in the air. This, coupled with energy-conserving “airtight” homes with insulation and sealed windows, can further trap CO inside. But unless you’re looking for it, you wouldn’t know you’re breathing it. 

Although CO poisoning cases are higher during the winter monthsj, there are situations where people can be exposed to high levels of CO during the summer. Vehicles including boats produce carbon monoxide. Devices such as camp stoves, barbecue grills and non-electric heaters are commonly used during recreational activities and also are sources of CO. 

The CDC has noted that CO poisoning cases have resulted from the use of power generators during power outages. Portable generators are capable of producing more carbon monoxide than modern cars and can kill people in a short amount of time. It is recommended that users place generators at least 25 feet away from and downwind of a house. Be sure that there are no vents or openings near the generator that would allow exhaust to enter into your home.

It is important to know what appliances in your home are fuel-burning and make sure that they are maintained properly. All of these appliances should be vented to the outside. You should have your fuel-burning appliances (ex. furnace) checked by a qualified heating contractor every year to look for potential problems. 

Here are four important dos and don’ts to help protect you and your family.

1. Add a Carbon Monoxide Detector

  • Make sure you have at least one carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home, including the basement.
  • Locate carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms – close enough so that they’ll wake you up if they go off in the middle of the night.
  • Mount detectors on the wall at least a couple of feet below your ceiling or even lower. Carbon monoxide often won’t rise all the way up to the ceiling (like smoke does) until the concentration of the gas is at a critically dangerous level. Additionally, some carbon monoxide detectors have digital readouts – mount those kinds of detectors at eye level so you can read them. If you have pets or curious children, you’ll need to find somewhere the detector won’t be bothered.
  • The detecting mechanisms in carbon monoxide detectors need to stay at stable temperatures and humidities to work properly. Keep them out of direct sunlight and away from fixtures that generate heat (appliances, lights, radiators, etc.) and out of overly humid areas (bathrooms, laundry rooms, etc.). Keep in mind airflow, too: Don’t mount carbon monoxide detectors by windows that are often opened or in dead air spaces.

2.  Don’t leave the car running in the garage.

Though it’s tempting to warm up the car in the garage, don’t do it, as CO levels can rise quickly. And if you have an attached garage, don’t leave the engine running for very long even if the garage door is open, since CO can seep through wallboards into the house.

3.  Do have your appliances and heating systems serviced as recommended.

Double check that your appliances and heating systems are working appropriately with proper ventilation. This includes making sure that garage vents are not blocked to the outside.

Make sure you have a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector (or one with battery backup) on every floor, in the hallway near bedrooms. States have different requirements regarding how CO detectors are placed in homes. Ideally, change batteries yearly and test monitors monthly. Some CO detectors also provide a digital reading of the level of CO ppm. If the alarm sounds, don’t ignore it (like we did). Move outside to fresh air and contact the fire department ri2. Open the fireplace flue damper before lighting a fire, and leave it open until there are no embers and the ashes3. Don’t leave the car running in Though it’s tempting to warm up the car in the garage, don’t do it, as CO levels can rise quickly. And if you have an attached garage, don’t leave the engine running for very long even if the garage door is open, since CO can seep through wallboards into4. Do have your appliances and heating systems serviced as recommended.

Double check that your appliances and heating systems are working appropriately with proper ventilation. This includes making sure the vents are not blocked by snow and ice outside.

4. Don’t use portable generators indoors.

If you need to use a portable generator, make sure it is outside and at least 20 feet from windows and doors.  Quality Heating also installs Whole House Standby Generators across the Peninsula.

Hopefully, these basic tips will help make you more aware and prepared in your home. If you are looking for further information on CO safety issues, a good place to start is the US Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage Carbon Monoxide’s Impact on Indoor Air Quality.

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