There are few potential hazards in the home that are as serious as carbon monoxide. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal regulator of product safety standards, points out that carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that cannot be detected by human senses. It can be in your home’s environment and cause serious harm to the health of you and your family before you know it, and ingesting any large amount of CO is fatal.
Emphasizing CO safety in your home and vehicle should be among your highest priorities. First, we’ll look at how CO enters the home and the symptoms of its poisoning, and then discuss the best ways for keeping you and your loved ones safe from its dangers.
Sources of CO contamination
The National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering awareness of safety issues, explains that carbon monoxide typically makes its way into homes when fuel is burned in enclosed spaces. Fireplaces, gas stoves, ovens, grills, generators, car motors and furnaces all produce CO in their natural processes. If not properly ventilated, the resulting CO buildup can affect the people in the house.
Know the signs of CO poisoning
Initial signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, the CPSC notes, are dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and nausea. Unfortunately, these can easily be mistaken for the flu or other common childhood ailments. If those with mild initial CO poisoning don’t get fresh air and call for medical assistance immediately, more severe symptoms may develop. These include mental disorientation, severe vomiting, difficulties with motor skills and muscle coordination, and unconsciousness. Most importantly, carbon monoxide poisoning can also cause death.
The condition’s severity largely depends on the volume and duration of exposure. A low-level CO exposure will cause mild symptoms that can be mitigated if those affected leave the area and get treatment soon. Large exposures, as would occur when using a generator inside, will quickly cause significant neurological damage and death. Additionally, the NSC emphasizes that young children, seniors and those with respiratory issues are especially vulnerable to CO poisoning.
Help eliminate household CO exposure risk
The National Fire Protection Association, an advocacy group for promoting fire safety best practices, cites CO alarms as the ideal first line of household defense against this hazard. Some towns, cities or states may have specific laws requiring use of these alarms. In general, notes the fire protection association, they should be on every floor of the house, ideally in the hallways outside every sleeping area. Also, many alarm models can be interconnected so they go off simultaneously. Test their efficacy each month and replace them when they fail.
Beyond alarm installation and upkeep, many CO prevention tasks are common sense. Never use an oven or stove to heat any area of the home. Only use a fireplace or wood stove if you know both the fireplace or stove and your chimney are in good working condition. Chimneys should be serviced regularly by certified technicians. Generators should never be used indoors, nor should gas or charcoal grills.
As for your car, it should absolutely never be started to warm it up while still in the garage ─ even in the dead of winter with the garage door open. If you avoid this extremely dangerous practice and keep your vehicle’s tailpipe unobstructed by snow or debris, this will all but eliminate vehicular CO hazards.