Carbon Monoxide Safety
Carbon Monoxide is a colorless and odorless poisonous gas, produced when an inadequate supply of air causes the faulty burning of a fuel: oil, coal, kerosene, gas or wood. In the home, this can happen when the flue to a fuel-burning appliance is blocked, typically by soot, nests or other debris. Any kind of fuel – and any kind of furnace, boiler, water heater or cooking range – can produce carbon monoxide.
People affected by carbon monoxide poisoning often experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, tightness in chest, weakness or flu-like symptoms. As exposure to carbon monoxide increases, the symptoms become more severe and can lead to unconsciousness or even death.
Some ways you can help prevent carbon monoxide from forming in your home or building:
- Keep chimneys and flues free of debris, and have them cleaned and inspected periodically for cracks, leaks and for any buildup of soot or creosote.
- Make sure there is adequate air available for appliances to use. Fuel-burning equipment needs air and air space around it to function properly. Extreme caution should be used when partitioning a furnace or water heater, as this can limit the amount of air available for combustion and cause a build-up of carbon monoxide. Newer "direct-vent" furnaces may supply air to the unit by a pipe to the outdoors – make sure this pipe is never blocked by snow, leaves or other debris. Also, when many fuel-burning appliances are working simultaneously (such as fireplaces or wood stoves along with the heating system), they are competing for a limited amount of indoor air, and may even cause a negative pressure condition. If this occurs, opening a window a bit will allow additional air into the home for proper combustion.
- Have heating systems cleaned and serviced regularly, including an inspection of the heat exchanger for any cracks or leaks, and adjusting the fuel to air mix for efficient combustion.
- Limit the use of indoor exhaust fans. Prolonged use of kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, the constant use of power vents in attics, and even an open, working fireplace, can reduce the amount of air in the home. Lack of air can cause improper combustion of fuel-burning equipment, and can result in a backup of flue gases, including carbon monoxide.
- Soot near the heating ducts and registers.
- Excessive moisture in the house or on the windows.
- A burning smell in the home.
- The heating system runs continuously, or is unable to heat the home or building.
If these symptoms occur, contact your heating contractor right away.
Common sense suggestions:
- Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, including the area near the heating system and any fuel-burning appliances, and also near the bedrooms.
- If adding a coal or wood-burning stove, be sure it is professionally installed and vented.
- Your oven, stove and charcoal grill were designed for cooking. Never attempt to heat your home with them. Doing so can create a fire hazard and cause a build-up of carbon monoxide.
- Avoid blocking heating ducts and return ducts with drapes, furniture or floor coverings.
- Never use a generator in a confined space, such as a garage, shed or enclosed porch, even with the doors open.
- Cars, trucks, and recreational vehicles should not be idled inside of a garage. Dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate within minutes.
- Never use a gas or charcoal grill in an enclosed area, such as a garage or shed. The same goes for running a generator, automobile or other gasoline powered device.
- Be sure that your fuel-burning heating system and water heater has a required "spill switch" installed. When a chimney or flue is blocked, the products of combustion (including carbon monoxide) can escape into a home or building – a dangerous condition called "spillage." To help prevent this condition, a safety device called a spill switch is installed. It will automatically interrupt the supply of fuel and shut off the heating system if it detects a blockage. Central Hudson requires the use of a spill switch whenever a new natural gas heating system is installed, and whenever an existing heating appliance is converted from another fuel to natural gas. Central Hudson recommends that spill switches be installed on all existing gas heating appliances.
If carbon monoxide is suspected:
Shut off the appliance if you can. Ventilate the home by opening windows and doors, and have everyone in the house step outside. Call 911 and seek medical attention right away if CO poisoning is suspected; and contact your heating contractor to repair the problem.