With 24/7 news access, it’s not uncommon for us to become desensitized to what we hear and read about. It’s the mindset of ‘it won’t happen to me’ playing out. But in many cases, like instances of Carbon Monoxide poisoning in homes, we’re wrong. It can and does affect anyone.
CO poisoning causes an average of 430 deaths per year. No one is immune. Many people may describe flu-like symptoms when exposed to carbon monoxide. Common short-term exposure symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. If a CO leak is small and gives long-term exposure, a victim may suffer from intellectual deterioration, memory impairment, and changes in emotional stability. Enough CO exposure in one instance and a person can become unconscious and even die.
Carbon monoxide poisoning caused a total of 5,149 deaths from 1999-2010. Males tend to be three times more affected than females and those older than 65 people more frequently affected than those 25 years or younger. But while the rates of CO Poisoning vary by age and gender, no one is immune. Even the age of your home or your furnace won’t necessarily protect you. New and old homes alike, with both new and old furnaces, suffer from issues that lead to CO poisoning. A key source of CO is a malfunctioning furnace that fails to properly vent this dangerous gas out of and away from the home. A furnace with disconnected or blocked vents, an over-fired furnace, and a furnace that does not receive adequate air for combustion can all cause a carbon monoxide leak.
Though furnaces are a leading source of CO poisoning in homes, they are not the only source. Carbon Monoxide will also occur because of water heaters, portable generators, clogged chimneys, other gas, oil and coal burning appliances, and car exhaust in an enclosed garage.
The first steps in preventing CO poisoning belong to the manufacturer in ensuring their furnaces are manufactured in a way to properly vent carbon monoxide out of the home. Technicians are also a key step in the safety of your home. They should be thoroughly trained on installation and maintenance of furnaces, causes and concerns for CO poisoning, detection of CO leaks, and furnace repairs.
You can also play a key in ensuring your home is safe from CO poisoning. First, it may be tempting to save a few dollars and have the local handy man take a look at your furnace, but the safety of your home is worth the extra money to hire a trained professional. Second, don’t use unapproved heat sources like a portable flameless chemical heater in your home. Last, be sure you have working CO alarms on every floor of your home and near your bedrooms. These are your last line of defense against a deadly gas you cannot see. There are more than 20,000 emergency room visits annually due to CO poisoning, but only one third of US households have a CO alarm. In the same sense that those without smoke detectors are nine times more likely to be injured in a fire, those without CO alarms could suffer longer and more severely without being alerted to a problem.
Learn more about your home and CO poisoning risks. The CDC has basic information about CO poisoning to help you understand the dangers. You can also learn more about how furnaces can cause CO Poisoning in this article from Energy Magazine, originally written by a professor at Iowa State University.