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Carbon monoxide inhalation is dangerous and can be fatal in high concentrations. The gas is colorless and odorless, making it difficult to detect. As hazardous as it can be, it’s a byproduct of many of the appliances, vehicles, and tools we use. Anything that burns a fossil fuel to operate can produce carbon monoxide (CO) gas.
The products we use that can release CO have systems in place to make sure they vent gas away from homes. Some CO-creating tools are exclusively for outdoor use to prevent the gas from building up.
Sometimes, though, these appliances malfunction, allowing carbon monoxide to reach unsafe levels. In these situations, it’s vital to have a functioning carbon monoxide detector in your home. Make sure you test them and replace their batteries regularly.
You should also know the symptoms of CO poisoning just in case of a detector malfunction, or you’re somewhere where there are no detectors. Some early signs of CO inhalation include chest tightness, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, confusion, dizziness, and headaches. The symptoms can be similar to the flu, but if they get better when you leave the house, the cause may be carbon monoxide.
Another way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to ensure the proper maintenance and operation of all products that emit CO. Below are 10 of the most common sources of carbon monoxide in the home, along with tips on how to keep them functioning safely.
Gas ovens and ranges produce carbon monoxide, but if they’re operating correctly, they do not present any danger. However, if there is a leak or you do not use proper ventilation, the carbon monoxide concentration in your home can become dangerously high.
During the refining process, companies add a chemical to natural gas to make it detectable by smell. If you smell gas, leave the house and call for assistance. Have your range serviced regularly to ensure it’s operating correctly, make sure vents are not blocked and use the hood fan when operating your stove. Never use your oven with the door open or to heat your home.
Wood-burning fireplaces and stoves can also cause carbon monoxide levels in a home to rise if not ventilated properly. To prevent this, make sure your fireplace is properly fitted and that the smoke can escape through the chimney.
Hire a chimney sweep at least once a year at the start of winter to ensure it’s free of soot and debris. Opening a window slightly when you have a fire burning can improve airflow and encourage proper ventilation.
Grills or barbecues that run on charcoal, propane or other fossil fuels are meant to be used outdoors, as they release potentially harmful gases including carbon monoxide. Don’t use grills indoors, even if you open doors or windows. Using a grill in a garage with the garage door open is still dangerous. Even if the coals look like they’re out, don’t bring the barbecue inside, as it may still be releasing gases.
When your furnace is operating correctly, the CO it produces stays in the heat exchanger before leaving your home through the flue vent. Malfunctions such as cracked heat exchangers can cause gas to instead leak into the house. Dirty air filters can also lead to CO leaks.
To prevent these problems, have your furnace serviced regularly, as heat exchangers can wear out with age. If you notice any disturbances in your furnace’s flame, you should also call a professional to come and take a look.
Portable electric generators can save lives during natural disasters and other events involving power outages. If used indoors, however, they can also be deadly. They caused 657 deaths between 2004 and 2013.
Because generators release carbon monoxide, you should never run them indoors, including in attached garages. You should also avoid running them near open windows or doors. Even if you open windows, it is not safe to run them inside.
Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, pipes, and cigars contains carbon monoxide. While they don’t produce the same levels of CO as many of the appliances on this list, over time, exposure to CO from tobacco smoke may lead to health problems. For health reasons, it’s best not to smoke at all, but if you are a smoker, it is better for your home’s air quality to smoke outdoors.
Gas-powered clothes dryers can also produce carbon monoxide. It’s crucial to vent these appliances per the manufacturer’s specifications to prevent this gas from leaking into the home. You’ll also need to make sure the vent stays free of lint and have it professionally cleaned once a year. Lint buildup can prevent adequate ventilation and also cause fires.
Gas-powered water heaters can also cause CO buildup if not functioning correctly. Gas water heaters must be properly vented and checked regularly to ensure the equipment is in good working condition. If a part becomes damaged or was improperly installed, have it fixed immediately to prevent potentially serious health impacts or even death.
You should never run vehicles powered by gasoline or another fossil fuel indoors because of the carbon monoxide they emit. These include cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs and other vehicles. You should even avoid running the car in the garage with the garage door open and the windows up. If you have teenagers who are just learning to drive, make sure you warn them of this danger.
Never run tools, lawn equipment or other products that run on gasoline, propane or another fossil fuel indoors. Common gasoline-powered tools include lawnmowers, snowblowers, pressure washers, and chainsaws. Open doors and windows do not provide not enough ventilation to make using them indoors safe. Make sure everyone who may use these tools is aware of their potential for causing dangerous CO buildup.
Many of the appliances, vehicles and other products we use have the potential to introduce carbon monoxide into our homes. To be safe, some of these items are for outdoor use only. You can use others indoors if you have proper ventilation. Make sure you use these products as intended and keep them well-maintained so you can enjoy their benefits without putting your health at risk.