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This post is on a pretty basic topic that isn’t necessarily specific to natural living, but is vitally important for health, especially this time of year. Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning takes less time than oil pulling, costs less than fermented cod liver oil, and is an important safety topic for your family to prepare for.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills hundreds each year and sends 20,000 more to the emergency room, especially during the winter months. In fact, I’m choosing to write about this now because the daughter of someone living near us was recently hospitalized after being found unconscious in her crib from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas, making it undetectable by human senses.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
This is especially dangerous because red blood cells can uptake carbon monoxide faster than oxygen so if there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air, it can replace oxygen in cells, leading to injury, tissue damage and eventually death.
Children, unborn babies, the elderly and those with health conditions are especially at risk. Since the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning resemble the symptoms of other illnesses, many people don’t realize they have carbon monoxide poisoning until some damage has been done.
What Causes High Carbon Monoxide Levels?
Carbon monoxide is produced by liquid or solid fuel sources like a gas burning appliances or a wood burning stove. Things like gas heat or a gas water heater can also be a source of carbon monoxide. Vehicles running in an enclosed area like a garage can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning. These are considered potential sources of carbon monoxide:
- Wood burning stoves, heaters or fireplaces
- Any type of oil heating appliance like a furnace, fireplace, or boiler
- Any oil, propane or natural gas appliance like a water heater, furnace, heater, cooking stove, range or fireplace
The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides these suggestions for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
- Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owners manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
- Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
- Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
- Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
- Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
- Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
- Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
- Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
- During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
How to Detect Carbon Monoxide
Most states and many countries require carbon monoxide detectors but only in homes that have an active source of carbon monoxide like a gas burning stove or fireplace, or a wood burning stove.
We have always had a carbon monoxide detector, even when we lived in a house that didn’t have any carbon monoxide producing appliances. Here’s why…
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that carbon monoxide can pass through drywall. (source) Our family lived in apartments for many years before we bought a home, and especially in apartments and duplexes, carbon monoxide can seep through the walls from a neighboring unit, making it possible to get carbon monoxide poisoning even if you don’t have a carbon monoxide producing device.
An inexpensive carbon monoxide detector can detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and provide peace of mind. If you have a carbon monoxide detector that goes off or you suspect that you have carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately get outside or to a source of fresh air and call the appropriate emergency department.
Do You Need a Detector?
Since we’ve always had small children, I’ve always considered having a carbon monoxide detector a simple step we could take to avoid even the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning in our children.
At our home, we have these plug in carbon monoxide detectors with a battery backup. They were top rated by Consumer Reports and on Amazon. We have on on each floor of our house, close to things that have potential to create carbon monoxide (gas water heater, heater and fireplace).
There are also completely battery operated carbon monoxide detectors and completely plug in detectors that are slightly cheaper.
Especially if you have a carbon monoxide producing device, please get a carbon monoxide detector with a good rating to make sure your family and your home is safe.
Do you have a carbon monoxide detector?
Discussion (9 Comments)
Thank you for the insightful article. Most people don’t realize the dangers of carbon monoxide until it is too late and has already had deteriorating effects on their health. Having monitors is a good countermeasure but you have to make sure you get high quality monitors which are able to sense carbon emissions at low levels. Many of the monitors currently on the market, only go off when the levels are already high enough to cause damage to the body. Another easy precaution you can take is to make sure you have your HVAC system inspected yearly for leaks in the piping and overall system.
I think it’s good for every homeowner to test his or her carbon monoxide levels on a regular basis because of how harmful it can be. A detector is absolutely essential even if levels are okay, just in case.
My family and I have had CO poisining. Just wanted everyone to know that the dectors don’t always work. The firefighter who came to our house said how are you not dead.The levels were soo high.The effects caused many problems for our health.After a year we are still recovering.
Thanks Katie for addressing an important topic! It makes me crazy, all my neighbors I see warming up their cars inside attached garages even though the door is open. Clueless. Be smart and safe everyone.
Thank you for this post! It couldn’t be more timely. My family just experienced a carbon monoxide scare. Thankfully my husband, baby, unborn child and I are safe and healthy. It simply wasn’t our time to die and that’s the only way I can explain our being here today! For some reason we never took having an alarm seriously, but as soon as we got one it began going off incessantly. Who knows how long we survived in dangerous or nearly fatal conditions! I can’t believe we were naive enough to think carbon monoxide somehow couldn’t impact our family. We have a coal stove that wasn’t properly ventilated. Our house is small but we have several alarms now. So thankful to be alive and now very passionate about urging everyone to get CO alarms!
Glad to see this post! This is serious stuff people. My entire family has long term health problems from chronic CO exposure we suffered. We lost one child and nearly lost another. We can’t do anything that normal people do anymore.
Please from someone who is a CO survivor please take a heads up and read this information: The detectors you listed will only help you in the case of an acute event. They are worthless for long term and/or low- moderate level poisoning.
We had a CO detector and it never alarmed- not once!!!Current models of UL detector in the US do not even read amounts below 30ppm(might make too many false alarms)even though the EPA and WHO state that parts greater than 14ppm can be detrimental to your health in OUTDOOR air!
Please spend a little extra and get a detector that reads low levels!
I totally agree with you! I just ordered this one (Kidde KN-COPP-B-LPM Battery-Operated Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display) which will tell you if levels as low as 11 ppm are detected. I would have liked one that read lower, even as low as 1-5 ppm (I’m pregnant and have a young child) but they are so expensive! I think $20 is absolutely worth knowing if lower levels are detected.
Thanks so much for this reminder. Guess it’s been out of sight out of mind! I ordered 2 of your recommended First Alert units on sale at Amazon for $30 each.
Small investment in safety!
Love your blog so many thanks! I’m a grandma loving and feeding 3 generations.
Yes we have a carbon monoxide detector and an lp gas detector.
We are full time rv’ers and would never be caught without both.. Never assume you do not have a carbon monoxide problem since it is odorless , you may not know till it’s too late . And while you can smell gas it’s still a good idea to have a detector. I accidentally turned the cooktop on while cleaning the knobs and when my husband came home the alarm was going off and he knew just what to do , turn the burner off and air the house out .
If you have any kind of gas appliance you must have theses detectors to protect your family.