Kathy’s Home & Garden Tips – Carbon Monoxide

We need to think of carbon monoxide detectors this time of year when we start to use the furnace. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas. The symptoms of exposure often mimic that of a head cold or the flu. The symptoms include nausea, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, etc. As such they can often be mistaken. The elderly and young children are especially vulnerable. More than 500 people die each year from CO poisoning. Many thousands more recover, although there can be lasting health problems (such as blindness and other neurological issues) for people exposed to CO.

CO detectors are mandatory in Chicago and most municipalities in the area. They are your best defense against CO poisoning, but you must make sure they are operational. New homes have smoke and CO detectors hard wired in. In my home, I use ones that plug into the wall. If you use plug-ins, they need to be replaced regularly, say every two years. There are new models that last much longer but you should still test twice yearly. Place detectors near all combustion appliances, including  furnace, water heater, wood burning fireplace, gas stove, etc. Also place a detector by your bedroom, as you might not hear an alarm in the basement while sound asleep.

Maintain all your combustion appliances. Make sure all gas appliances are well vented. Have your furnace checked regularly by a professional. Newer furnaces are of course safer, but still have them checked.  Always have chimneys checked by a professional before the season. Take care when using your fireplace. Always make sure the damper is open during and well after the fire is out. Gas generators are quite useful during power outages, but only use less than 20 feet away from an open window. Be careful when warming a car in an attached garage, CO can accumulate quickly and become very dangerous.

If you suspect CO poisoning or an alarm goes off, don’t try to find the source yourself. Leave the building immediately and call 911. Take a head count when outside to make sure everyone got out safely. Do not reenter the dwelling until emergency personnel have deemed it safe.