Carbon Monoxide – the Silent Killer

The Silent Killer: Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Most cases of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning in residential situations happen to occur during the winter months….which is also flu season. And, thus, because mild-CO-poisoning symptoms (fatigue, dizziness, nausea, etc), tend to mimic the flu, most people

Carbon Monoxide detector.

Carbon Monoxide detector.

may not initially recognize the root cause, or the true danger of the situation.

That’s why it’s particularly important to have carbon monoxide detectors installed and operating in every home – especially in your bedrooms. If one of the detectors sounds an alarm, ventilate your home with fresh air immediately. If you feel dizzy or drowsy, leave the house immediately.

A Tricky Diagnosis

Identifying the source of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can be a complex task at times because there can be various contributing causes, such as:

  • A partially or fully blocked exhaust flue
  • Operating unvented appliances for long periods of time
  • Operating a heating system that’s out of adjustment, or is damaged
  • Back drafts caused by pressure imbalances near the heating appliance
  • Leaving a vehicle idling in an attached garage

Any of these situations could set off a CO detector, creating an audible alarm. But by the time a technician arrives, conditions could potentially have changed, making it difficult to make an accurate diagnosis. You can help yourself and our technician by sharing as much information as possible so we can identify the root cause of the problem, and help you get it resolved.

How Carbon Monoxide Forms and How to Detect It

When combustion of fuel occurs normally, one carbon atom connects with two oxygen atoms to form carbon dioxide (CO2), a harmless gas. When combustion is incomplete due to a lack of oxygen, each carbon atom connects with only one oxygen atom. This forms the potentially toxic gas known as carbon monoxide (CO). Some appliances may generate some levels of CO, even when operating normally, which is why it’s critical that they be properly vented.

High CO levels in breathing air inhibit the hemoglobin in our blood, dramatically reducing its ability to carry oxygen throughout the body so it can be delivered to the brain and other organs. Another reason that CO is so dangerous is that it’s an invisible threat: you can’t see it or smell it. This is why electronic CO detectors are so important for family safety.

When CO is present in the home, it’s usually generated by devices that are burning fuel, such as a gas-fired furnace or hot-water heater. Thus, CO is usually contained within hot exhaust fumes that are lighter than ambient-temperature air. Since CO itself is slightly lighter than air and is being carried by hot or warm exhaust gasses, it tends to make its way quickly to the ceiling. Thus, CO detectors are most effective when ceiling-mounted since this location provides for the earliest warning of danger. For multi-story dwellings, the ceiling above the landing at the top of each staircase is an ideal location for a CO detector. Many stores sell CO detectors that are designed to be plugged into an electrical outlet on a wall. While this make for a quick and convenient installation that can be performed by the homeowner, at 12-15 inches off the floor, a wall outlet location is not only the least effective for early warning, it may be accidentally disturbed by children or pets.

Bottom line, you can ensure your family’s safety by being diligent in ensuring all gas- or oil-fired heating appliances (furnaces, hot-water heaters, etc) are properly maintained, and by installing properly located CO detectors in all required areas of your home. Contact A Master’s Hands, LLC for assistance in replacing or installing CO (or combination smoke/CO) detectors in your home.