Carbon Monoxide in Home

Problem: Carbon monoxide affects personal health.

Background: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. Usually carbon dioxide (C0 is produced during the combustion of carbon-containing, or organic, material, such as natural gas, oil, and wood. But if enough oxygen is not present, CO is formed instead of C02. Any gas, oil, kerosene or wood-powered appliance, or combustion product has the potential to produce carbon monoxide. Examples include wood stoves, fireplaces, space heaters, charcoal grills, furnaces, water heaters, boilers, and gas cooking ranges. (If adequate combustion air is provided, and the appliance is properly installed and maintained, the small amounts of carbon monoxide generated can be safely vented to the outside.) Other sources include burning cigarettes; combustion appliances, such as a hibachi, used indoors; a cooking stove, used to heat a room; a blocked or leaky chimney; a cracked or corroded heat exchanger; combustion air backdrafts that spill back into the home instead of going out the chimney, vent, or flue.

What to do: Each year as many as 10,000 United States residents seek medical treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. Typical symptoms of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. (Long-term exposure to low levels has also been known to cause chest pains.) Exposure to high levels can result in unconsciousness and death. Some people are more sensitive to carbon monoxide than others. If your home has gas appliances, and you or other family members are experiencing some of the above symptoms, check your appliances and see your doctor to be tested. If you believe your furnace or other heating appliances are releasing car bon monoxide, consult a heating or ventilation contractor or the company that provides your heating fuel. A visual inspection may identify the cause.
The first step in preventing problems is hiring a qualified technician to install fuel-burning equipment or to convert an appliance from using one type of fuel to using another. Never burn charcoal inside the house in a grill, hibachi, or fireplace. Don’t heat or warm a room with a gas oven, and don’t use a stove or fire place that is not properly vented. Don’t run a car engine, lawn mower, or other combustion engine in a closed garage. Set up a maintenance schedule with a qualified technician to inspect your furnace or boiler.

Special advice: Acceptable levels of carbon monoxide in the home is considered 9 parts per million (ppm) or less. Monitoring and testing services are available through private testing labs and safety supply stores. Passive monitors, about $10, change color when elevated C02 levels are detected. Electronic monitors, similar to smoke detectors (about $70 to $150), sound an alarm.

Helpful hint: Canadian studies show most carbon monoxide poisoning problems are related to poor maintenance; damaged chimneys, vents, and flues; and improper installation of equipment. One out of four cases results from the backdraft of furnace and water heater gasses. The backdraft may be due to excessive exhaust, inadequate air supply, and extreme airtightness of the home.