Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

red button As the fall rolls in and day by day, it gets a little cooler here in Austin, heating equipment is being turned on more and more frequently. We love our heaters because they very literally provide us with warmth, heating Austin, our city, and providing that very human craving that keeps us comfortable and healthy. There’s nothing like spending a chilly day inside, cozy and warm, huddled with family or friends in front of the fireplace.

And those days are coming quickly. But let’s not forget that with heating equipment, a good amount of it anyway, comes one distinct and serious danger, carbon monoxide. Anytime fuel is burnt, carbon monoxide is produced. Today’s products are very good at keeping these carbon monoxide fumes from reaching you and me in dangerous amounts, but nevertheless, it does sometimes happen. That’s why this tip is all about carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisoning, from why it happens, to its symptoms, how often it happens, and how best to avoid it. The last thing people want is to feel unsafe in their own homes, and safety is not hard to achieve. It just takes some knowledge and some precautions to overcome the potential dangers produced by furnaces and fireplaces in the home.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

People generally don’t think a lot about how their home gets heated, as long as it does. Our furnaces switch on as soon as the weather outside gets a little chilly and then that’s it, no more effort needed so no more thought given. But it’s worth learning about the side effects of this heating process, partially and precisely because of that one little by-product, carbon monoxide. Little thought is usually given to whether the furnace exhaust system – the chimney and connector pipe – is ready to provide safe, effective service.

Consumer confidence in the convenience and safety of today’s home heating systems is usually well-placed. The oil and gas heating industries have achieved impressive safety records. Nonetheless, over 200 people across the nation are known to die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by problems in the process of venting toxic gases produced by their heating systems out of their homes. This is according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Other agencies estimate actual numbers at between 2,000 and 4,000. Another number you may find shocking is that though 2,000 is how many people die, a full 20,000 each year are sent to the emergency room because of carbon monoxide poisoning, and that’s no laughing matter either. There can be serious ongoing and permanent effects from carbon monoxide poisoning even if it doesn’t kill you.

For those who are brought to the emergency room, or the 4,000 or more that are hospitalized every year thanks to carbon monoxide, around 10,000 cases of carbon monoxide-related “injuries” are diagnosed each year. Because the symptoms of prolonged, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning oftentimes look like the symptoms of common winter ailments (headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and even seasonal depression), many cases are not detected until permanent, subtle damage to the brain, heart and other organs and tissues has occurred. The difficulty of diagnosis also means the numbers of people affected maybe even higher.

How Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Works

On a biological level, carbon monoxide poisoning happens because of one very simple fact with a lot of very serious implications. Red blood cells absorb carbon monoxide faster than they do oxygen. If there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with carbon monoxide. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. It’s really not more complicated than that. How does too much carbon monoxide get into the air?

Well, when appropriately installed by trained experts, equipment such as furnaces will safety release carbon monoxide outside, but sometimes things go wrong and an issue with equipment such as furnaces and fireplaces will develop. When this happens, sometimes the method of exhaust gets damaged or sometimes a leak in the heat exchanger will develop. In such cases, carbon monoxide will start to fill the house and over time reach dangerous levels.

Today, for two reasons, the chance of carbon monoxide reaching dangerous levels in the home has actually risen in some ways. One reason is that homes are more airtight and well-insulated than ever. This is great for many reasons. It means your letting less of the warm air your furnace creates out into the cold. It means less of the outside cold air is leaking into the house. But it also means less fresh air is circulating through the house and that means that carbon monoxide can build up more rapidly. The other reason is that furnaces are more energy-efficient than ever. This is great too. It means you can make your house warm without using as much energy, thereby saving money. However, the new breed of high-efficiency gas and oil furnaces, when vented into existing chimney flues, often do not perform at an optimum level. The differences in performance create conditions that allow toxic gases to more easily enter home living spaces.

One of the biggest reasons why carbon monoxide is so dangerous is because it is undetectable to the human senses. You can’t see it, feel it, smell it or taste it. It’s an odorless, colorless gas that can reach dangerous levels in your home before you even know it is there. That’s why this knowledge is so important because without knowing about this danger it can happen before you realize it.

Everyone is susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. If you have a furnace, fireplace, or gas stove in your home, this is something you should know about. All people and animals are at risk for poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects. Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

There many symptoms and problems that carbon monoxide poisoning can cause. The lack of oxygen in the bloodstream that it leads to by attaching to red blood cells has wide-reaching implications depending on the severity of the oxygen insufficiency and the length of time. There are some symptoms that are common enough to be worth mentioning. Those symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. This is as stated by the CDC.

In general lookout for flu-like symptoms that come on rapidly. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” And if you breathe in a lot of carbon monoxide it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before they have symptoms. In general, these flu-like symptoms make it very hard to tell when carbon monoxide poisoning is occurring without any help from a detector. Unless suspected, carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses.

How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

There’s one thing you should have and do without a doubt if you want to have your best chances of avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning, that is to have a carbon monoxide detector in your house and have it inspected every year to make sure it is still working as it should.

Install a battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector in your home and check or replace the battery twice a year. An easy way to remember to do this is to always do it when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Just because it will be used mainly to detect carbon monoxide coming from your furnace doesn’t mean it should be put near the furnace. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This detector can tell you the highest level of carbon monoxide concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your carbon monoxide detector every five years to ensure that you’ve got a working carbon monoxide detector at all times.

So, that’s the most important step in avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning, being able to reliably detect it before it becomes a problem. There are other important things you can do as well, namely, making sure the chance of a carbon monoxide leak happening in the first place is as low as possible. That means you should have all of your gas and fuel-burning appliances in your home tuned up and checked each year, from your stove and water heater to your fireplace and furnace. This fall, before it gets so cold that we want to run our furnaces all the time, is the best time to do this.

Also, for those with fireplaces, have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home or cabin. A well-tuned furnace or boiler, connected to a venting system or flue that is correctly-sized, structurally sound, clean and free of blockages, will operate efficiently and produce a warm and comfortable home. An overlooked heating system can produce death and serious injury.

Carbon Monoxide Safety and Heating Repair in Austin

As we’ve learned, there’s a significant threat posed to your health and the health of those you love by carbon monoxide. But luckily, it is easily avoidable. With the help of a consistently charged and well-placed carbon monoxide detector and the help of trained technicians who can check on your heating systems and make sure they’re in the best shape possible, your chances of getting carbon monoxide poisoning can fall down to near zero.

Heater repair in Austin is a big part of this equation because a broken furnace can be a dangerous furnace. Leaks and malfunctions that result in carbon monoxide filling your house need to be taken care of immediately. Luckily, Austin heater repair companies like AC Express offer same-day heater repair services to all those in the Austin area, from Buda and Kyle to Liberty Hill and Taylor, so that you’re never without a fully functioning heater for long. For quality heater repair services in Austin, call AC Express!