Home Heating Season - Carbon Monoxide Warning

Carbon Monoxide detector connected to a North ...Image via Wikipedia

With the home heating season upon us here in Massachusetts it's time again to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO). Any home that uses fossil fuels to heat their home needs to be aware of the dangers posed by carbon monoxide. Make sure your heating systems (including hot water systems) are in proper operating condition. Have them serviced by a licenced heating professional to be safe. The EPA has a great resource of information on carbon monoxide http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html

What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air. Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking. Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.

Health Effects Associated with Carbon Monoxide

At low concentrations, fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Can cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. Fatal at very high concentrations. Acute effects are due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake. At moderate concentrations, angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result. At higher concentrations, CO exposure can be fatal.

Steps to Reduce Exposure to Carbon Monoxide

It is most important to be sure combustion equipment is maintained and properly adjusted. Vehicular use should be carefully managed adjacent to buildings and in vocational programs. Additional ventilation can be used as a temporary measure when high levels of CO are expected for short periods of time.

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
  • Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
  • Do not idle the car inside garage.

About Carbon Monoxide Detectors

CPSC Recommends Carbon Monoxide Alarm for Every Home (January 18, 2001 CPSC Release # 01-069)

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that every home should have a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm. CPSC also urges consumers to have a professional inspection of all fuel- burning appliances -- including furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, and space heaters -- to detect deadly carbon monoxide leaks. CPSC recommends that every home should have at least one CO alarm that meets the requirements of the most recent Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 2034 standard or International Approval Services 6-96 standard. www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml01/01069.html

Product Safety Tips - Carbon Monoxide Alarms - www.ul.com/consumers/co.html exiting EPA Underwriters' Laboratory

"Your Home and Your Health" www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/index.cfm exiting EPA Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)

"What You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide Detectors" www.chemistry.about.com/library/weekly/aa092202a.htm exiting EPA About.com

Disposing of Smoke Detectors - www.epa.gov/radiation/sources/smoke_dispose.html - EPA's Radiation Protection Division



(Information is available for MA Landlords at www.marealtor.com)

On March 31, 2006, all homes in the Commonwealth equipped with fuel burning equipment that produces carbon monoxideor which have indoor parking (a garage) adjacent to living areas will be required to have Carbon Monoxide detectorsinstalled. The law, and the regulations that implement it, apply to ALL homes and not just those that are being sold.

What kind of Carbon Monoxide Detectors must I install in my home & how should I install a Carbon

Monoxide Detector?

The law provides a choice to homeowners to install, by March 31, 2006, their choice of either battery operated, plug-in with battery back-up, wireless detectors, a combination smoke/carbon monoxide detector, or hard-wired detectors. These detectors must be in compliance with Underwriter Laboratories (UL) standard 2034. The package the detector is sold in will indicate whether it meets this standard. CO alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Note: There are specific requirements for combination alarms, before purchasing one please review the requirements of combination alarms with your local fire department. Like its inspections for smoke detectors, the local fire department is required to inspect each dwelling for compliance with the carbon monoxide law before sale.

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