As home heating season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, so do the dangers of improperly operating heating systems. A blocked flue or cracked heat exchanger can mean poisonous carbon monoxide going into the living space. Here’s what you need to know to keep your family safe.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas, and therefore often goes unnoticed until it is too late. At high levels it can cause death in minutes. It is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or even charcoal is burned. When appliances and heating systems are maintained and used properly, CO is vented properly to where concentrations aren’t high enough to harm you or your family, but when they are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of can result. Hundreds of deaths occur each year from carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from poorly maintained or improperly used fuel-burning appliances or furnaces.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, fainting and nausea. Symptoms can be milder with low levels of exposure. Prolonged low level exposure can cause serious health problems as well, and since some of the symptoms are similar to the flu or other ailments, they may not be recognized as the result of CO poisoning.
Here are some preventive measures.
Have all of your fuel-burning appliances inspected by a trained professional at least once a year at the beginning of every heating season. You’ll also want to be certain that the flues and chimneys are connected peoperly, in good working condition, and without obstruction.
Be sure to read and follow the instructions for any fuel-burning device. If possible, choose only appliances that vent to the outside, but if you can’t avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, it is critical to follow all of the precautions that accompany the device, including proper fueling and ventilation procedures.
Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home, and never burn charcoal indoors.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, CO detectors are a good secondary precaution as well. Carefully follow directions on placement and use of detectors, and only use them as a supplement, not a replacement, for proper inspection, maintenance and use of your fuel burning appliances and systems.
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