Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Posted: November 17, 2011

The heating season has arrived! Many people will use wood stoves, fireplaces, and other heating systems which produce carbon monoxide to heat their homes.

     According to Bobby Grisso, Virginia Cooperative Extension engineer at Virginia Tech, carbon monoxide results from the incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas, and fuel oil. Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, wood stoves, gas stoves, fireplaces, and gas water heaters can all produce carbon monoxide if they are not working properly. It can also come from automobile exhaust when the vehicles are in attached garages and tobacco smoke. Problems arise because of improper installation, maintenance, or inadequate ventilation.
     Grisso says the symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning. They include dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea, irregular breathing, and in people with heart disease, chest pain. When there are higher concentrations of carbon monoxide, symptoms can include impaired vision and coordination, headaches, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, and nausea. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with heart and respiratory illnesses are particularly at high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
     Grisso suggests the following tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
     * Keep appliances properly adjusted and working to manufacturers' instructions and local building codes.
     * Check to be sure all fuel-burning appliances are installed according to local building codes.
     * Obtain annual inspections for heating system, chimneys, and flues and have them cleaned by a qualified technician.
     * Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
     * Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
     * Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
     * Do not burn charcoal inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle, or camper.
     * Make sure stoves and heaters are vented to the outside and that exhaust systems do not leak.
     * Do not use unvented gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces.
     * Check to be sure that nothing blocks the vented openings to fuel-burning appliances.
     * Make sure your furnace has adequate intake of outside air.
     * Choose properly sized wood-burning stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards.
     * Make certain that doors on all wood-burning stoves fit tightly.
     * Install carbon monoxide detectors. Keep in mind they do not replace the proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances.

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension of Lackawanna County.