Carbon Monoxide Concerns

Carbon Monoxide

Date Added: March 05, 2010 01:08:15 PM
Author: American Home Inspector Directory
Category: Real Estate & Home Inspection Articles

Carbon Monoxide

You can't smell it, see it or taste it, but it could be in your home right now. Carbon Monoxide may be the worst substance you'll come into contact with in your daily life. Carbon monoxide, also known by its chemical formula CO, is a colorless, odorless gas emitted as a by-product by open-flame appliances. If inhaled in sufficient concentration, it can be fatal.

Carbon Monoxide Health Risks

CO poisons by entering the lungs via the normal breathing mechanism and displacing oxygen from the bloodstream. Interruption of the normal supply of oxygen puts at risk the functions of the heart, brain and other vital functions of the body. Persons suffering from heart or respiratory health problems, infants and small children, unborn children, expectant mothers and pets can be affected by CO poisoning more quickly than others in the household and may be the first to show symptoms. Symptoms of overexposure can include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and sleepiness.

Carbon Monoxide Common Sources

Carbon Monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of the fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal and wood used in boilers, engines, oil burners, gas fires, water heaters, solid fuel appliances and open fires). Dangerous amounts of CO can accumulate when as a result of poor installation, poor maintenance or failure or damage to an appliance in service, the fuel is not burned properly, or when rooms are poorly ventilated and the carbon monoxide is unable to escape. Potential sources of CO in a home include automobiles running in a garage, poorly vented or clogged fireplaces and chimneys, gas water heaters, gas furnaces, portable kerosene space heaters and cracked or broken heat exchangers. A common source of CO is incomplete combustion within a gas water heater. Installed in garages and other small airtight spaces, gas heaters can produce CO when the garage door is completely down and the heater combustion runs out of sufficient oxygen. How fast the oxygen is depleted depends on how big the garage is, how airtight it is and how big the burners are. A small airtight garage can use up the available oxygen within 24 hours. In addition, rust can fall from the flue pipe onto the burner causing incomplete combustion. When this happens, the flame sound will change and noxious fumes will start to permeate the building. Any open-flame device in a garage has another problem the owner will have to deal with, the danger of igniting flammable gas, such as gasoline vapor. This is why gas water heaters are required to be at least 18 inches off the floor (depending on local codes). For some illogical reason, a gas dryer does not have the same requirement in many areas. The flue of a gas dryer, water heater or wood stove in a garage should pass the same inspection as it would if located inside the house.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Unlike smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors are not yet required in most areas, but they are recommended to homeowners. CO detectors are inexpensive, easy to install and require very little maintenance. Some detectors feature a digital display that indicates the readout of CO levels from 0 to 999 parts per million. A loud horn sounds a warning when excessive quantities of the deadly gas are detected.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Take quick corrective action in treating carbon monoxide poisoning. These are the basic steps ... Evacuate, Ventilate and Investigate. Move the affected person to fresh air. Administer oxygen if available. Contact medical help. If the person is not breathing, perform artificial respiration as taught in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Training until medical help arrives. Ventilate the area. Investigate the source of carbon monoxide and make repairs.

Carbon Monoxide Common Misconceptions

Here are six interesting misconceptions regarding carbon monoxide .

1. I only need to take precautions in winter. Wrong. You still cook and heat water during the summer months.

2. It's just caused by traffic pollution. Wrong. You are most at danger in your own home.

3. It's just caused by gas appliances. Wrong. All fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal and liquid propane gas) are equally dangerous.

4. It's just a problem for students and tenants. Wrong. The biggest sufferers are homeowner occupiers.

5. I get my boiler serviced regularly therefore I will be okay. Not necessarily, you need to make sure that the servicing is done correctly and that the flu remains clear (no bird nests, etc.).

6. I will be safer with a detector installed. Only if it gives a low level warning. Insist on a detector with a low level alarm.

In today's world of improved insulation and double glazing it has become increasingly important to have good ventilation, maintain all appliances regularly and install absolutely reliable detector alarms, giving both a visual and audible alarm signal immediately when there is a build up of dangerous CO levels. Because CO has no smell, no taste and no color, CO detectors are the only way to alert you to increasingly dangerous levels of CO before tragedy strikes.