Saturday, February 24, 2018

Spending a few dollars on CO detector could save your life!

Yes, spending a few dollars could save your life! How is that possible? Let me share a story with you. 
There was a gas odor in my house. I live in a duplex, and the only gas appliances on my side are the furnace and water heater. I did not hear a leak or smell a strong odor in the furnace room. The odor was much stronger in the other apartment. 
The gas company was called, and Mr. Hank thoroughly checked all the appliances and tested for carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide was found in the furnace room. It was determined that the water heater and furnace were not venting properly.
After being checked by a local heating and air conditioning contractor, the furnace and vent were determined to be the problem. The amount of carbon monoxide was not in dangerous levels…yet. It would have been only a matter of time before they reached more dangerous levels.
There are some important factors to consider and be aware of with carbon monoxide:
1. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, deadly gas. Because you can’t see, taste or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill you before you know it’s there.
2. Carbon monoxide is attracted to hemoglobin in the bloodstream. When breathed in, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen, which cells need to function. Carbon monoxide rapidly accumulates in the blood, causing flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability. At increased levels, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and eventually brain damage and death may result.
3. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion when fuel is burned. It is produced by common home appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces, gas appliances, gas water heaters or space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, and wood-burning stoves. Fumes from automobiles and gas-powered lawn mowers also contain carbon monoxide and can enter a home through walls or doorways if an engine is left running in an attached garage.
4. If a home is vented properly, and is free from appliance malfunctions or air pressure fluctuations and blockages, carbon monoxide will most likely be safely vented to the outside.
Frequently, today’s energy efficient homes are tightly sealed and can trap CO in a home year-round. Furnace exchangers can crack and vents can become blocked. Sometimes, fireplaces can backdraft, which can force contaminated air back into the home. Exhaust fans on range hoods, clothes dryers and bathroom fans can pull combustion products into the home, which normally would be exhausted through vents attached to the appliances.
5. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household near the sleeping area. Additional detectors on every level of the home provide extra protection.
Back to the story – the heat exchanger on my furnace was cracked, the exhaust vent partially blocked and the gas water heater was backdrafting when the furnace and water heater ran at the same time. Because the levels of CO were very low, within the acceptable range, there were no long-term health effects. 
So why did I smell gas? Well, the gas range was bumped in the night and a slow leak ensued. Normally, I would not have come back to the house in the morning after the local morning radio show. That day I did, and it saved my life and the other residents’. Gas leaks are deadly, too, but that is another article for another day.
Since this has happened, a CO detector has been installed and tested. It has not gone off. The furnace is replaced and the water heater no longer backdrafts. A new vent also has been installed. This time of year, with the cold weather, our furnaces run more and our homes are closed to the outside fresh air. CO poisoning to occur at any time of the year, though, not just in the winter months. 
Please spend a few dollars and purchase a new CO detector. If you have an older detector, please replace it. Mr. Hank said that older CO detectors become less effective over time, and it is safer to replace them with more accurate updated models every five years and to change the batteries twice a year, just like recommendations for smoke detectors.
So, you see, spending a few dollars could save your life.
If you have questions about this or any topic related to your home or family, contact: Holly Jay, Family and Consumer Science Agent, MSU Extension Big Horn County at (406) 665-9770 or stop by 317 N. Custer Ave. in Hardin.