Over 200 people across the U.S. die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by problems in the venting of toxic gases from their heating systems. An additional 10,000 carbon monoxide-related injuries are reported, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Carbon monoxide is called the “the silent killer”. Know the symptoms and how to prevent the build-up of these dangerous gases in your home.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose, particularly if you have low-level exposure. In that case, symptoms will mimic the typical winter cold. Frequent headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and even depression may all be signs of exposure and should be checked with a blood test. If carbon monoxide levels in the blood are high, it must be treated right away. Prolonged low-level exposure will damage the heart, brain and other major organs, eventually leading to death. Because it is so difficult to diagnose, some estimate the actual number of deaths due to carbon monoxide in the U.S. to be closer to 4,000 per year.
So why are carbon monoxide poisonings on the rise? What can be done to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
- Today’s houses are built better, and more air-tight. Homeowners carefully seal up windows, doors and other areas of air filtration to more efficiently heat and cool the home, but in doing so, there is less fresh air coming in to the home, and fewer ways for the stale, polluted air to escape.
- When furnaces and broilers are deprived of the oxygen they need to burn, carbon monoxide is produced. Newer, high-technology heating appliances save money and decrease environmental pollution, but when vented in to an existing chimney flue may not operate as efficiently as it should. The result is more toxic gases in the home.
- Damaged or deteriorating flue liners, soot build-up, animal nests obstructing the flue, and debris clogging the passageway all add to a venting problem.
- Many chimneys in daily use in our homes are improperly sized, particularly for today’s high-efficiency gas furnaces. The fumes they produce are much cooler and contain higher levels of water vapor that will cause more condensation than the older models.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Lung Association are some of the organizations that now encourage the regular maintenance of home heating systems and their chimneys in order to keep “the silent killer” at bay. Have your chimney inspected each year by a chimney professional certified by the Chimney Sweep Guild.