Carbon Monoxide & Your Health

You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but the effects of carbon monoxide on your health can be extremely harmful. However, by taking some simple precautions in your home, you can significantly reduce the risk and ensure you and your loved ones stay safe.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas created by the incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas, wood and propane. Odorless, tasteless and invisible, it is most commonly produced in the home by gas-burning appliances including:

  • Stoves 
  • Furnaces
  • Water heaters 
  • Clothes dryers 
  • Space heaters
  • Fireplaces

While there’s a very small amount of naturally occurring carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, it becomes dangerous when the concentration becomes too high in confined spaces. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, most people don’t experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning when levels in the air are between 1 and 70 parts per million (ppm).

To put that in context, the Environmental Protection Agency found that the average level in homes without a gas stove is 0.5 to 5 ppm. Homes with a properly adjusted gas stove fell between 5 and 15 ppm, while a poorly adjusted stove can result in levels up to 30 ppm or higher.

Health Effects of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is often labeled the “silent killer” or “invisible killer” due to the fact it is undetectable by human senses. When there’s too much in the air you’re breathing, it begins to replace oxygen in your bloodstream. As this imbalance grows, the impact on your health grows more severe and can even result in death. At low levels, symptoms of exposure include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain

Because these symptoms often mirror those of common illnesses, they are often ignored. A good indicator that carbon monoxide may be the culprit is if your symptoms go away when you are not at home. Higher levels of carbon monoxide exposure can result in symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Impared vision
  • Impared coordination
  • Disorientation

At very high levels of exposure, carbon monoxide can result in unconsciousness, permanent brain damage and death. If you suspect you’re experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area immediately and head to fresh air. You should always consult professional medical care with concerns.

While carbon monoxide poisoning resulting in death is uncommon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found at least 430 people in the United States die each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. On top of that, approximately 50,000 visit the emergency room each year due to accidental poisoning.

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning might sound scary, but it is easy to prevent with the proper precautions. Here are some simple solutions to limit your exposure and keep you and your loved ones safe:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors. Household carbon monoxide detectors are widely available and relatively inexpensive. Just like a fire alarm, they will alert you if levels in the air become too high. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each floor of your home should have a carbon monoxide detector. Also, ensure the alarm is located somewhere that it’s loud enough to wake you up.
  • Utilize professional testing. If you ever have concerns there may be a leak in your home, don’t let it linger. Professional carbon monoxide testing will use sensitive equipment to evaluate all of the potential sources in your home and provide a precise reading of the gas levels. The process is quick and only takes 10-15 minutes per appliance. 
  • Have appliances serviced annually. With gas appliances being one of the biggest emitters of carbon monoxide, they should be serviced annually by a qualified technician. A professional can help identify any issues that could be leading to heightened levels of the toxic gas in your home, and it will also keep your appliances running at peak condition in the long run.
  • Maintain proper ventilation. Gas appliances are very safe when they’re regularly monitored and have proper ventilation. To ensure maximum efficiency, regularly check ventilation pipes for any obstructions. Horizontal vents should be angled slightly upward to avoid potential leakage. Additionally, if repairs are needed, don’t patch ventilation pipes with tape or gum as this can reduce efficiency and lead to carbon monoxide buildups. 
  • Keep outdoor appliances outdoors. Many outdoor appliances such as grills, generators, camping stoves and lanterns are just fine in the open air, but can cause rapid carbon monoxide buildup when used in confined spaces like houses, tents or campers. While it might seem like a convenient idea in a pinch, there’s a very good reason these appliances aren’t meant to be used indoors.

Find Carbon Monoxide Testing Near You

Though carbon monoxide can have serious impacts on your health, carbon monoxide poisoning is easily preventable with proper precautions and testing. The certified inspectors at AmeriSpec are available to help with all of your specialty inspection needs. Contact us today to learn more about carbon monoxide testing in your area.