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Carbon Monoxide: Where Does It Come From In A Home?

Carbon Monoxide: Where Does It Come From In A Home?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas, but even though you can’t see it or smell it, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t harmful. In fact, it is because carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless that adds to the dangers that it poses, because unless you have a specialized alarm that can detect the gas, detecting its presence is virtually impossible. A lot of people come are exposed to carbon monoxide on a daily basis; however, they are completely unaware – that is, until they experience the adverse health effects that the gas can pose.

In order to protect yourself and your loved ones, educating yourself about carbon monoxide is imperative. What is this gas? Where does it come from? What are the health risks that are associated with it? How can you combat it? Keep on reading to find the answers to these questions and more.

What is carbon monoxide and what risks does it pose?

Carbon monoxide is a type of poisonous gas that is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, and as such, it is virtually undetectable. This gas forms as a result of the incomplete combustion of carbon fuels. Carbon monoxide is lighter than air and is it released naturally (as a result of volcanic eruptions and forest fires, for example), as well as unnatural through manmade processes, such as vehicle emissions, fireplaces, and furnaces.

Carbon monoxide can spark reactions that deprive cells within the body of oxygen, and as such, the gas can affect the metabolism of cells. This is due to the fact that carbon monoxide strongly binds to heme, an iron compound that is found in hemoglobin, that carries oxygen to tissues throughout the body. This strong bonding can alter the function of the heme proteins, and the affinity for carbon monoxide to bind with hemoglobin is more than 200 times higher than the affinity for oxygen to bind with hemoglobin.

When carbon monoxide and heme bond, carboxyhemoglobin is formed, which reduces the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Carboxyhemoglobin also disturbs the release of oxygen that has already bound to hemoglobin, preventing it from being released into the tissues. Carbon monoxide also reduces the storage of oxygen levels in the muscle cells, as it binds to and displaces oxygen from myglobin. Every part of the body is negatively impacted as a result of this type of toxicity; however, the parts of the body that are most prone to suffocation and damage are the organs that use the largest amount of oxygen, including the most vital organs, such as the heart and the brain. Developing nervous systems – those in children and babies – are particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide exposure. Individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic cardiovascular or respiratory disease are also more prone to adverse reactions, and they may not be able to combat the impact that carbon monoxide exposure can have on the body

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 20,000 people go to the emergency room every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Being that carbon monoxide is extremely poisonous and that it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, being aware of the signs of exposure is imperative. With that said, the signs of carbon monoxide positioning are rather general and could be linked to other health-related issues; however, if you or someone you love is experiencing one or more of the following, carbon monoxide could be to blame:

  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Listlessness
  • Slowed breathing

As you can see, the symptoms that are associated with carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to the flu, food poisoning, or even exposure to another pollutant, such as mold. With that said, however, if one or a combination of the above-mentioned symptoms are present, seeking medical care is highly encouraged, as long-term exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to loss of consciousness and in the most extreme situations, even death. If you suspect there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home, vacate the premises immediately. Go outdoors, breathe in fresh air, and dial 911 if medical attention is needed. You should also contact your local fire department and gas supplier to report the problem as soon as possible.

What are the sources of carbon monoxide in the home?

As discussed, carbon monoxide is a byproduct of the incomplete burning of fossil fuels. As such, if your house has any fuel-burning appliance or an attached garage, there is a greater risk of carbon monoxide leaks. Some of the possible sources of carbon monoxide include:

  • Gas stoves and ranges. While cooking with gas may be extremely efficient and convenient, it isn’t without risk, as gas stoves and ranges can be sources of carbon monoxide in the home. The risk increases when ventilation, like a range hood, is inadequate. Additionally, if a burner or pilot light is turned on but is not ignited, carbon monoxide can leak from the appliance(s) and accumulate in your home.
  • Fireplaces. A fireplace can be a great source of heat; not to mention the fact that they add so much charm and ambiance to a home. However, despite the benefits, fireplaces do pose risks, and one of those risks is carbon monoxide exposure. The smoke that is generated when wood is burned can accumulate inside your house, if the flue is not opened, for example, which can result in heightened and potentially dangerous carbon monoxide levels – along with other types of noxious particulate matter – in your home’s air. To reduce this risk, always check to make sure that the flue is opened and not obstructed before you light a fire.
  • Gas barbecue grills. Like gas ranges and ovens, gas barbecue grills are extremely convenient; however, they can also pose the risk of carbon monoxide positioning. Always make sure that you are using a gas barbecue grill outside, where the carbon monoxide that is formed as a result of burning the gas can be properly ventilated. If you use this type of grill in an enclosed space, such as a garage, a basement, or a shed, CO can accumulate to potentially toxic levels.
  • Furnaces, water heaters, dryers, and space heaters. These appliances are essential in many homes, and they are often powered by gas. While gas is an efficient way to power these appliances, proper ventilation, as well as routine inspections and maintenance, are an absolute must. Poor airflow, leaks, or blockages can cause CO backups, which can lead to dangerously high levels of the poisonous gas in your home.
  • Generators. A gas-powered generator can be a real lifesaver when the power goes out or when you’re out in the woods and want to enjoy some of the conveniences of home; however, because they’re powered by gas, generators pose the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a generator inside – in a basement, garage, shed, camper, or tent, for example, as the CO that the appliance releases will be released into the space, which could result in a potentially dangerous and life-threatening situation.
  • Tobacco smoke. Another common source of carbon monoxide in the home is tobacco smoke. If you or someone who resides with you smokes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or any other tobacco-based product, there is a chance that CO can build up; particularly if these items are being used in enclosed spaces.
  • Vehicles. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, RVs, and other types of vehicles that are powered by combustion engines burn fuel and generate carbon monoxide. Running a vehicle in a garage for even a few minutes on a cold morning can lead to the unsafe accumulation of carbon monoxide in your garage, and that gas can circulate into other parts of your home. Even if you have a detached garage, you run the risk of being exposed to carbon monoxide. Always make sure that the garage door is opened before you turn on a vehicle.

How can you protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning?

As discussed, carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, and colorless, and as such, you cannot rely on your senses to detect it. That’s why it’s so important to invest in a high-quality carbon monoxide detector. The Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests installing these detectors on every level of your home. Hallways outside of every bedroom are the ideal locations to place these sensors, and they should be inspected once a month.

These alarms are constantly on-duty and will sound an alarm when they detect carbon monoxide in the air. Many modern carbon monoxide detectors are equipped with smoke alarms, so they’ll also sound an alarm when they detect smoke. The Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests using carbon monoxide alarms that meet the most rigorous standards, as set forth by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 2034 standard. Every alarm that meets this rigorous standard will feature a UL label on the device.

In addition to installing UL-certified carbon monoxide detectors and inspecting them on a regular basis in your home, another way that you can protect yourself from potentially deadly CO exposure is by inspecting your appliances on a regular basis. Make sure that you have any appliance that is powered by gas or that produces CO – ranges, dryers, ovens, water heaters, etc. – on a regular basis. Additionally, you should a high-powered exhaust fan installed over a gas stove that vents to the outdoors.

If you believe that there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home, don’t delay; take action right away! Immediately vacate your home, get to a safe location, and make sure that you contact 911 and your gas supplier right away. If anyone requires medical care, of course, make sure that it is sought immediately.

Since CO is virtually undetectable, making sure that you are well-aware and that you take the necessary precautions, you can reduce the risk of being exposed to this noxious and potentially deadly gas.