We've all hear the term 'Carbon Monoxide' (CO) but do we really know what it is, where it comes from or how to know if it is present in our homes?
First of all, if you're looking for it you can't see it. In fact you can't smell or taste it either. When you do know it is present it is often too late! Because CO rapidly accumulates in the blood causing serious health concerns, even death; precious oxygen is prevented from being carried by the blood.
CO is the result of burning fuels to produce heat and energy. Natural gas, oil, propane, wood, kerosene, coal and charcoal products are all contributors to the CO levels in our homes. There are several things that can be done to prevent a build up of this deadly chemical that can help to keep us safe. Here are a few of the easiest:
1.) Keep the exhaust vents/chimneys of your home free of debris and build up. Having blockages like a bird's nest in your chimney disrupts your appliances venting process and forces the CO back into your home rather than escaping as it was intended. Regular maintenance of these exhaust routes not only helps your furnaces and wood stoves operate as they were designed to, but it will also reduce the potential risks to your health.
2.) Don't let your car warm up in an attached garage. Running your car, lawnmower, snowblower or generator in an enclosed area is dangerous on so many levels. According to the CMHC's report on CO it will enter your home through the adjoinging walls and doorways where it can quickly rise to dangerous levels. Never let your car warm up inside. Instead pull the car or other machine outside of the garage and close the door before starting it to prevent CO from entering the home. Resist the urge to BBQ in the garage during winter as well.
3.) We all have areas of expertise and unless you are a qualified technician please don't think you can perform your yearly maintenance yourself. Have your heating devices inspected by a qualified technician before winter sets in. He/she will be able to ensure they are working at their ideal capacity which will save you on heating costs and help to ensure that CO never has the opportunity to enter your home. If you're thinking of enclosing your furnace and hot water heating consult a technician first. He/she will be able to ensure there is adequate air flow around these heating devices for safe combustion. This could prevent the need for additional renovations if the space it too small not to mention prevent a house fire.
4.) Have your chimney cleaned and check for blocked flues.
5.) As in real estate location, location, location is very important when dealing with CO. If you have a powerful exhaust fan have it checked to ensure that it is not located close to a chimney where it can draw the exhausted CO back into the house.
6.) When was the last time you checked to ensure that your dryer vent was free of build up and debris? A little known fact is that dryer ducting and outside vent covers need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
7.) If you live close to a major road or highway traffic, rush hour traffic in particular, can produce increased levels of CO. While these levels are not likely to set off a detector a digital one will display elevated levels as being present.
8.) Avoid using kerosene space heater indoors or inside garages. When unavoidable remember to have a window open with an outdraft (to take out the CO) and an indraft (to provide fresh air for combustion). Only refuel outside when the unit is cooled.
9.) Install a quality CO detector and maintain according to the manufactor's instrucation. Prevention can never be measured but the lack of prevention almost always is.
I hope you find these hints helpful and have a safe CO free winter.
Michelle Keddy is with CENTURY 21 Trident Realty Ltd. in Dartmouth, NS.