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Protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Carbon monoxide: a silent killer

What is silent, deadly and lurks in the home while your family sleeps? Dubbed the 'silent killer,' the colorless, odorless and poisonous gas - carbon monoxide (CO) - kills 500 people and sends 20,000 more to the hospital each year. With the latest rash of snow storms and cold weather sending people indoors, it is ever more important to make sure carbon monoxide poisoning isn't a danger in your home. Underwriters Laboratories recommends a three-part strategy to help you protect your family from his silent health risk. Read it, learn it and do it!

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

carbon monoxide

According to Underwriters Laboratories, carbon monoxide is produced and emitted by incomplete burning of fuel, such as propane, kerosene, gasoline, oil, natural gas, wood and charcoal. Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, people can be exposed to this potentially deadly gas without even knowing it. However, carbon monoxide poisoning is avoidable and preventable if the necessary safety measures are taken. Underwriters Laboratories recommends a three-part strategy that consumers can easily employ to protect themselves and their loved ones from the poisonous gas: 1) Inspect, 2) Protect, and 3) Detect.

1. Inspect

Be proactive and don't forget to inspect! Fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves require yearly maintenance. Over time, components can become damaged or deteriorate. Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances once a year as they can identify and repair problems with your fuel-burning appliances.

2. Protect

Protecting your family, especially while they sleep, can prevent a fatal carbon monoxide accident.

Get a carbon monoxide alarm. Purchase and install UL-listed carbon monoxide alarms outside each sleeping area, including the basement and any other locations required by applicable laws. Read the manufacturer's instructions carefully before installing a carbon monoxide alarm. The UL-listing on a carbon monoxide alarm means Underwriters Laboratories has found the product to be free of foreseeable hazards and is safer for your family.

Safely and effectively install your carbon monoxide alarm. Do not place a carbon monoxide alarm within five feet of household chemicals. In addition, avoid placing your carbon monoxide alarm directly on top of or near fuel-burning appliances as these appliances will emit some carbon monoxide when initially turned-on.

Test your carbon monoxide alarm. Make sure you give your carbon monoxide alarm a regular test, to ensure that it works the best! Test and replace the battery in your carbon monoxide alarm at least once a year. If your alarm is wired directly into your home's electrical system, you should test it monthly. If your unit operates off of a battery, test the alarm monthly and replace the battery at least once a year.

Know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning may be the cause of flu-like symptoms such as headaches, tightness of chest, dizziness, fatigue, confusion and breathing difficulties. Because carbon monoxide poisoning often causes a victim's blood pressure to rise, the victim's skin may take on a pink or red cast. If anyone in your home begins to exhibit these symptoms, get out of the house and go directly to a medical professional.

3. Detect

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, leave your house quickly and safely! Practice a carbon monoxide safety escape plan with your family so everyone knows how to react to a carbon monoxide alarm. If your alarm sounds, evacuate the building and call the fire department. If you or your loved ones experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning – headache, dizziness or other flu-like symptoms – seek medical attention immediately. And, when you return home, be sure to open windows and doors for ventilation. Then, call a qualified technician to inspect your appliances.

Another important step in detecting carbon monoxide in your home is to be aware of tell-tale signs that you might have a carbon monoxide danger. Streaks of carbon or soot around the service door of your fuel-burning appliances, moisture collecting on the windows and walls of furnace rooms and fallen soot from the fireplace or small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney are all signs of a carbon monoxide problem in your home.

Just because winter is on its way out, you may still need heat in your house while spring makes its entrance. Follow Underwriters Laboratories' steps starting today and protect your family now and in the future from carbon monoxide poisoning.

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