Carbon Monoxide

What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced by combustion appliances. When fuel for combustion  appliances is burned, carbon monoxide is produced as a by-product of the fuel burning process.  Even small concentrations can collect unnoticed and can affect health over a period of time.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?
Carbon Monoxide can be produced by many sources in the home. Fuel burning appliances produce carbon monoxide, such as un-vented or improperly vented gas, kerosene, or diesel room heaters, as well as fireplaces, gas water heaters and furnaces.  Even if your combustion appliance is functioning properly a blocked or back drafting chimney, leaky or cracked exhaust ducting can create unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. Even minute cracks or improperly fitting ductwork can cause unhealthy exposure. Car exhaust and environmental tobacco smokein an attached garage or enclosed space are other contributors to unsafe carbon monoxide levels.

What are the Health Effects of Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide has many serious health related effects. High levels of exposure can quickly cause serious health problems or even death. In lower concentrations the symptoms often are mistaken for a cold or flu, and can include headaches, dizziness and weakness or fatigue. Exposure to carbon monoxide affects the health ofunborn babies, infants and people with heart disease. Today's tightly constructed homes can trap carbon monoxide year round.

Why is Carbon Monoxide so Dangerous?
Carbon Monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning death in America.  When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it replaces the oxygen needed to survive in your bloodstream .  Once inside the body, carbon monoxide has a half life of 5 hours.  Carbon monoxide levels typically range from .5 to 5 parts per million (PPM) in homes without stoves.  Homes with stoves will range between 5 and 15 PPM. Homes with poorly maintained stoves and chimneys/vents can produce up to 30 PPM.  Continuous exposure (8 hours or more) to 30 PPM of carbon monoxide has been shown in studies to decrease maximum oxygen consumption in humans and impair their ability to function.

How Do I Know I Have Elevated Carbon Monoxide Levels in My  Home?
There are some obvious indicators for sources of carbon monoxide emissions. Some clues include: visibly loose or rusty chimney systems, debris or soot falling from a chimney system, or unfamiliar burning odors. A yellow flame from a gas appliance may also indicate incomplete combustion and release of excess carbon monoxide. Pilot lights can also be a source because their combustion gasses are not vented to the outside. Some non-visible sources include internal appliance damage, improper burner adjustment, hidden blockages and concealed leaks in chimneys and vents.

What if I Have Elevated Levels?
There are home detection devices available to home owners that detect dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Not all alarms are sensitive enough to detect smaller concentrations which are also a problem.  Proper ventilation of the home is important, as well as regular maintenance and visual inspections of fuel burning appliances, chimneys, and vents connecting these appliances. If symptoms persist,  it may be necessary to seek professional help and testing.