During fall clean-up, we are busy doing a number of tasks to spruce up our homes and get ready for cold weather. This is a great time to review activities, practices, and equipment to keep us safe from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Connecticut has a yearly average of 390 emergency department visits and 20 inpatient hospital stays due to non-fire related CO poisonings.
CO gas is formed during incomplete combustion when fuel is burned. Some of the combustion sources regularly used inside of homes are fireplaces, gas stoves and clothes dryers, and furnaces and boilers used for heat and hot water. Fall is a great time to schedule a tune-up and cleaning of your oil or gas fired furnace or boiler. Besides ensuring that the system is working safely, cleaning out residue allows the fuel to burn more efficiently. This will save you money in the long run. Call your fuel provider for the annual servicing. Ask them to check your gas appliances while they are there. Even if you do not have an annual service contract, your provider can either provide the service for a small fee or recommend someone else for the job.
As we begin to insulate and winterize our homes during the fall months, take this opportunity to check your portable generator if you have one. If you need to use it this winter, use a power cord long enough for the generator to be operated outdoors, at least 20-25 feet away from the home. Certain weather conditions can push CO-laden exhaust gases back into the home through small gaps in door casings and window frames. Never use a portable generator indoors, in a basement, or in a garage, even if the doors are open. Many CO poisonings and deaths have occurred when CO in the exhaust gas fills a room, displacing oxygen. This causes suffocation, and can happen within minutes of turning the generator on.
Never leave gasoline or propane powered yard equipment idling inside garages or basements, even if garage doors and windows are open. CO poisonings and deaths have occurred from garage and basement use of gas power washers, concrete cutting saws, and other equipment powered by small gas or propane powered engines.
Finally, the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning is to purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm for each floor of your home. Look at the date stamped on the back or inside of the battery compartment. If the unit is more than 5 years old, replace the unit with a new one. Some manufacturers now advertise certain CO alarms as lasting for 7 or 10 years. While the batteries may last that long, there is no publically available data showing that sensor life will last that long. For this reason, DPH recommends replacement of any CO alarm 5 years of age or older.