We fire up grills for cookouts, prepare meals on gas stoves, and use portable generators during power outages. But these fixtures that bring us joy can negatively affect our health with accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
That’s why it’s important to learn about carbon monoxide poisoning, identify its symptoms and prevent it from harming people and pets who live in your home.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Burning fuel such as charcoal, gasoline, propane or wood produces carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas.
If you’re wondering, “What causes carbon monoxide in a house?” CO is a byproduct of natural gas and propane appliances such as stoves, water heaters, space heaters and furnaces; gasoline and diesel engines found in cars, boats and generators; and wood fireplaces and gas inserts.
People often call carbon monoxide “the silent killer” because prolonged exposure to it — from improperly ventilated appliances, particularly in enclosed spaces — can harm people and pets, and even be fatal.
“When too much carbon monoxide is in the air, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide,” Mayo Clinic’s website states. “This can lead to serious tissue damage, or even death.”
How Much Carbon Monoxide is Dangerous?
If you’re wondering, “How much carbon monoxide is dangerous?” that depends on how much CO has built up in the house and how long you’ve been exposed to it. CO is measured by parts per million.
Carbon monoxide exposure levels range from low (50 PPM or less) to dangerous (greater than 101 PPM), according to Kidde.
Here’s a closer look at that range:
- Low level: 50 PPM and less
- Mid-level: Between 51 PPM and 100 PPM
- High level: Greater than 101 PPM, with symptoms
- Dangerous level: Greater than 101 PPM, with symptoms
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
If you’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide for eight hours at 50 PPM, you’ll start feeling the effects, according to Mayo Clinic.
Short-term symptoms include blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, a dull headache, loss of consciousness, weakness and nausea or vomiting.
Long-term symptoms may include irreversible brain damage, and prolonged exposure can even lead to death, according to the clinic.
Do you have pets? Carbon monoxide poisoning often affects dogs and cats first, so look out for strange behavior, extended sleeping and vomiting.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Your best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning is installing a carbon monoxide detector, which alerts you before CO exposure reaches dangerous levels in your home.
CO detectors can be battery-powered or plug directly into a wall outlet. Newer models can be integrated with your smart home, sending alerts to mobile devices.
You can even find a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector in a single unit.
Installing a CO detector is easy — just make sure you have one on each level of the home. You should especially install them near bedrooms, and in any rooms or buildings outside the home.
Test them once a week, and replace the batteries as needed. In addition, you’ll need to replace each alarm every seven to 10 years, based on the product’s manufacturing date.
Aside from detecting CO, it’s also important to inspect your appliances, ensuring they’re properly installed and functioning without problems.
And, of course, always safely use appliances powered by coal, gasoline, kerosene, natural gas and propane. This means only using generators and grills outdoors, as recommended by the manufacturers.
And never run fuel-burning appliances in an enclosed garage.