Staying cozy warm at home is the perfect winter pastime when outdoor temperatures are bitter cold. But if you haven’t prepared to detect for carbon monoxide this year, your family could be heading for tragedy.
Heating systems and other fuel-powered tools can cause deadly carbon monoxide leaks when people are in their homes most of the winter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) reports that carbon monoxide (CO) is responsible for 400 deaths, 20,000 hospital visits, and 4,000 hospitalizations every year. Its invisible properties have dubbed the deadly gas the ‘silent killer’. It can’t be seen, smelled, or even tasted, but its effects can be fatal if detected too late.
As your family continues to buckle down for the season, protecting your home from indoor hazards is the key to keeping everyone safe and healthy. Start the winter off right by knowing the CO risks in your home, how to limit your exposure, and what to do if you suspect a deadly leak is present.
CO Risks Inside Your Home
Carbon monoxide is found in the fumes released from dozens of appliances and tools we keep around our home all year round. CO can seep through windows, doors, and vents, and it doesn’t take much for someone to become extremely ill.
According to the C.D.C., anything that runs on the following fuels can produce harmful CO:
- natural gas
- diesel fuel
Between heating systems, appliances, and tools, there are countless ways you can be exposed to carbon monoxide. When the weather is cold, these are the most common culprits to watch for:
- space heaters
- portable generators
- gas stoves (when used for heat)
- water heaters
- wood stoves
- snow blowers
- leaf blowers
Appliances and tools that release CO gas become deadly when the gas is not allowed to dissipate into the air. This can happen when pipes are blocked, cracked, or broken. It can also occur when outdoor tools and appliances that are not meant to be operated in enclosed areas are incorrectly used in garages, crawl spaces, or homes.
Winter Carbon Monoxide Dangers
Most carbon monoxide leaks in the winter are related to poorly maintained heating systems and the improper use of gas powered equipment. In the month of January, at least two people die every day from carbon monoxide poisoning. Since January is typically the coldest month of the year, people are more likely to kick up the heat and seal doors and windows to prevent drafts. CO that finds its way into the home in these cases is provided no means of escape and builds up to toxic levels in the air.
Individuals who struggle for heat during the winter months have also been known to use gas ovens, portable heaters, outdoor grills, or other emergency heat sources just to fight the cold. These methods produce dangerous amounts of CO and little heat. They often require people to sit close, increasing their exposure to the deadly gas.
Ice and snow can pose a serious problem leading to the buildup of CO when it comes to exhaust pipes. If you are one who likes to warmup your car in the winter, ice and snow can block pipes and cause CO to back up into your vehicle, garage, or even home depending on where you are parked. Snowblowers also produce CO which can be harmful if you are using the tool for an extended period of time.
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
There are two ways a person can suffer from CO poisoning: exposure to a small amount over a long period of time, or exposure to a lot in a large amount over a short period of time.
Because you cannot detect CO gas by sight, smell, or taste, these symptoms are often the first sign there could be a leak in your home:
- unexplained fatigue
- trouble breathing
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be easily passed off as other ailments such as the flu. If you or a loved one experiences a sudden onset of these symptoms (while in the home), and have not come in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with the flu, exit your home and check your CO levels to ensure your family is safe.
Most At Risk for CO Poisoning
Some populations are more at risk than others of becoming extremely ill from even minimal exposure to carbon monoxide. People who have a history of heart disease or anemia, infants, and individuals over the age of 65 are most at risk for complications related to CO. Making sure to place CO detectors directly in the rooms of at-risk individuals will help prevent long term exposure if any carbon monoxide is present.
How To Prevent CO Poisoning
Carbon monoxide deaths are 100% preventable using the appropriate safety measures. All homeowners and renters must do their part to reduce CO exposure in their home by following these safety steps this winter:
- Make sure all your heating appliances are properly maintained and serviced.
- Install battery-operated or battery back-up CO detectors in your home.
- Seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
- Do not use any gasoline or charcoal-burning devices inside of your home or in the basement or attached garage.
- If you run your car before you get in, make sure it is outside or partially outside with the garage door open to allow the exhaust to dissipate.
- Do not burn anything in a stove or fireplace that has not been serviced or cleaned.
- Never use your gas oven to heat your home.
- Make sure generators are at least 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents.
- If you need help staying warm this winter, utilize local warming centers to reduce the need for unsafe methods of heating.
There are no natural and obvious warning signs to alert you when carbon monoxide is present. If you suspect a carbon monoxide leak in your home, get out first and call 911 immediately after for assistance.
For more information on how to protect your family this year from carbon monoxide, visit the C.D.C.’s Carbon Monoxide Safety page or look for more resources through the Connecticut State Department of Public Health.
Connecticut Accident Attorneys
The law firm of Jacobs & Wallace wishes everyone a safe and warm winter season!
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in an accident, our experienced attorneys at the law firm of Jacobs & Wallace are here to help. Contact us today for a free case evaluation to review your options for seeking justice.