What Is Carbon Monoxide? Are You Safe Using A Space Heater?

Posted by Julia Gilmore on 8/2/2019
What Is Carbon Monoxide? Are You Safe Using A Space Heater?
Carbon monoxide is a flammable, odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. The gas has earned the name; the “silent killer” due to its unnoticeable and stealth nature. When one inhales the poisonous fumes, their blood’s ability to transport oxygen is hindered. This obstruction to proper oxygen receiving causes harm to organs such as the brain and heart. Carbon poisoning is a result of not retaining adequate levels of oxygen or asphyxiation.

The earliest symptoms of poisoning include nausea, fatigue, and headaches; which can commonly be mistaken for the stomach flu. Exposure to the gas is also commonly accompanied by the following symptoms: shortness of breath on exertion, impaired judgment, chest pain, depression, hallucinations, agitation, vomiting, abdominal pain, visual changes, seizures, memory problems, and walking problems. Not only is the chemical lethal to humans and animals, but also to the environment as well. Since carbon monoxide is a greenhouse gas, it can cause great damage to our Earth.

Carbon Monoxide is produced by burning material containing the element, carbon. The most notable sources of poisoning are motor vehicle exhaust, engine fumes, unvented space heaters, nonelectric heaters, and fire smoke. Other products that can cause poisoning are gas water heaters, charcoal grills, propane heaters and stoves, gasoline and diesel-powered generators, propane-fueled forklifts, gasoline-powered concrete saws, indoor tractor pulls, boat engines, spray paint, solvents, degreasers, and paint removers. 

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning today.  Any person or animal in an area with a device capable of producing the chemical is at risk of poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning kills 400 Americans every year. Every year, approximately 5,000 people in the United States enter hospital emergency rooms due to monoxide poisoning. However, 5,000 emergency room admissions are believed to be an understatement since many people with poisoning symptoms mistake the symptoms for the flu or mainstream cold. 

Some are more at risk to the dangers of carbon oxide than others. Unborn babies, infants, and people with anemia or heart disease are especially affected by exposure. The perils of monoxide are also more prominent in certain environments and professions. Those who are at most risk of poisoning include children riding in the back of enclosed pickup trucks, industrial workers at various mills, foundries, and plants, respondents to a fire, and those working indoors with combustion engines or combustible gases. 

Risk of Unvented Fuel Heaters

As previously noted, unvented space heaters have been known to release carbon monoxide.  Most carbon exposures occur in the winter, due to the rising usage of space heaters during this time. Only fuel heaters, such as gas and kerosene heaters, create a dangerous situation where carbon oxide can be emitted. Gas and kerosene heaters can produce hazardous gas because they are unvented.

Installation of heater:

Correctly and carefully follow the installation instructions from your appliance packaging and install accordingly.

Heater Maintenance:

Preventive maintenance should be performed by a qualified service technician each year. The service technician should analyze the electrical and mechanical parts of the appliance.

Heater Usage:

Follow product directions. Be certain that the room where you place your heater is well ventilated.

Heater Inspections:

In addition to preventive maintenance, inspections should be performed routinely by the homeowner to identify any issues concerning the appliance.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms:

According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the most effective way to keep your family safe from potential dangers of home heating during the cold months is by installing a carbon monoxide detector. A monoxide alarm is the first and most critical defense against monoxide. The alarm will detect the toxic concentration of the gas in the area. When a high level of the chemical is detected, the alarm will sound. Alarms produced from various manufacturers come equipped with different features, specifications, and options. Each type of alarm is programmed to either sound at constant, low levels of monoxide or sound at high, damaging levels. In addition, some devices detect gas sooner than others.

Purchase and install detectors that meet Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standard 2034, the Standard for Safety for Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms. According to UL Standard 2034, home detectors must sound before monoxide levels reach a life-threatening point. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standard requires the sounding of the alarm before an average, and healthy adult begins to experience symptoms of poisoning. This warning was implemented to provide occupants time to evacuate the contaminated premises.

The alarm should be installed somewhere that all house members can hear if it was to sound. In addition, a great place to install the device is in the living room of the house, where most of the family will spend much of their time. Household chemicals are harmful to the alarms; therefore, the alarm should not be placed anywhere near such products. Also, the alarm should remain at least ten feet away from any monoxide sources.

Carbon Monoxide Alarm Testing:

Monthly alarm testing should be done if your device is wired into your home’s electrical system. Weekly testing is advised to be performed on units that are battery operated. Battery operated units should have their batteries replaced at least once a year. 

After installing your alarm correctly by carefully following the unit instructions, test each of your detectors for functionality. To see if your alarm is working, hold down the “test” button until you hear two beeps. When contact with the “test” button is made, a high-pitched and irritating beeping noise will sound from the unit. When those two beeps are heard, release your finger from the button. Then, perform the same action until you hear four beeps this time. Fifteen minutes after you test your alarm, the device will change from test mode back to the original mode. 

Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounding:

If your alarm goes off; it is crucial to turn off all your appliances that can be possible sources of combustion. Then immediately get fresh air in the home by opening doors and windows. It is suggested that you call a qualified technician to inspect the home before returning back to routine. If anyone in your house is experiencing symptoms of poisoning at this time, call the local fire department and relocate your family and pets to an area with fresh, clean air. Make sure you have accounted for all persons and pets in your household and do not re-enter the home until further notification by officials. Have a professional check the following to identify the source of the harmful gas:

  • Gas or oil furnaces
  • Burners and ignition systems
  • Venting systems and chimneys for blockages caused by debris, cracks, and holes
  • Venting and fan systems on all combustible appliances
  • Fireplaces for blocked or bent chimneys
  • Stove pilot lights for improper operation that causes monoxide build up in enclosed homes

Along with cold months come various ways to keep your home cozy and pleasant. Unfortunately, the increase of home warming appliance use correlates to the rise of monoxide exposures. Deadly gases are created in homes by burning fuels in combustible appliances in unvented spaces. We at Four Seasons Trading Company, hope this article educated you on the risk of having an unvented fuel space heater in your home. And steer you on the right path into buying safer electric heating options. Review this guide to get familiar with the precautions you can take against monoxide poisoning and ways of preventing exposure.