One morning very soon, we will wake up and a chill will be in the air, frost will cover the grass and we will be able to see our breath. Many homeowners will rise from bed and hit the thermostat, stock a pellet or wood burning stove with fuel, or start a gas-powered generator, to heat up their homes.

But while these families go through the chores of their day, some will be unaware that a silent, deadly toxin is invading and slowly filling their homes: Carbon Monoxide. 

Scary statistics - According to the CDC:  

  • At least 15,000 individuals are sent to the emergency room every year due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
  • At least 439 people die of unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning every year, new CDC statistics show. But that number does not represent the entire total, only 13 states require doctors to report carbon monoxide related deaths.
  • And not surprisingly, most carbon deaths and injuries occur during the months of January and December when the weather is at its most frozen and individuals keep their doors and windows sealed tight.

What is important to remember is that early Fall is the perfect time of the year to test your furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, generators and appliances (such as ovens and dryers) to make sure that:  everything is working properly and there are no blockages, tears or leaks.  

Because we want to keep our families safe, below is a listing of seven tips to prevent those you love from becoming part of the statistics:

Know the risks of carbon monoxide: what it is and where it comes from: Carbon Monoxide is a toxic poison that is generated by anything that burns a fuel - such as a furnace, fireplace, generator, gas appliance or car Each of these devices is designed to effectively disperse and dispose of this toxic gas outside of your home.  Issues occur when these devices are properly maintained and vented. Carbon Monoxide is colorless and odorless, so it is often very hard to detect. Inhaling carbon monoxide can trigger serious health issues. At lower concentrations, victims may experience such symptoms as a headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. But at higher concentrations, CO can quickly cause a loss of consciousness, even death.

Yearly maintenance is key. Make sure you rely on experts to install your fuel-burning devices and set up the appropriate venting for each device. At least once a year, have a qualified professional inspect your fuel-burning devices to make sure they continue to operate properly.

Keep fireplaces clean and well vented. If you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove, make sure you keep it clean and that the flue is working properly. Even if the last embers are just smoldering, keep that flue open to let the gases escape.

Keep Vents clear. Make sure nothing is obstructing the outside stack or vent for your dryer, stove, furnace and fireplace, especially after a storm. Take special care to prevent snow or leaves from building up and blocking these critical exits for dangerous gases.

Do not run engines in a closed area such as Garages. Proper ventilation is critical to avoiding CO poisoning. So do not start a car, fire up a grill or stove, or run a generator in a closed area - like a basement or garage. Even if you leave the garage door open, carbon monoxide gas can quickly build up to toxic levels.

Generators should be at least 7 yards from the House. One generator can produce as much CO as hundreds of cars. So it is critical to keep generators at least 20 feet away from the house. Be sure not to position them anywhere near vents or windows where a backdraft can pull the CO gas back into the house.

Install multiple CO alarms. If you have fuel-burning appliances, a fireplace or an attached garage, consider installing these special devices in your home. You will want one on every level (including the basement), within the vicinity of each sleeping area and in other locations required by any applicable laws/building codes. Some CO detectors can even be interconnected across your house, so that when one detects an issue, they all sound the alarm. If you do hear the CO alarm, immediately move to fresh air and call 911. Keep in mind that CO alarms do need to be maintained regularly. Many come equipped with a battery backup to ensure uninterrupted operation, even if the power goes out. But you will need to remember to change your batteries at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer, like you do with your smoke detectors. It is also a good idea to keep a supply of batteries on hand in the event of a multi-day power outage.

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