Winter’s not over: Carbon monoxide safety at home is still critical

June 28th, 2018

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


Yes, we’re all excited about the warmer weather we’ve been enjoying locally, but the fact is that winter isn’t really yet over and winter-related carbon monoxide dangers continue to exist in our homes.

With that in mind, we here at MyPhillyLawyer have put together some important information to remind you how you can keep yourself and your family safer while running in-home heating equipment that produces deadly carbon monoxide (CO) gas.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that’s a by-product of burning materials, including wood, oil, natural gas, propane and other substances.  It’s harmful to humans because it can reduce the body’s ability to transport oxygen through the bloodstream. Instead of allowing oxygen to be transported, carbon monoxide can literally shut down a person’s internal organs and kill you due to a lack of oxygen.

A photo of a combination smoke alarm and carbon monoxide (CO2) detector for in-home use.

A photo of a combination smoke alarm and carbon monoxide (CO2) detector for in-home use. Image credit: ©

These dangers lurk particularly in homes and workplaces or any other closed areas during the winter, when windows and doors are closed or sealed to keep out cold weather outside.

That’s why experts recommend that homeowners have careful inspections of their heating systems and other in-home equipment performed by service technicians every one to two years to ensure that no dangers are present that can harm you or your family.

“The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.”

And carbon monoxide poisoning affects people of any age. Certain groups, including unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems, are more susceptible to its effects, according to the CDC.

More than 400 people in the U.S. die annually from unintentional CO poisoning, and another 20,000 are sent to hospital emergency rooms for treatment, including 4,000 who have to be hospitalized, the CDC reports.

Even now, at this time of the year in late February, the Parkersburg Fire Department in Parkersburg, W.V., is out in the community continuing to warn local residents there of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in homes.

“Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer because it’s tasteless, odorless and colorless,” Parkersburg Fire Chief Eric Chichester said in a story in the Parkersburg News & Sentinel. His fire department responded to 44 carbon monoxide alarms last year and about 12 so far in 2011, he said. “Some of the calls we respond to are for low or defective batteries on the detector, but a lot of times we find improper ventilation or faulty equipment, like a cracked vent or furnace part,” he told the paper.

In-home equipment that needs to be checked includes gas furnaces, oil burners, gas ovens, gas hot water heaters and any other devices that have vents to exhaust fumes including carbon monoxide.

Why are such inspections important? How do vents suddenly incur problems?

That can happen in many ways – someone in the house can accidentally bump into a vent hood on an appliance or furnace while they’re in the home’s mechanical room and dislodge it without even knowing there could be a problem. Or the vent can be clogged by an animal that has gotten into the system, or by any one of a handful of other causes.

That’s why annual or seasonal inspections are important.

If you are a landlord, it’s also important for you to be sure of the safety of your renters inside your properties to prevent injuries and protect yourself legally from any claims that could be incurred. Talk to a qualified attorney to know your responsibilities and rights as a landlord in keeping your properties safe for your tenants and for peace of mind.

Even when lots of snow falls one needs to again check to be sure that all necessary vents are in proper operation – heavy, deep snow can block the critical vents and leave your family at risk.

In Illinois, Bartlett and Elgin fire officials have been “reminding residents that after any snowfall, it is important to inspect the area around the furnace and hot water heater vents to ensure that snow and ice are not blocking the safe operation of these fuel-burning devices,” according to a story this week in The Courier News in Aurora, Ill. “Vents and intake pipes should have a 3-foot clearance from snow, shrubs or other obstructions. Water heaters and dryer vents also should be cleared of snow to prevent possible carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Local public safety officials also recommend that homeowners and renters install carbon monoxide detectors in their dwellings so that can be alerted if a problem arises. A simple yet effective detector can be found for as little as $30. The detectors are not the same thing as smoke detectors, which detect smoke from a fire. Safe homes should be equipped with both kinds of detectors. Combination detectors are also available.

Keeping our families safe from carbon monoxide poisoning is still important at this time of year, even as temperatures outside are getting warmer and days are getting longer.

It’s better to be safe than complacent when it comes to our families.

And remember, if you are involved in an incident involving carbon monoxide poisoning or related illnesses, call us here at MyPhillyLawyer and talk with a caring, skilled and compassionate attorney who can help you resolve your claims.

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