The Hidden Killer
The Hidden Killer
Mar 29, 2007
Do you have a hidden killer in your home?
The hidden killer in your home and what Home Comfort By
Service Network wants you to know.
Carbon Monoxide: The Hidden Killer In Your Home
Since Home Comfort By Service Network began making people
aware of the benefits of carbon monoxide detectors, We've
had a lot of people ask just how common carbon monoxide
poisoning in the home really is. They also want to in the
home really is. They also want to know where it comes from
and what precautions they can take. According to the
Consumer Product Safety Commission, carbon monoxide (CO) is
the leading cause of fatal poisonings in America! This data
may be somewhat misleading because it includes suicides,
usually from auto exhaust fumes inside an enclosed garage.
The Characteristics that make CO a favored method of taking
one's own life are the same that make it such an insidious
danger to people not so inclined. It is a tasteless,
colorless and odorless gas. People can succumb to it with
very little physical discomfort - almost like falling
asleep. At exposures in the range of 10%, CO poisoning can
give symptoms of fatigue, dizzy spells, headaches and
nausea. Often people sickened by CO think they have the flu
or food poisoning, and it is easy for medical professionals
to misdiagnose the symptoms. Exposure to levels of 40% and
more can lead to brain damage and death.
CO is given off by incomplete combustion of flammable fuels
such as natural gas, oil, wood, coal or kerosene. Under
normal circumstances the main by-products of combustion are
carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor, substances normally
exhaled when we breathe. However, when there is inadequate
air to support combustion, it produces less CO2 and more
CO, which instead of being exhaled, is absorbed into the
body through the lungs and deprives body tissues of oxygen.
Common household appliances such as furnaces, boilers,
water heaters and stoves are all potential sources of CO
gas. All of these products are designed with elaborate
safe-guards and under normal operating conditions the CO
produced from combustion will be harmlessly vented to the
atmosphere. Leaks or blockages in the vent system are the
most common way for CO to back up into a dwelling space.
Cracks or corrosion in a furnace's heat exchanger also can
lead to danger.
Our national quest for energy efficiency has substantially
elevated the hazard of CO poisoning. Tightly insulated
modern homes trap exhaust gases inside. Also, the more
efficiently burning furnaces and boilers of today
contribute indirectly to greater CO hazards. For instance,
high-efficiency heating units produce a greater amount of
condensate in the flue system. This condensate is highly
acidic and over time eats away at chimney masonry and metal
piping components of the flue system, leading to crumbling
that may block the exhaust passage.
There are a number of CO detection devices now on the
market. At the low end of the scale are chemical patches
that change color in the presence of CO gas (around
At the other end of the spectrum are ultra-sophisticated
professional CO detectors that sell for around $800. In
between is a variety of alarms on the market that operate
much like smoke detectors - and even look like smoke
detectors. They generally sell in the $50-$100 price range.
Some, but not all, are UL-approved, an important
consideration for anyone looking to buy one.
CO detectors have not yet reached anywhere near the degree
of consumer popularity as smoke alarms. This may change as
prices come down and local governments begin mandating
them. The Chicago Building Code, for example, recently
adopted a provision requiring CO alarms on every new
residential furnace installation. This was in reaction to a
horrible tragedy in 1991 in which a family of 10 died
because of a CO leak.
There are some industry professionals who maintain that the
CO danger is blown out of proportion, and that relying on
detection devices for protection may be counterproductive.
While deadly, CO poisoning is far less common than the
number one cause of home fatalities and injuries - fire.
Also, CO detectors may provide a false sense of security.
Any detection device can malfunction and even the most
reliable CO alarms can be misled if put in the wrong
Ultimately there is no better way to guard against the
hazards of CO than to have your heating system inspected at
least once a year by a competent professional who can spot
danger signs and make repairs before they become life
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