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Heating Season Can Bring Added Hazards

We’re in the middle of heating season in Boston, and with the economy being as tight as it is, this information bears repeating: carbon monoxide (CO) dangers are sharply increased, so it makes sense to pay attention to what you may not see, feel or even recognize!

CO is a colorless, odorless gas. It can be a natural by-product of combustion and it will kill you, your family or anyone else it comes in contact with. CO is usually vented out of homes through the chimney or other direct-vent system. You’ll encounter it wherever you burn natural gas or other fuels (like wood, charcoal, kerosene or oil) for heat.

In the winter, some people attempt to use their gas stoves as an alternative, supplemental or even a primary heat source, especially during power outages. They rationalize that it should be safe, since the gas that flows from the burner is “completely” consumed, doesn’t require additional venting and shouldn’t pose a hazard to humans.

Nothing is farther from the truth. Gas stoves used as heat sources can certainly cause carbon monoxide build-ups in the home and should never be used for anything other than cooking. Your kitchen should also be equipped with ventilation equipment to prevent CO buildup from cooking. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that CO in concentrations as little as 100 parts per million is hazardous to human health. In other words, it doesn’t take much CO to put you and your family at risk.

New building codes now require CO sensors to operate in close proximity to unvented gas-burning appliances (like stoves), but these rules don’t apply to existing structures and existing gas-burning equipment.

A common misconception about CO poisoning is that it happens over a long period of time. Actually, CO poisoning can happen in a matter of minutes. Long-term exposure to CO can cause permanent heart and neurological problems. The very young and very old are also at increased risk of experiencing permanent physical damage from CO exposure.

You should recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning and make sure your home has working CO detectors at all times. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are dizziness and nausea, shortness of breath, mild headaches, light-headedness, chest pain, confusion, agitation, visual changes, hallucinations and impaired judgment.

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, or encounter someone else who is, it’s important to get that person outside immediately. If the symptoms improve with exposure to fresh air, do not return to the building. Instead, call 911 for medical assistance and have the affected person(s) medically evaluated at a hospital. Your local fire department will vent the affected space and attempt to locate the source of the CO leak.

If you have experienced a CO leak, have all of your fuel-burning appliances checked by a heating and cooling professional before returning them to service.

CO leaks in appliances can happen without warning, or they can be the result of deferred maintenance over a long period of time. The heating and cooling professionals at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help you maintain your heating and cooling equipment and avoid CO mishaps. Contact us at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an inspection of your heating and cooling equipment today.