Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is odourless, colourless, tasteless and non-irritating. When CO is breathed into the body in large amounts, it crowds out life-sustaining oxygen from red blood cells and prevents the body from absorbing oxygen.
Exposure to CO can cause symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nausea, fatigue, burning eyes, vomiting or loss of muscle control. These symptoms vary with the level and time of exposure, but can also be produced by other illnesses like flu and are therefore hard to diagnose.
Carbon monoxide comes from the incomplete combustion of common fuels including propane, heating oil, natural gas, gasoline, coal, wood, charcoal and kerosene; and from most other combustible material such as tobacco, fibers and paper.
Smoke inhalation from fires is the most common cause of CO poisoning, however vehicle exhaust is the most common cause of CO exposure for most people.
The first line of defense in preventing CO poisoning is the proper installation, use, maintenance and inspection of your fuel-burning appliances. Properly installed, adjusted and maintained fuel-burning appliances are safe and reliable.
If an additional measure of protection or assurance is desired, you may wish to install an Underwriters Laboratory of Canada (ULC) or Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved CO detector. However, a CO detector should always be considered your second line of defense. It cannot take the place of the proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances.
Never operate cars, trucks or gasoline powered equipment in enclosed areas. If you must "warm up" your vehicle, back it out onto the driveway or street.
Keep a window open or provide a dedicated fresh air vent when using a wood-burning fireplace.
Never use a charcoal barbecue grill, portable gas grill or similar equipment inside a home, tent, trailer, garage or other enclosed area.
Check all vent connector pipes for possible corrosion or obstruction. A vent connector pipe joins furnace from its flue collar to the chimney and is usually metal but can be made of plastic.
Check your chimney annually for blockage that can be caused by lose mortar, soot and other debris. Also, be sure that snow or ice build-up is not blocking the top of your chimney.
Remember to replace any inspection plates that you remove when your check is complete. These plates can usually be found near the bottom of the chimney. If your pilot or gas burners produce a yellow flame, adjustment may be required. This should be done by a qualified heating contractor. Yellow flames indicate improper combustion. Occasional orange-yellow or red streaks caused by airborne particles should not be confused with true yellow flames. Ensure your furnace and home gets sufficient air for proper operation. Check that combustion and ventilation ducts are open to the outside and free from any blockage. Never run the furnace with the fan compartment cover removed. this can severely upset air circulation, cause improper combustion and may produce CO.
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