HOME 101:  Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer


    We told this true story in a column two years ago and

feel that with the beginning of the winter heating

season, it should be told again, so here it is:


     A few weeks ago, we were inspecting a house for

which a client had signed a purchase offer. The

owners of the house, Don and Jane, a very friendly

senior couple, happened to be present during the

inspection, and when we admired the brand new

forced air, gas furnace in the basement, they shared

with us this tale.


    Last winter, Donald, whose health was already

somewhat compromised with heart and lung problems,

got mysteriously sick. He had trouble breathing, dizziness,

headaches, and nausea. He was admitted to the hospital where

no one could figure out the problem; a virus perhaps.

His conditioned improved and he was sent home, only to get

sick again. By spring, he had been in and out of the hospital three

times. There was no diagnosis.


    About this time, as they did every spring, Donald and Jane had their furnace serviced. The man servicing the furnace came up from the basement and asked them if they had had any recent health problems. He wasn’t surprised when they told him what they had been through. He had discovered a large crack in the 10 year old furnace’s heat exchanger from which carbon monoxide - an odorless, colorless, and potentially deadly gas - was escaping into the house. Without a carbon monoxide (CO) detector in the house, they were not aware of the problem. Once a new furnace was installed, Donald’s mysterious symptoms disappeared.


    They also installed a CO detector, a relatively cheap device, ranging in price from $20 to $100, depending on the quality and sensitivity. It’s very similar in appearance to a smoke detector, often combined, and readily available online or at any hardware store.


    Carbon monoxide has been called the “silent killer”. It can be produced in the home whenever any fuel is burned. When combustion appliances operate properly and are vented properly, there is little risk. However, poor maintenance, improper installation, damaged equipment, or improper construction practices can allow flue gases containing CO to spill into the building. Boilers, furnaces,fireplaces, water heaters, space heaters (unvented and vented), a car running in the garage, can all produce CO.


     If the CO level in a home is low, the flu-like symptoms are similar to Donald’s. If the level is moderate, the symptoms can be severe headaches, drowsiness, confusion, and an accelerated pulse. A high level can cause unconsciousness, convulsions, heat failure, and death. Children, pregnant woman, elderly people and cardiac patients can be especially sensitive.


    We feel that any fuel burning appliances should be maintained regularly and that any fuel burning heating system be inspected and serviced by a heating professional every year.


    And go out and buy a CO detector. If you already have one, test to make sure it is working properly. Have a happy, healthy winter heating season!

Campbell and Davies LLC    201 Dey St Suite 211 Ithaca, NY 14850   

607 216 0036    fax 607 216 0402   campbellanddavies@yahoo.com   

                                     www.campbelldaviesllc.com

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