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Protect Your Home Against Silent Cold-Weather Killer

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 11:08 a.m. CDT

By S.E. Slack

North of Alabama’s state capital, a couple died inside their RV. In Merriville, Ind., a family of four was found dead inside their home. The incidents had one thing in common: carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control states that more than 400 Americans die annually from unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Another 20,000 visit hospital emergency rooms with about 4,000 people admitted for lengthier stays due to CO poisoning. Many of these visits occur during the colder months of the year.

CO builds up in enclosed, semi-enclosed or poorly vented spaces. It is found in combustion fumes in heating systems, gas ranges, burning charcoal or wood, and similar sources. People and animals are poisoned by breathing it; symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death.

To avoid CO poisoning in your home, the CDC recommends that every chimney be checked annually to be certain nothing is blocking it. Never burn charcoal in your fireplace or anywhere indoors. During power outages, resist the temptation to use a barbecue grill or portable gas stove for cooking indoors. And never use a gas stove to provide heat to a home. All can quickly increase CO levels in a home.

Carbon monoxide detectors can be purchased for as little as $15. In some states, they are now required near every sleeping area in all homes. In others, they are only required for rental homes.

In Chicago, a city ordinance requires the installation of a carbon monoxide detector if your home is heated by gas, coal or oil. If a condominium has its own furnace or space heating device that burns a fossil fuel, you must install a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. The ordinance requires that all carbon monoxide detectors comply with Underwriters Laboratory standard 2034 or its equivalent. Among other requirements, the detector must be battery operated, plugged into an electrical outlet or wired into the building electrical system.

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