Tips on Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Gas Heaters and Other Appliances

July 21st, 2022
Tips On Preventing Monoxide Poisoning

We have become quite reliant on gas in our daily lives, using it (generally without much thought) for heating, cooking and even in our cars. Gas has many advantages, but there are also risks when using gas. 

Carbon monoxide can’t be seen or smelled, but once it accumulates, it can be very dangerous. Recent incidents in Melbourne have brought carbon monoxide into the spotlight, so we’ve put together some tips to keep your family safe.

In this article, we’ll primarily focus on preventing CO poisoning related to heating products, but we’ll also touch on other causes of carbon monoxide poisoning. In any case, many of these carbon monoxide poisoning prevention tips apply to all possible causes of CO poisoning.

First Things First, What Is Carbon Monoxide and What Are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is colourless, odourless, and flavourless. Known as the “silent killer”, this gas is produced as a by-product when you burn wood, charcoal, oil, propane, natural gas, and a range of other fuels.

If carbon monoxide is left to build up in semi-enclosed or enclosed spaces, it can enter your bloodstream and cause CO poisoning.

The common symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • General confusion
  • Chest Pain
  • Memory and coordination problems
  • Impaired judgement

It’s important to note that low levels of carbon monoxide exposure can lead to poisoning with little to no symptoms. Even with mild or invisible symptoms, carbon monoxide exposure can lead to motor disorders, sensory disorders, miscarriage in pregnant women, permanent brain damage (including memory and learning impairments), personality and emotional changes, and more.

In the worst-case scenarios, CO poisoning can lead to life-threatening heart damage, and ultimately, death. 

Unborn babies, young children, older adults, and individuals with chronic heart disease, respiratory problems, and other comorbidities are at greater risk of being seriously impacted by carbon monoxide poisoning, but anyone can be affected.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are caused by inhaling carbon monoxide. This deadly gas eventually reaches your bloodstream, causing your body to replace the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. Without enough oxygen in your body, sufficient oxygen will not reach your organs and tissues, including your heart and brain.

Many appliances produce carbon monoxide, but as long as these appliances are functioning correctly and ventilated correctly, this shouldn’t be a problem. Some of the appliances that produce CO as a by-product include:

  • Forced-air gas heaters such as ducted gas heating and gas log fires
  • Gas water heaters, gas ovens, and gas stoves
  • Gas space heaters and other fuel-burning space heaters
  • Wood fireplaces and wood stoves
  • Cars and motor vehicles, including boats
  • Gas BBQs
  • Charcoal grills
  • Portable camp stoves
  • Fuel-powered portable generators

How Does Carbon Monoxide Leak from Gas Heaters?

As experts in heating and cooling, we are most knowledgeable in carbon monoxide poisoning related to gas heating products. Below, we will briefly explain how gas heating products can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

CO Poisoning in Flued and Unflued Gas Heaters

All gas heating appliances produce carbon monoxide as a by-product, but in normal circumstances, ventilation prevents the CO from ever reaching you.

In unflued gas heaters, the by-products of combustion are emitted back into the room. For this reason, the room needs to be ventilated with fresh, constantly circulating air when these heaters are in use. If you don’t ventilate the area, you will be exposed to carbon monoxide and become sick.

As you can imagine, your heater won’t be very effective when you need to open windows and doors! More importantly, flueless gas heaters are heavily restricted for indoor use in Victoria, so if you have one, you should probably replace it!

Flued heaters may be open-flued or fully sealed. 

Open-flued gas heaters are designed with a flue that directs CO and other emissions outside the property. However, combustion is still affected by indoor air pressure, meaning there is a greater risk of CO exposure from these appliances. Additional ventilation is highly recommended for these heaters.

A fully sealed gas heater is completely sealed off from the indoors. Air is drawn into the system using one set of ducts, and combustion fumes are emitted outside using a separate set of ducts. Under normal circumstances, there is very little risk of carbon monoxide entering the home through a fully sealed gas heater. Additional ventilation is not typically required.

CO Poisoning in Ducted Gas Heaters

When you have a gas ducted heater, the combustion process occurs in the gas burner outside your home. However, CO leaks can still occur in ducted systems, and these leaks can make their way inside your home.

Ducted systems that are poorly installed, poorly serviced, or faulty from day one can produce excess carbon monoxide that travels into your home via the ductwork.

Incorrect gas pressure, damaged heat exchangers, obstructed flames, and systems with a bad air-to-gas ratio can all lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Signs of a gas heater that may be leaking carbon monoxide include visible damage to the system, a pilot light that regularly goes out, and a weirdly coloured flame in your gas heater.

It’s important to remember that any gas heater can cause CO poisoning, whether it’s old or new, well-maintained or neglected, central heating or space heating.

However, taking care of your gas heater and ensuring adequate ventilation will go a long way to avoiding excess CO exposure.

To Avoid CO Poisoning and Sickness, Follow These 7 Tips

1. Know the Risks

Understanding the risks associated with CO poisoning can help you avoid prolonged exposure.

Remember that carbon monoxide is a toxic by-product of devices that burn gas and other fuels. Take care of these devices by maintaining them regularly and ventilating them properly. This will allow them to safely disperse CO from your home.

Also be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide, including but not limited to those listed above. If carbon monoxide is inhaled, it can have disastrous and even fatal consequences. But if you recognise the signs of CO early, you may be able to escape without any lasting damage!

2. Know the Signs of Malfunctioning Devices

Familiarise yourself with the danger signs regarding your appliances. Make sure you know how old your appliances are and understand what a product in ‘bad condition’ might look like.

When it comes to gas heating, water streaks from your vents, moisture inside windows, and having disconnected pipes are some causes for alarm. If you’re not sure what condition your heating system is in, a professional from Australian Climate Systems can help!

3. Have Your Appliances Checked Regularly

Have gas appliances in your home inspected each year to make sure that they are still safe to use and to be around. This also applies to any other appliance or device that burns fuel and produces carbon monoxide as a side effect. A qualified technician should be the one inspecting your appliances.

Please Note: While your heating and cooling can generally be serviced every 2-3 years, carbon monoxide tests should be carried out annually on gas heaters.

4. Practice Various Safety Measures On Different Appliances

There are many practical actions you can take to prevent sickness and poisoning from carbon monoxide. Here are just some recommendations:

  • Check your vents are clear and free from obstructions
  • Replace unflued space heaters with flued space heating products or other alternatives
  • Use the correct fuel that’s recommended for your space heater
  • Make sure the airflow from a space heater can get out of the home.
  • Never use outdoor appliances indoors, including in the garage. Ensure outdoor appliances are not used near open windows
  • Don’t use your gas stovetop or gas oven as a supplementary source of heat
  • Install an exhaust fan over your gas stove and ensure it is vented to the outdoors
  • Clean your fireplace and ensure the flue is open when using a fireplace
  • If you have an indoor wood stove, ensure it is appropriate for indoor use and appropriately installed. Ensure the stove door closes tightly.
  • Don’t leave your car running in the garage! Always open the garage door before starting your car

5. Install CO Alarms

Having CO alarms installed in your home is a good idea to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Think of them like a smoke detector, but for carbon monoxide. It’s suggested that you place them on the floor within proximity of sleeping areas. Your carbon monoxide alarm should have a battery backup and you should check and replace the battery regularly (on the same schedule as your smoke detectors). 

If your carbon monoxide detector is ever triggered, get out of your home immediately and call for emergency services.

6. Act Fast If You Experience Symptoms

The easiest thing you can do to combat carbon monoxide symptoms is to get fresh air immediately. You should also ensure all appliances that could be to blame are switched off and that doors and windows are open.

The next thing to do is seek immediate medical attention. If your situation is non-urgent, phone NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24. For medical emergencies, call 000.

7. Know the Difference Between CO Poisoning and Cold/Flu/Covid-19 Symptoms

It’s important to differentiate between carbon monoxide sickness and illnesses caused by a cold, flu, or Covid-19. Getting the right diagnosis is always important, so never assume your symptoms are caused by one problem and not another.

In general, people with CO poisoning will feel better when they’re out of the offending environment, such as when you go to the shops, go to work, or go for a walk.

If you feel better shortly after going outside, your symptoms are more likely to be the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Similarly, if you feel worse shortly after a heater or gas device is turned on, CO poisoning is a more likely cause.

When your family is exposed to excess carbon monoxide, you will generally all get sick simultaneously. Family members who spend the most time at home will usually be more affected. With colds, flus, and Covid-19, it is much more common for there to be a delay between people becoming symptomatic. Pets will also be affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, while human viruses typically do not jump to pets.

If you are ever unsure, seek a diagnosis from a medical professional. It can often be difficult to diagnose CO poisoning (it is often misdiagnosed as the flu or food poisoning), so you should also have your gas and fuel-burning appliances checked by a licensed professional if you are concerned.

Contact Australian Climate Systems for CO Testing of Heating Appliances

Australian Climate Systems is committed to providing safe heating and cooling products for your family. We can carry out carbon monoxide testing for your gas heating systems and complete any repairs required. 

Our team will also recommend heating upgrades when this is the best course of action. We can help you select a new heater, and we offer quality heating installations to ensure your appliances, your home, and your family are as safe as possible.

Give us a call today to arrange a service and carbon monoxide testing.

Need advice?Call: 03 9726 4444
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