With the extremely cold temperatures experienced recently, many furnaces have had to work overtime. A furnace needs to be kept in good working order because a malfunctioning one can expose the residents to the possibility of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It binds with the hemoglobin (red blood cells) and reduces the hemoglobin's ability to carry oxygen.
A home health aide-homemaker who works for a local agency was dusting furniture at the home of a client last week. She noticed some black soot on a table. It was reported and a serviceman was called in.
John Stevenson, of Brazil Heating and Electric, found that the lady's furnace flue was blocked, allowing carbon monoxide fumes to vent into her house.
According to Stevenson, a reading over 10 parts per million can produce symptoms. Over 700 parts per million can be fatal.
"Carbon monoxide poisoning is called the silent killer," Stevenson said. "Because, supposedly, there are no detectable signs of its presence. However, there may be a strange odor or the smell of burnt fumes. If a person detects such an odor or any time black soot is seen, the furnace should be checked immediately."
Many older homes are drafty which can allow greater ventilation. That may keep carbon monoxide below lethal levels but doesn't correct the problem. If undetected, it could put the inhabitants in a chronic exposure situation. They might experience mild, continual symptoms.
Symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and confusion.
It's recommended that oil and gas furnaces, especially older ones, be serviced every year, preferably just before seasonal usage would start. Newer furnaces are not as dangerous because safety devices are built in.
Stevenson said the best thing residents can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to install an electric carbon monoxide detector in their home.
He also advised to never leave a car running in an attached garage. Cars put out high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. Simply starting the auto and driving it out usually increases carbon monoxide levels in a house for 15 to 20 minutes. Allowing an automobile to run for any length of time could put symptom producing and even life threatening levels into the home.