A Chimney Sweeper's Discussion of Carbon Monoxide and the Dangers
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is widely considered the most common and deadliest poisons in the home. It has no natural emission that's detectable by a person's sense of taste, smell, or sight and that's why it kills ! Although largely preventable, thousands of people are hospitalized every year and hundreds die because of these fumes entering the home from even the most common sources such as the fireplaces, furnaces (oil or gas), gas heat generators, and even car exhaust.
To the extent that CO exposure is dangerous it's also pretty preventable. Your appliances should be updated, checked, and properly maintained regularly. The home should be properly ventilated and the vents free of any obstruction. Also just as important is to make sure the chimney flues are cleaned and inspected by a licensed professional.
Important to remember, if the chimney flue is blocked while the furnace is in operation or while burning a fire then carbon monoxide will enter the home !
Some warning signs for homeowners to look for are soot deposits or dark stains on or around the appliance. While cooking, make sure your flames are blue (not yellow or orange) and that the flames stay lit and don't smolder out easily. If you need to run heat generators or start your car on a cold morning make sure that the venting areas are open enough to allow the fresh air to dilute the fumes. It's important to note that any windows or doors to the home in the immediate area are closed as to not allow the fumes to enter the living premises. Many have been poisoned while starting the car or gas generator to close to the home's air exchanger.
Installing carbon monoxide detectors (combo Fire and CO detectors are fine) on each floor of the home is a must. Make sure that these are also not blocked or covered and make sure they are on the ceiling and not the walls. These devises are never 100% full-proof, but that along with some of the previously discussed tips and pointers will certainly cut your risk of the CO threat.
Finally, some of the tell-tale signs of CO over exposure or poisoning are generally feeling sick with nausea for no reason and some experience headaches. Also be mindful about long time low-level exposure because even at these low levels, over time it can lead to chronic fatigue and other respiratory ailments. If this ever becomes a more than a one time event switch off any of the suspected appliances and open some windows and doors immediately. It's also strongly recommended that you see a doctor, then call a licensed gas or chimney professional.