Heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians can help prevent the thousands of illnesses and the many deaths that occur from exposure to carbon monoxide or from fire and smoke resulting from carbon monoxide leaks. Technicians should make customers aware of the dangers resulting from the highly toxic colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, should check heating appliances for possible leaks and should familiarize customers with carbon monoxide alarm systems and what to do when an alarm sounds.

Carbon monoxide, smoke, and fire, too often result in tragedies that devastate families. Awareness of these potential dangers can greatly reduce the risk of loss.

As service providers for customers, use of preventive products such as carbon monoxide alarms will strengthen customer relationships for years to come.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas composed of carbon and oxygen, generally formed as a product of incomplete combustion of carbonaceous (organic) material.

Impossible for humans to detect, CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless chemical asphyxiant with devastating toxic and flammable properties and deadly results. CO is widely attributed to leaks in the most common household heating devices, such as furnaces, hot water heaters, and space heaters.

Absorbed into the lungs when breathing, the most common mis-diagnosis of CO poisoning is flu. These masked symptoms are particularly dangerous because carbon monoxide’s deadly effects may not be recognized until it is too late to take action against them.

Thousands become ill from exposure to low levels of CO in their homes, which can go undetected for long periods, more frequently in winter months. Small amounts of CO will not kill, but chronic exposure can cause such symptoms as nausea, headaches, sleepiness, and a feeling of exhaustion.

Because CO is a byproduct of combustion, its risks can be widespread. The health threat can be brought under control when we are aware of its potential dangers.

The first step is to make sure there are no leaks in common heating devices.

The second and most important step is to install carbon monoxide alarms on every level of the home, specifically in every bedroom. We are most susceptible to CO while sleeping, and alarms can greatly reduce the threat of exposure to this deadly killer.

There are various types of carbon monoxide alarms on the market  –  ac direct wire, ac plug-in, and battery operated. Most alarms have test-reset buttons that confirm unit operation and are easy to install. The alarms have unique designs that do not look or sound like a smoke alarm, further protecting families by eliminating confusion.

Protecting customers from tragedy

Most carbon monoxide alarms on the market offer three-tier alarms, which indicate system operation, minor levels of CO, and dangerous levels of CO. Because various levels of CO can be detected in the home, it is recommended your customers review their owners’ manuals, which tell the consumer what to do when an alarm sounds.

When a smoke alarm sounds, consumers are advised to look for smoke, fire, or flames surrounding the area of the alarm. When a CO alarm sounds, the manual informs the customer exactly what to do when various levels of CO have been detected, ranging from opening windows for ventilation, phoning the fire department, or evacuating immediately.

Causes of CO

Although it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to carbon monoxide, CO warning signs around the home can include persistently stuffy or stale air that never clears; very high humidity, often showing up as moisture, particularly condensation on the windows, which may be a sign of poor ventilation; accumulation of soot around the fireplace, furnace, or chimney; and no draft or a hot draft from the chimney into the home, which may not be venting gases the way it should be if it is very cold.

Other possible sources of carbon monoxide are gas cooking ranges; dryers and water heaters; fuel-burning or kerosene space heaters; burning charcoal in grills indoors or in a garage wood- and coal-burning stoves, furnaces (oil or gas); wood-burning fireplaces; blocked or leaky chimneys; tobacco smoke; car exhaust; or welding or soldering.

Presently, there are numerous cities throughout the U.S. with carbon monoxide legislation, most requiring carbon monoxide alarms in all new single-family homes, and in existing single-family residences that are being equipped with new oil or gas combustible furnaces.

In addition, legislation requires carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in all new construction (residential and business). For more information on legislation in your city or state, contact your appropriate local government office.

Protection from tragedy can be easily avoided by providing customers with safe, easy-to-use carbon monoxide alarms and smoke and fire alarms. A misfortune that affects nearly 7,000 persons a year can be avoided by installing relatively inexpensive, reputable alarms.

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