Natural gas has a safety record that's second to none, and EPCOR follows strict codes governing installation and operation of natural gas equipment and appliances. While well-maintained equipment can operate safely for many years, wear and malfunctions can increase the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) entering your home.
CO is an odorless, colorless, tasteless toxic gas that can cause moderate to serious health problems when it is inhaled, especially over long periods of time. CO comes from sources such as vehicle exhaust, woodstoves, and malfunctioning or improperly-ventilated propane and natural gas-fired equipment.
Here are some facts and guidelines you can use for CO safety at home.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
When inhaled, CO can cause serious health problems. Symptoms of CO poisoning are often mistaken for common ailments like the flu, and can include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, weakness, burning eyes, fainting, confusion and drowsiness. Continued exposure to higher levels of CO inhalation may result in unconsciousness, brain damage and even death. Children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory conditions may be particularly sensitive.
Prevent carbon monoxide in your home
There are several precautions you can take to prevent CO from building up in your home.
- Install CO detector alarms on every level of your home, and make sure the batteries are fresh. If your CO detector alarm sounds, make sure everyone (including pets) leaves the building, then call 911 for assistance.
- Have fuel-burning equipment, including natural gas fireplaces, inspected annually by a qualified heating contractor.
- Ensure outdoor exhaust outlets for furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, and clothes dryers are clear of obstructions.
- Never use outdoor appliances indoors.
- If you have a chimney, check it regularly for obstructions and make sure the clean-out pit at the base is kept empty. If you see any evidence of a deteriorating chimney, contact a qualified chimney contractor for assistance.
Signs that carbon monoxide may be present in your home
Other than the audible alarm of your CO detector, there are other signs:
- Stuffy, stale or smelly air (e.g., the smell of something over-heating or burning).
- Dripping water condensation on your windows. (This is a reliable sign if you've already taken steps to reduce moisture production in your home. It could also mean your humidifier is set too high.)
- Back draft or soot from a fireplace, chimney or other fuel burning equipment.
- A yellow burner flame, instead of the normal clear blue flame. This does not apply to natural gas fireplaces in which the yellow flame is intentional for a pleasing appearance.
- A pilot light that keeps going out or the smell of gases in your home. Even though carbon monoxide is odourless, it is sometimes accompanied by odour-bearing exhaust gases.
If you detect these signs, consider whether you need to call 911 and obtain medical assistance. At minimum, turn off the equipment and contact a TSSA registered heating contractor.
Learn more about carbon monoxide by visiting www.cosafety.ca