Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in October 2018 and has been revised to reflect industry updates.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can severely damage the human nervous and respiratory systems, as well as the brain and heart. It can even be fatal, as it deprives the body of oxygen, a vital nutrient critical to proper physical functions.
This dangerous gas poses a significant health risk to occupants in residential homes and commercial buildings, especially during cold weather when gas fireplaces are used more frequently.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “During 2010–2015, a total of 2,244 deaths resulted from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, with the highest numbers of deaths each year occurring in winter months. In 2015, a total of 393 deaths resulting from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning occurred, with 36% of the deaths occurring in December, January, or February.”
As of March 2021, the CDC reported more than 50,000 people visit hospital emergency rooms each year due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Yearly fatalities have also increased to 430, up from 393 in 2015.
It’s essential to know what could potentially expose a person to this colorless, odorless and tasteless gas.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Causes
Yes, gas fireplaces are one potential cause of carbon monoxide poisoning.
While there are many potential sources of such exposure, including certain appliances and devices, motor vehicles and wood stoves, gas fireplaces are a common culprit.
As previously mentioned, carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the oxidation process occurring within the complete combustion of fossil fuels, which contain elemental carbon and hydrogen. An improperly maintained or ventilated gas fireplace can create incomplete combustion, creating carbon monoxide, and causing this toxic gas to linger—putting those inside at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Several indications of carbon monoxide poisoning, whether from gas fireplaces or other sources, include, but are not limited to:
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest Pain
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit with the mission of eliminating preventable deaths at work, in homes, and communities, if exposure is prolonged, victims could even experience:
- Mental Confusion
- Loss of Muscular Coordination
- Loss of Consciousness
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also be confused for the flu, since both share similar symptoms, depending on exposure length and duration. If you think you or someone you know has suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, contact a medical professional immediately.
If you have a gas fireplace in your home, keep these precautions in mind:
Conduct a Gas Fireplace Safety Check
To ensure your gas fireplace is free of gas leaks or other dangers, it’s important to first perform the following safety checks:
- Open gas fireplace screens or doors to ensure absence of any foul smells. A rotten egg odor—or similar type smell—is a definite leak indicator.
- Listen for any hissing or whistling sounds coming from your gas fireplace.
- Look for any dust, dirt, or other debris at the fireplace base.
- Check for any dead or yellowed grass and plants near outdoor gas lines.
- Perform a gas leak test. Mix 8 ounces of water and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap for application on gas lines and logs to check for bubbling.
Get Your Fireplace Inspected Every Year
Besides properly cleaning your fireplace on a regular basis, it’s critical to hire a licensed and trained inspector to evaluate its condition, as well as your chimney. This way, any issues that could cause you or your loved ones harm will be identified and remedied.
Blockages, structural damage, and dirty parts can all work to trap carbon monoxide and increase the chances of a leak. Your inspector will ensure the vents aren’t blocked, and they will also check for damage, dirt and grime, and other red flags such as broken fireplace doors and clogged starters.
Besides preventative maintenance, there are other precautionary measures you can take to guard against carbon monoxide.
An improperly maintained or ventilated gas fireplace, however, can result in incomplete combustion, creating carbon monoxide, and causing this toxic gas to linger.
Invest in an Effective Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector
Having smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home is another step to safeguarding against this deadly gas. A detector will not only alert you if carbon monoxide is present, but whether any smoke is, too—protecting against fires.
Consumer product protection agency the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), warns that a beeping carbon monoxide alarm must never be ignored, even if it’s indicating a low battery or low charge, since both could cause device malfunction.
Specific examples include a beep or chirp occurring every 30 seconds to five minutes, which could indicate a gas presence or low battery. The device should be replaced immediately if either is present.
When listening for beeps from CO detectors, there are differences between frequencies and pauses. While these signals could alert a potential issue, it’s recommended to conduct further inspection.
Note the following CO beeps and frequencies below:
- Four beeps accompanied by a pause signal CO is present. Occupants should immediately seek fresh air and notify emergency personnel.
- One beep per minute means CO detector batteries are due for replacement.
- Five beeps per minute notes the detector has run its course and should be replaced.
General Security recommends conducting regular device inspections and battery replacement during Daylight Savings Time—once when you spring ahead and again when you fall back.
The service provider supplying the smoke and carbon monoxide detector may also provide constant alarm monitoring to alert you, as well as the authorities, of any carbon monoxide or smoke in your home.
With the increasing popularity of smart home security, many providers will connect your smoke and carbon monoxide monitor right to the security system, for real-time mobile app alerts. This way, you have peace of mind your loved ones and property will always be monitored and protected.
Conduct Regular Chimney Sweeps & Inspections
Your chimney should be regularly inspected and swept so it’s clean and free of obstructions and damage. If not maintained properly, a blocked chimney could lead to carbon monoxide exposure from buildup of combustible gases.
According to chimney repair company Northeastern Chimney LLC, it’s recommended to immediately consult a professional if you notice any the following issues:
- Water Streaking or Rusting on Your Chimney or Vent
- Missing or Loose Furnace Panels
- Soot Buildup
- Disconnected or Loose Connections in the Vent or Chimney
- Loose Chimney Masonry
- Decrease in Available Hot Water
How Can I Tell if My Gas Fireplace Is Leaking?
We can’t reiterate this enough: Fireplaces, chimneys, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be regularly inspected! It’s also important to watch for other possible carbon monoxide leak indicators in your home or place of business.
According to online home security research hub ASecureLife, these could include:
- Black, Sooty Marks on the Front Covers of Gas Fireplaces
- Sooty or Yellow/Brown stains on or Around Boilers, Stoves, or Fireplaces
- Smoke Buildup in Rooms Because of a Faulty Flue
- Yellow Instead of Blue Flames Coming From Gas Appliances
- Pilot Lights Frequently Blowing Out
Remaining Vigilant Is Key
Implementing these tips can ensure your home or business receives the highest level of protection when it comes to gas fireplace safety. Consult a professional security company that can provide tools and education for further guidance.
General Security provides smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and a variety of fire safety systems, services, and security systems, to homeowners and businesses throughout the U.S. East Coast. Request a free quote from us today!
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