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Natural Gas Carbon Monoxide Safety

According to Statistics Canada, nearly 5,000 people in Canada died between 2000 and 2013 where carbon monoxide was a factor. Of those 4,990 deaths, 1125 were exclusively due to carbon monoxide. Nearly 75 percent of the people who died were between 25 and 64 years old.

In Alberta, between 2002 and 2016, 650 people were hospitalized because of carbon monoxide. Nearly 300 of them recorded carbon monoxide as the main diagnosis. Ensuring the safe operation of heating and cooling equipment is our priority at Direct Energy Regulated Services. Making sure your systems are up-to-date and inspected regularly is a responsible way to keep potential dangers from affecting you or your loved ones. Below you'll find an overview of carbon monoxide risks, detection, and how it relates to substances such as natural gas.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and invisible gas that can cause serious health problems if undetected. Carbon monoxide is harmful because it can accumulate in the blood, reducing its ability to carry oxygen. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause serious health issues or even death if undetected.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness,vomiting, confusion and difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, detecting carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult since the symptoms are similar to those of the flu. The Children'sHospital of Philadelphia published a guide for determining what could be carbon monoxide poisoning as opposed to the flu or some other virus. This is very important to know since carbon monoxide poisoning must be detected quickly.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of burning natural gas, oil, propane and wood. In your home, a fireplace or a furnace could be a source of carbon monoxide. If these are installed properly and maintained regularly, they produce very little carbon monoxide as a by-product. Carbon monoxide may become an issue if your vents become blocked, or if your heating equipment is damaged. In the case of furnaces, a defective heat exchanger could be a source of carbon monoxide. If these issues occur, carbon monoxide can become trapped inside your home and invade living areas where it can be inhaled.

How Do I Prevent Carbon Monoxide in My Home?

The most important step you can take to detect carbon monoxide is to ensure you have carbon monoxide detectors inside your home. At a minimum, it is recommended that you have one in your basement near heating equipment, and one on the main or second level of your home. For more protection, place detectors in your bedrooms. This way you'll be more likely to hear an alarm if something happens while you're asleep. If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, call 9- 1-1 or your local emergency department right away. First responders will be able to help you detect where the carbon monoxide is coming from and help you eliminate it from your home's internal atmosphere.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Have a qualified technician inspect and clean fuel-burning appliances yearly before cold weather sets in to ensure they are in good working order.
  • Hire a professional to inspect chimneys and vents yearly for cracks, blockages (e.g., bird's nests, twigs, old mortar), corrosion or holes to ensure fresh air is coming through.
  • Check fireplaces for closed or blocked flues, as this is an easy way for carbon monoxide to backflow.
  • Check with a qualified technician before enclosing heating and hot water equipment in a smaller room, to ensure there is adequate air for proper combustion.
  • Never use propane or natural gas stovetops or ovens to heat your home. Natural gas produces carbon monoxide when it's burned, which could then be introduced it into your living areas.

What if My Carbon Monoxide Alarm Goes Off?

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, you should exit your home immediately and dial 911. Do not attempt to locate where the carbon monoxide is coming from. It's crucial you get to a hospital as soon as possible so trained medical professionals can assess your condition and perform the necessary treatment. If there's been a carbon monoxide leak, you may experience symptoms like nausea, confusion, headaches, and vomiting.

If you have children or family members who may need assistance exiting the home, make sure they know what the alarm sounds like, and set up an evacuation plan with them ahead of time. You never want to hear your carbon monoxide alarm go off, but if it does, it's best you're prepared to leave as quickly as possible. On your return, emergency responders will let you know when it's safe to re-enter your home.

Don't Take Chances

Using these tips to make sure your home is safe can protect you and your loved ones from carbon monoxide poisoning. Above all else, make sure you understand what carbon monoxide is, where it could be coming from and how to safeguard yourself and your family from exposure to it. If you have more questions about carbon monoxide safety or emergencies, contact your local utility provider—most in the ATCO service area have 24-hour emergency lines.

For more information about Direct Energy Regulated Services, you can either call us at 866-420-3174 or reach us online.