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Open Fireplaces, Old Heaters and the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

by Chris Lang on November 15, 2010

Open fireplace Did you know that 1.5 million people in Australia use firewood as main form of domestic heating? I had now idea, but this is what Wikipedia says. Victoria, in particular, is considered a major consumer of firewood.

Don’t be shocked by what I am about to say, but open fireplace, apart from being a charmer and looking so cozy and inviting, can be deadly and cause all sorts of nasty things, starting from headache and ending with impaired health or worse.

What is Carbon Monoxide and why is it dangerous?

Carbon Monoxide is a type of gas that is given off by burning fuel – yes, such as firewood or gas, for instance. It has no smell, color or taste, but in concentration it can kill. The first symptoms are tiredness, headache and nausea; it can feel like flu. As it gets worse the headache becomes severe, people get dizzy, weak or sleepy, and in cases of high concentration of CO people lose consciousness and may lose their lives.

Why can some fireplaces / appliances emit dangerous amounts of CO?

Anyone who hadn’t grown up in a house that had a fireplace may not know the basic things about chimney safety. The most characteristic problem of chimneys is that creosote builds up on the inner chimney walls, which obstructs the airflow. It also doesn’t help if the chimney is clogged because of fallen leaves. Whatever the reason for the chimney being blocked is, the gas is expelled into the room. To avoid this dangerous side effect the chimneys must be cleaned by chimney sweeps regularly.

Apart from fireplaces, other heating devices can also cause high concentration of CO, especially if the appliances are in poor condition, or the ventilation in the room is not good enough, or if the fixed air vents are sealed in the room, and so on.

How can I avoid the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

By following some straight forward and easy rules:

– Keep the ventilation grills open in all rooms
– Have your chimney cleaned regularly
– Install a simple CO detector

Just to clarify, a CO detector is not your typical smoke detector; it’s a different type of device. CO detector only checks for dangerous levels of CO and if the concentration is above acceptable it will trigger an alarm. When this happens, people should open all the doors and windows, stop the appliance and wait outside until the place is well ventilated.

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